France: Champagne

The Aube

The Southern Champagne Vineyards
By Tom Stevenson and Michael Edwards

This Guide was last updated on 24 June 2010
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Main wine styles

Non-Vintage Champagne

White and rosé that has spent a minimum of 15 months in bottle before dégorgement, though many producers age their wines for longer (currently, the average is 30 months). Depending on the dosage the wines can be brut nature (without dosage), extra-brut, brut, extra-sec, sec and demi-sec. The vast majority are from blends of the three Champagne grapes and made in a brut style. Non-Vintage is the largest production in Champagne and for most producers, the exact blend and style is a closely guarded secret enabling each House to produce a consistent and individual style. They often benefit from ageing for a year or two.

Vintage Champagne

Only produced in good years, white and rosé Vintage Champagne has spent a minimum of three years ageing before dégorgement, though many producers age their wines for longer. The flavours can often be more yeasty and flowery than a Non-Vintage and are well worth keeping for a few years. By their very nature, they are finer, but arguably less consistent than Non-Vintage Champagnes.

Cuvée de Prestige Champagne

These are wines from a producer’s finest vineyards, most of which will probably be grand cru (the highest vineyard category) and are also known as de luxe Champagnes. They can be Non-Vintage, Vintage, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs or rosé. Some are mono-crus or even single-vineyard. Very expensive, sometimes aged in wood and for longer on the lees before dégorgement, they are rich, concentrated with gorgeous brioche and fruit flavours. They are usually packaged extravagantly too.

Blanc de Blancs Champagne

Most are made only with Chardonnay grapes, although a few are being produced either in part of wholly from ancient varieties, such as Arbanne, Petit Meslier or Pinot Blanc Vrai, which have been enjoying something of a resurgence since the new millennium. These wines can be Vintage, Non-Vintage or Prestige. A classic Blanc de Blancs should be aged for a few years when it will develop a toasty bouquet with intense fruitiness.

Blanc de Noirs Champagne

Made only with red grapes, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, these wines can be Vintage, Non-Vintage or Prestige. They can be rich and full-bodied as well as showing an elegance which isn’t necessarily expected from red grapes.

Rosé Champagne

Pink Champagne is normally made by the addition of a little still red wine to colour the white base wine, though sometimes the juice is left in contact with skins of red grapes to take the colour. The wines can be Vintage, Non-Vintage or Prestige and should have an attractive colour, good fruit and a perfectly white mousse.

Still Wines

For Coteaux Champenois, reds are most commonly encountered, and can show relatively intense colour with rich fruit in rare hot vintages, but the quality is extremely variable. White and rosé can occasionally be found and will at best be fresh and crisp. Growers are starting to use oak for these wines. Rosé des Riceys has a far more vivid history than quality.

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