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.
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.
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.
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.