Gentle Guide Champagne
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GET THE NEED TO KNOW INFO WITH OUR GENTLE GUIDE TO CHAMPAGNE
The world of Champagne can be difficult to navigate so we have put together a guide to break down the basic ins and outs to make your next Champagne selection a breeze.
What does Champagne actually encompass you ask? Apart from being from its specific land region, it’s the trinity of three varieties; Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay, which make up the large majority of vineyard plantings. Producers will often make a blend of some; or all three of these varieties. Each offers something unique to the blend; Pinot Noir brings power and structure, Meunier gives ample fruitiness, and Chardonnay provides scintillating acidity, drive and minerality.
Grower vs House
Grower vs House, is one better than the other? Alas that’s like asking if you have a favourite child (the safe answer is no). Grower producers (récoltant manipulant) grow the grapes and make the wines, which can carry considerable pressures in a region that sees frost and hail regularly. However the wines are often reflective of the vintage, of their own unique terroir, and they tell a story of a place and time. Progressive and lo-fi winemaking styles are employed more often than not, with organic practices and biodynamic farming able to be ensured at the hands of the growers. House producers (négociant manipulant) instead source grapes from a number of different growers around the region, lending them many options for blending (very handy in the tough years). Their strength is often their non-vintage ‘house’ blend, which is calculated and consistent year on year, using their pantry of ‘vin de reserve’ from previous vintages to help create the classic house style, which allows you to know what to expect from the same bottle whether you buy it today or in ten years time. A craft in itself.
Blanc de Blancs
Blanc de Blancs, translating to “white of whites” means white wine made from white grapes. This is usually Chardonnay, which is grown almost exclusively in the Côtes des Blancs sub-region within Champagne, as it sits on heart of the deepest chalk sub-soil. This is a style with steely acidity, citrus, stone-fruit, oyster shell and chalky minerality. Tightly wound, some Blanc de Blancs deserve some cellaring time before enjoying, such Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne, but we forgive you if you can’t resist..
Blanc de Noirs
Blanc de Noirs, you guessed it, means white wine made from black grapes, and is where Pinot Noir and Meunier come into the spotlight. Pinot Noir is known for its pure expression of terroir, producing long-lived wines of complexity and elegance. Best grown in the Montagnes de Reims, where it loves to dig its roots into the Kimmeridgian limestone, look out for Ambonnay producers (like Egly-Ouriet and Coutier) for a fuller, richer style. Meunier grows well where Pinot Noir does not, in the Vallée de la Marne. Generous in red fruit and floral spice, grower producers in particular are proving that Meunier is no second fiddle but a star in its own right, making exceptional single-varietal expressions from old vines both elegant and captivating.
Who can look past the alluring pink shades of Rosé Champagne? Tinted with the addition of red wine or made by leaving grapes in contact with their skins to macerate and extract colour, phenolic and flavour, these lend themselves to food like no other. It’s Champagne for red wine drinkers, full of red berry fruit and time on lees ensuring richness, robust flavour and savoury spice. We can’t think of a better style to celebrate with.