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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

The Diversity Of Champagne Styles

When it comes to champagnes perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions for most non-connoisseurs is that it’s just bubbles encapsulated in a bottle, which is occasionally popped open on special moments and celebrations.



Debunking this myth, it is an absolute faux pas to look at champagne as a proprietary eponym. Champagne should not become a genericized trademark like “Kleenex” used as a generic term for tissue. Why? Because not all champagnes are the same.


Let’s not let the “Wine of Kings, and the King of Wines” suffered genericide.


“Diversity” is certainly the mot du jour and is alive and sparkling in the world of champagnes. Uninitiated people omit to realize that Champagne (the region) demonstrably offers a wide and varied palette of styles of champagnes that are elaborated by a diverse group of vignerons and producers with different philosophical approach to winemaking and different vineyard and cellar practices.


When we speak of “styles” in champagnes, we look at two main classifications that denote either the variety of grapes utilized, or the quantity of sugar added (also known as “Liqueur d’Éxpédition”) at the dosage phase prior to sealing the bottle with the cork.


For this article, I will focus on the first category: the types of grapes.

Champagne is a highly regulated industry. Only seven grapes are legally authorized for the elaboration of champagnes. Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, Arbanne, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the seven permitted varieties that can be grown in Champagne.


But the three classic grapes of Champagne that are used almost exclusively are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the two red grapes), and Chardonnay (“THE” white grape that gives the Cote des Blancs sub-region its claim to fame for crafting the finest chardonnays).


Each type of grape contributes to the character of a champagne and adds fine layers to build a uniquely individual personality.


Here’s a brief breakdown of the three main grapes:


PINOT NOIR

  • It is the predominant grape variety in the Montagne de Reims and Cote des Bars

  • It brings Body, Strength, and structure to the wine – it adds backbone

  • It produces red fruit aromas (cherry & strawberry)



MEUNIER

  • It is mostly found in the Vallee de la Marne, Massif de St Thierry and Vallee de l’Ardre

  • It is widely used as an insurance grape against poor vintages

  • It brings roundness, fruity notes, suppleness, and aromas of bright red fruit with touch of earthiness.



CHARDONNAY

  • It is grown in the Cote des Blancs, Cote de Sezanne & Vitryats, Montgeux.

  • It brings freshness, elegance, and finesse with apple & citrus flavors, floral notes & minerality.

  • It also offers butter/creamy notes when champagne is aged longer

  • Being slower to develop than the other 2 grapes, it produces wines that are built to age


The choice of grapes and how much of them are used play a lead role in the creation of a style of champagne. Typically, a champagne’s character can be expressed either on its own in a single varietal champagne or balanced in a blend.

It’s all about the label and knowing how to read it.


Non-Vintage (Sans Année) is a blend of grapes from different years. It is the signature style of a champagne house, also known as a “House Style”. The producer’s goal here is to seek consistency in quality and taste year after year.

Veuve Clicquot’s iconic Yellow Label and Moêt et Chandon’s Brut Imperial are the epitome of House Style champagnes.


Blanc de Blancs is a champagne made from 100% chardonnay grapes.


Blanc de Noirs is a champagne made from black grapes. Pinot Noir or Meunier


Vintage (Millésimé) is a champagne made from the grapes of one year’s harvest.

The year will be mentioned on the bottle.


Prestige Cuvée is the high-end champagne of a producer’s cellar and the most expensive one.

There are no restrictions when it comes to the production of a “Tête de Cuvée” so it can be vintage or non-vintage. Two of the most well-known Prestige Cuvée are Louis Roederer’s Cristal and Moët et Chandon’s Dom Perignon.


Rosé is made via two distinctive methods: a blend or skin contact (saignée). A style pioneered by the legendary Veuve Clicquot in the late 18th Century, the blending of red wine with white to produce a rosé is unique to Champagne. In fact, it is a practice forbidden anywhere else.

Blending is the more common method whereby still red wine (about 10-15%) is added to the blend to achieve the desired color. The rosé de saignée is the same as that for red wine production. The juice is kept in contact with the skins until the desired color is obtained.

Champagne Drappier crafts an excellent rosé de saignée.


A new hybrid has surfaced in recent years called “multi-Vintage”.

Although similar in its definition to the non-vintage nomenclature, the multi-Vintage designation differs in its ideology in the fact that it absolutely does not aim for consistency.

Instead, each release will have its own character and unique identity.

Krug’s Grande Cuvée, Jacquesson’s Cuvée series and more recently Roederer’s Collection 242 are perfect illustrations of multi-vintage champagnes.




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