Champagne Touring - the Grapes grown in the region.

Champagne Classification - The classification system you come across  on your Champagne wine touring is based on Vineyard ratings. The land is graded according to its suitability for black and white grapes, ranging from 100 per cent for the 17 finest Grand Cru villages, then 99-90 percent for the 38 Premier Cru villages and down to 80 per cent for the least favoured. Champagne houses often boast how high their average percentage of grapes is from the higher rated villages. Some Champagne will have words like Premier Cru or 100 per cent with a village name like Avize on the label, this means the wine comes from that single top village.

Eurotunnel

Grapes of the Champagne Trails.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          In the "Champagne" appellation, only three grape varieties are allowed
Pinot Noir (a red grape with white juice) provides the aromas of red berries along with the power and the body. Pinot Meunier- also a red grape having white juice- gives the "roundness" to blends and Chardonnay a white grape adds fruit aroma and its freshness. It is this latter variety on its own that produces the champagne called "blanc de blanc".
Chardonnayis planted on 28% of the vineyards. It is the favourite varietal of the Côte des Blancs. Chardonnay wines have delicate aromas, a high level of freshness, and citrus fruit influences which guarantees blends will age well. It also brings the mineral qualities of the chalky vineyard soils. It is these characteristics which are responsible for the elegance of blancs de blancs Champagnes and which contribute to the finesse of blended Champagnes.
Pinot noirrepresents 37% of the vineyard surface area and is to be found in particular on the Montagne de Reims and in the Côte des Bar . The pinot noir wines are distinguished by aromas of red berries, and by pronounced power and structure.. . .Pinot meunier
Pinot Meunier or Meunier is planted for the remaining 35%. Being a hardy vine that it produces better quality results in difficult climate years as it is less demanding in . the amount of heat required for its maturation. It is grown mostly in the Valley of Marne and is characterized by its suppleness and spiciness with an intense and often fruity bouquet. For blended Champagnes it adds.roundness and fragrance. . From the smallest to the largest, champagne bottles are always amazing:


 Champagne Styles

Non Vintage -   -The major Champagne houses and growers pride themselves on each year providing a similar – continuous - house style entry level cuvee through the selective blending of various vintages. Most nonvintage Champagnes are based on juice from a single year, with some added reserve wines from previous vintages- 20 to 30%. There is a minimum ageing on lees before release of 16 months, but all quality houses  give their wines considerably longer – 3 to 4 years for nonvintage blends - , which greatly improves flavour and character.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Vintage- .Wine from only a single, good quality year which happens about 3 years of every decade is blended as a Vintage Champagne.    Typically fuller, deeper, and better quality than non vintage Champagne, it is usual for vintage champagne to be aged on lees for 7 to 8 years. Vintage Champagnes are characterized by cleaner, more precise aromas with the flora and crisp fruit characteristics more evident. It is a waste to use a vintage champagne for 'spontaneous celebrations' wines where most of the bottle is sprayed on opening. To fully appreciate and really enjoy vintage Champagne take your time in drinking.                                                                                                 Cuvee de Prestige/de Luxe- A special, highly prized, and highly priced blend. Usually vintage but not always. These wines usually come in distinctively shaped bottles.
Blanc de Blancs-  Increasingly common made only from white Chardonnay grapes. The wines are usually crisp and bright - when young high in acidity, having a simple one dimension character, with age they become deeper and richer - the best exhibiting nut, caramel and fruit flavours and aromas. More and more expensive champagnes come in this style. Like the Rose, and Blanc de Noir these Champagnes can be Vintage, Non-vintage or Prestige.
Rose Traditionally the pink colour would be gained by a careful and short maceration of the black pinot noir and pinot meunier skins with the juice. However, in champagne this method is unpredictable and so more often a little red wine from the region is added to the white just before bottling. These wines are usually aromatic and fruity, but should be drunk young.    Rose de Riceys - is a separate appellatioin for still rose from the village of Les Riceys in the Aube district.
Blanc de Noirs- This less common style is made from 100 per cent black grapes. The wine is white, can be rich and full bodied and impressive if aged for long enough. The flavours display more substance than Blanc de Blancs with elements of cheese, apple and biscuit . .
Coteaux Champenois -Still wines, either red or white from the Champagne region. . Villages like Cramant for white or Bouzy for red have become know for these wines. Interesting as a diversion but quality varies considerably so take local advice and taste before buying. Also as thegrapes are  grown in expensive Champagne region vineyards these wine are not cheap relative to quality.

