Monday, 11 February 2019

How to Choose Champagne

Never buy sparkling wine which is being sold as 'champagne déclassé' (unclassified champagne), 'hors quantum' (over quota) or 'jeunes vignes' (young vines) as these are indications of fraud. Real champagne must mention on the label the appellation Champagne, as well as the sugar content, the name of the winemaker and their professional registration number.

This good value good quality champagne is not dosed with sugar at disgorging.
A good value good quality champagne that isn't dosed with sugar at disgorging. Photo taken by Susan of Loire Valley Time Travel.

Champagne is a wine created at the end of the 17th century, when the fermenting grape juice made bubbles. The quality depends on the cru (area where the vines grow), cépage (grape variety) and the millésime (vintage). Only five départements (counties) are allowed to produce champagne -- Marne, Aube, Haute-Marne, Aisne and Seine-et-Marne. Seven grape varieties may be used -- Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

The word champagne must appear both on the label and the cork. A description of the sugar content (extra-brut, brut, sec, demi-sec or doux) must appear on the label. The winemakers name and municipality must also appear.

Label showing winemaker's name and municipality, mention of champagne, vintage (in this case referred to as 'vendange' ie 'harvest'), and middle bottom is the professional reference code number.
Details of the requirements to mention winemaker, location, vintage, sugar levels and professional reference code number on champagne labels. Photo taken by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

There must be a two letter code followed by a champagne professional reference number. The letters stand for various things as follows:

MA -- marque d'acheteur. Buyers brand, often a distributor such as a supermarket who works with several champagne growers but sell the wine under their own brand.

CM -- coopérative de manipulation. Wine produced in a co-operative. The grapes are supplied by several vineyards who are members of the co-operative, then made and marketed by the co-operative.

RC -- récoltant coopérateur. Wine made from grapes grown by a member of a co-operative. The co-operative make the wine, but the winegrower then takes his share and markets it himself.

RM -- récoltant manipulant. Wine  grown, produced and marketed by an individual independent winemaker.

SR -- société de récoltants. A group of winemakers, often an extended family, who own multiple wineries but make and market the wine together.

NM -- négotiant manipulant. A wine merchant who buys grapes or wine and oversees the production at their own winery but then markets under their own brand. The big name champagne houses all belong to this category.

When you've chosen your champagne you can keep it for a couple of years, even if it's not really suitable for long cellaring. If you are storing champagne it is important to lay the bottle horizontal in a cool place with high humidity, protected from light, noise and vibrations.

A very well known, popular and widely available champagne.
Veuve Cliquot is a popular and widely available champagne brand. Photo taken by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel.

Ahem...of course, if you live in the Loire Valley, you don't choose champagne at all. You drink sparkling Vouvray (and save your money without compromising quality).


For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.


chm said...

In 2011, if I recall correctly, Ken and I stopped in Mareuil-sur-Ay. I can't remember in he bought some champagne there. Even though bubbles are not "my cup of wine", I found this post very informative. I wonder if those regulations apply to non bubbly wine as well.

Susan said...

No, champagne regs are different to everything else.

Ken Broadhurst said...

It's funny, I don't really like bubbles in my wine either. They give me a headache. But I did buy some champagne when CHM and I were in Mareuil-sur-Ay. Walt loves it. The only champagne I like is called blanc de blancs — made using pure Chardonnay juice. Most champagne is made from a blend of juices from different grapes, so blanc de blancs is distinctive. It's a little like bubbly Vouvray in that sense — just one grape varietal is used to make it. There's a whole sub-region in Champagne called La Côte des Blancs where a lot of Chardonnay is grown. Some champagne houses also make blanc de noirs (pure Pinot Noir juice). Otherwise, champagne is a blend or assemblage of juices from different grapes.

Susan said...

Yes, blanc de blancs is always marketed as being a cut above the reset. Champagne generally is a blend, not only of different grape varieties, but different vintages. The aim is for a consistent product year after year so the consumer knows what to expect. In that respect, Vouvray is a more sophisticated product as far as the consumer is concerned, as it is always a single vintage, so you have to know good years and poor years in order to get something exceptional.

Le Pré de la Forge said...

Susan.... which is why Vouvray is a cut above champagne... the overpriced, overbubbly, supersold stuff that is.... I've never tried "blanc de blancs" champers.... but that sounds closer to Vouvray in quality!
I have had headaches after half a bottle of champers, due to excess CO2 most probably [keg lagers and beers do that to me, too]... but never from half a bottle of Vouvray!!

Susan said...

I agree, Vouvray is generally better value for money but harder to market.

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