’tis the season… for Champagne of course!
Champagne reigns as the gift-of-choice during the holidays, and for good reason.
True Champagne, the real stuff from the actual region of Champagne; there is nothing like it. Just drinking it ignites all of your senses. It reflects joy, celebrations and happy gatherings of friends and family.
Should you choose to stock up on Champagne this season (and I hope you do) think of this as your cheat sheet on buying the ideal bottle, whether it is for you or for a gift.
The facts about Champagne & tips on how to read the label
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Some wines have all 3 grapes, some have only one or two.
On the label you may see the following:
• Blanc de Blancs – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – this is a great apperatif or with seafood. A great producer is Salon
• Blanc de Noirs – means “white of black” and is a white champagne made from either Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes); usually fuller-bodied than blanc de blanc, this style enjoys the ability to match with a variety of foods.
• Rose – could be only one grape or all three, but must contain some % of a red grape – that’s where it gets the pink color! Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink.
Non-Vintage vs. Vintage
Non-vintage wines are exactly what they say they are – not from a particular vintage. They are blends of a few wines from different years. Remember, Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2011 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2010 or 2009 Chardonnay and blend it in for acidity. The goal is consistency. So that the NV of Veuve Clicquot you buy this year will be consistent with the one you bought last year. Most NV Champagne represent a house “style” that the winemaker tries to maintain so that the consumer knows what they are getting. NV wines should be drunk within a year or two of purchase.
Some years the vintage is so delightful that the houses of Champagne declare a vintage year. The blend is made only from grapes in that vintage – no adding of back vintages allowed. Vintage wines are low in supply and high in demand, and therefore a bit more pricy than that NV. Most vintage champagnes can age about 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 2004 vintage about the same time Krug released their 2000.
Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best blend of the house. Some good examples include Krug’s Grand Cuvee, Bollinger’s Grand Annee and Charles Heidsieck’s Champagne Charlie
Premier Cru and Grand Cru – Some vineyards in Champagne, like other areas of France are labeled Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards. If a house purchases all of its grapes from grand cru or premier cru vineyards, they may put that on their label.
Levels of Sweetness
Extra Brut – Bone dry
Brut – very dry, but with more dosage
Sec – Still very dry, but with a hint of sweetness
Demi-Sec – technically means “half dry” but really is half sweet
Doux – sweetest of the Champagne, more rare, often more expensive, and a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity.
And now, our favorites!
Pommery Brut Royal
Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee
Louis Roederer Brut Premier
Gosset Grande Reserve
Beau Joie Champagne Brut
Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut
And of course, my all time favorite…
Champagne Krug Cuvee