Wine Guide
Many winemakers in the world use Champagne to brand their sparkling wines. However there is of course only one real Champagne wine – the one from the Champagne region in France!

In the European Union and some other countries, it is illegal to label and product Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

Champagne is produced from specific types of grapes grown in the Champagne region following rules that demand, among other things, specific vineyard practices, sourcing of grapes exclusively from designated places within the Champagne region, specific grape-pressing methods and secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to cause carbonation.

Today there are more than 100 Champagne houses and 19,000 smaller “vignerons” in Champagne. These companies manage some 32,000 hectares of vineyards in the region.

The classification of Champagne vineyards was developed in the mid-20th century and unlike the classification of Bordeaux or Burgundy vineyards, the systems is used as a mean of setting the price of grapes grown in the villages of the region. Meaning the classification is broken down based on what village the vineyard is located in. A percentile system known as the Échelle de Crus, which acts as a pro-rata system determines the price of the grape. Vineyards located in villages with high rates will receive higher prices for their grapes than vineyards located in villages with lower rating. Premier crus villages are rated between 90-99 percent while the highest rated villages with 100% ratings are Grand crus.

Today there are 17 villages in the regions that have Grand Cru status including:

Today, there are basically two different types of Champagne; Vintage and Non-Vintage. Non-vintage Champagne is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages and makes up for more than 80% of the production. These bottles only mature in the cellars for 2 to 3 years or less before going to the market. Ideally they should stay in your own cellar for one to two years before you enjoy drinking them.

From an investor’s perspective, more interesting are the so-called Vintage Champagnes. These bottles wear a vintage year on the label and they are only produced in years with good harvest. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage’s harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from each vintage to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne.

The grapes primarily used for producing champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay but also a small amount of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane and Petit Meslier are used as well. Only these grapes grown according to appellation rules on designated plots of land within the appellation may be used to make Champagne.

Champagne is then classified based on the blend of grapes:

Prestige Cuvée
This is considered the top of the top of a producers range and include such Champanges as Louis Roederer’s famous Cristal, Moët & Chandom’s Dom Pérignon and Armand de Brignac, Gold Brut.

Blanc de noirs
The term Blanc de noirs has the literal meaning of a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. The colour, due to the small amount of red skin pigments present is often described as white-yellow, white-gray or silvery. The most famous Blanc de noirs champagne is that of Bollinger’s prestige cuvee Vieilles Vignes Francaises.

Blanc de blancs
“White from whites” - meaning a Champagne made entirely from white grapes and exclusively Chardonnay or in very rare occasions Pinot blanc. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually devoted to Chardonnay.

Rosé Champagne
This is not to be mixed up with the cheap and sweet sparkling champagne produced in the 1950s and 60s for the American consumer that thought Champagne was too “dry”. Real Rose Champagnes came along in the 1990s and is as dry as a regular Brut Champagne. The colour is most often produced by adding a very small amount of still pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee.

The sweetness of Champange
The sweetness of a Champagne is also classified in different categories. Today the sweetness is generally not looked for per se but the dosage of cane sugar and wine is used to fine tune the perception of acidity in the wine. A wine labelled Brut Zero has no added sugar, and will usually be extremely dry.

  • Extra Brut – less than 6 gram of sugar per little
  • Brut – less than 12 grams
  • Extra Dry – between 12 -17 grams
  • Sec – between 17 – 32 grams
  • Demi-sec – between 32 - 50 grams
  • Doux - over 50 grams