France: Champagne

Around Epernay

The Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs
By Tom Stevenson and Michael Edwards

This Guide was last updated on 14 August 2014
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Main grape varieties

Red

Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is an important variety, accounting for about 39% of the vines grown in Champagne, especially grown in the Montagne de Reims area, providing body and depth of flavour in a blend. In villages like Aÿ the steep south-facing slopes are perfect places to ripen Pinot Noir and produce the base for the most sumptuous champagne cuvées, epitomised in the great blends of famous houses like Bollinger and Deutz; and if you want to taste pure unblended Pinot Noir from small growers, a number of domaines have recently come to challenge the great houses. It's important too in the production of rosé Champagne. Blanc de Noirs Champagnes can be made from either Pinot Noir alone or Pinot Noir blended with Pinot Meunier.

Pinot Meunier
Accounting for about 33% of Champagne grapes, Pinot Meunier is almost unique to Champagne and especially grown in the Vallée de la Marne where it is more resistant to frost than the other grape varieties. Here lie prime spots for the Meunier grape, a key ingredient in the champagnes of such 'greats' as Billecart-Salmon, Krug, and Pol Roger - Meunier bringing a spicy fruitiness to balance the power of Pinot Noir. In general, though the grape is used in Champagnes that can be enjoyed young, offering richness and fruitiness, and also with Pinot Noir for rosés and Blanc de Noirs.


White

Chardonnay
Planted in 28% of the total Champagne vineyards, Chardonnay grows well on the chalky soils, especially on the east-facing slopes of the Côte des Blancs. Because Chardonnay flowers early, there is the risk of damage by frost. The Côte de Blancs is home to superbly crystalline, mineral-charged Chardonnay, racy and incisive when young, but developing a rich Burgundian toastiness with age. Blanc de Blancs Champagnes are 100% from Chardonnay.


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