Champagne Blending decisions are a serious business.

 Champage Sweetness based on grams per liter added.
Brut Nature 0 grams                                                                                       Extra Brut between 0 and 6 g / liter
Gross less than 12 grams / liter
Extra dry (Extra Dry) 12 to 17 grams / liter
Dry (or dry) 17 to 32 grams / liter
Demi-Sec from 32 to 50 grams / liter
Sweet more than 50 grams / liter

Champagne Label Apart from descriptive terms on the label, letters in small print at the bottom of the label will indicate the type of producer. The numbers that follow will identify the individual wine maker.
The codes are as follows;
RM (Recoltant-Manipulant) - Wine made by a grower, not a co-operative or Merchant.
RC (Recoltant-Cooperateur) - A grower sells his grapes to a co-operative and buys some wine from the communal vats to market under his own name.
CM (Co-operateur-Manipulant) - Wine made by and sold by a co-operative. NM (Negociant-Manipulant) - Wine made and sold by a merchant.
MA (Marque d'Acheteur) - Wine made by a merchant for a second, subsidiary label to satisfy a foreign buyer's wish for a special selection, or to sell at a lower price and avoide conflict with his chief brand.
SR (Societe de Recoltants) - Wine made by a family company of growers.

 
You might see the phrase 'Recently Disgorged' on a label. These bottles have aged longer on their yeast deposits, gaining depth and flavour. The disgorging takes place just before the wine is put on market. Such wines are frequently of a premium standard.

CHAMPAGNE HOUSE BLENDS - Each major Champange producer and many smaller ones have a signiture blend that they try to duplicate each year - this is  a nonvintage blend based on using the years grape harvest , but they also blend juice from other years - 20 to 30%, also from different villages, and vineyards. The aim is to get a consistent high quality house Champage style  that is recognized as their product - most are brut, some are fruity, others more minerally, with acidity for refreshing the palette, etc...                

 For Wine Masters of Champagne houses, its a slow, deliberate process that requires expert knowledge and experience.  The goal is to achieve the character and quality of previous years.  Like each individual girl below the idea is to get them be as similar as possible. The fun of course is they are all lovely but still slightly different.

 In addition to the house standard nonvintage Champagne blend the wine master also blends the other Champagne styles, the quantity of each style based on the quality of the various grapes harvested.



 The "Methode Champenoise" - In other  French wine regions sparkling wines - "Cremants" -  produced this way are said to be made using the   - "Methode Traditonelle". 

 
 

First Picture above is machine riddling pallet that holds over 500 bottles and moves yeast to bottle neck in approx. 1 week,  the wooden rack hand riddling takes 6 to 8 weeks. Second picture shows bottle caps colour coding for identification.. Last picture is the machine that freezes yeast sediment in neck for disgorging.

 The Yeast Sediment

Had enough?  Click on picture to go back to top.

In the Champagne appellation all grapes are picked by hand. One of numerous appellation controls that guarantee the regions quality.

Steel or concrete tanks for first fermentation

Some Champagne blends aged in barrels for months or years.

Wooden Racks - pupitres -are cleverly designed to move bottles to different angles for riddling which in the case of wooden racks is done by hand. A worker holds the bottom of each bottle, giving it a short shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, and then increasing the tilt, puts it back in the rack. .. The shaking and twist is meant to dislodge particles that cling to the glass and prevent sediments from forming in one spot. By the changing the angle the sediment moves to bottle neck.