A Guide to Champagne
Champagne is a sparkling wine named after the region in which it is made. Sparkling wine made anywhere cannot use the name Champagne. Champagne is one of the most famous and important types of wine around. Without it, you couldn’t toast the birth of your newborn, your big promotion, or the arrival of a New Year. It’s the drink that makes every celebration better!
But how much do you know about champagne? Do you know about the various champagne types, or the champagne brands best for your celebrations? If not, don’t worry! We’re here to help.
Here at Vintage Roots, we take our champagne very seriously, so we’ve compiled a list of the main different types of champagne you’ll find, as well as a few of the more common brands. By the time you reach the end of this page, you’ll know all about the various champagne types and champagne brands…
How is Champagne Made?
Champagne is truly a delightful drink, one with light, airy flavours and fine bubbles that dance on your tongue. There are few drinks that are so celebratory as a good glass of champagne.
The taste and character of your champagne comes from the grapes that are used. Champagne is usually made from one or more of these three grapes:
- Chardonnay: a white grape which makes the champagne fresh and elegant.
- Pinot Noir: a red grape which provides the body and structure of the champagne, and gives it the complex, red berry and earthy flavours.
- Pinot Meunier: a red grape which gives the fruit flavours and floral aromas, and is good for younger Champagnes.
Some small producers use other grapes (such as Arbanne or Pinot Blanc), but the majority use a combination of the three grapes listed above.
The bubbles in your champagne come from the process used to make the champagne. Known as the ‘traditional method’, it is where grapes are fermented to wine as with ‘normal’ wine. However, at this stage, this is a wine that is low in alcohol, and almost undrinkably acidic.
The second fermentation is started by adding yeast and some sugar to the bottle, which is then aged for a minimum of 15 months (or 36 months for Vintage Champagne). A key feature of this ageing is the effect of the dead yeast cells (known as lees).
They give Champagne its bready, biscuity notes, increasing in intensity with the length of ageing. This secondary fermentation creates carbon dioxide, which is gradually dissolved in the wine, giving bubbles when the cork is popped.
The Different Champagne Types
Now that you know how champagne is made, let’s take a look at the various champagne styles:
The term “vintage” refers to champagnes that have been made using only grapes harvested in one single year. It is only produced and released in the best years, though a few producers will make champagnes in the “lesser years”.
Vintage champagnes are aged for longer, and will usually be more expensive than a ‘non vintage’ (NV) champagne from the same producer, but they will also be of a higher quality, and can be aged for decades in some instances. Whereas NV champagnes should be consistent year after year, vintage champagnes will be different each year, according to the weather of that year.
Vintage champagnes are generally richer in flavour than NV, and are ideal for serving with food. See our blog on matching Fleury Blanc de Blancs with food for some inspiration.
The term “non-vintage” (NV) refers to champagnes that have been made by blending wines from different years to produce a classic “house style” champagne. The majority of champagne sold is non-vintage, and it’s a real showcase for the art of blending; NV champagnes can be a blend of different grapes, different years and many different vineyards. What’s even more impressive is that all this blending is done before the second fermentation.
Non-vintage champagnes are designed to be drunk immediately, but many can benefit from extra ageing, gaining richer, savoury notes and a softer mousse.
Blanc de Noirs
This is the type of champagne produced using ONLY red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). It often has a fuller, fruitier character than other champagnes. Fleury Blanc de Noirs is a fantastic example of this style.
Blanc de Blancs
Made using only white grapes (Chardonnay), this can be lighter and arguably more ‘elegant’ than a Blanc de Noirs or a blend. You can find both non-vintage and vintage Blanc de Blancs champagnes. Champagne Fleury make a fine vintage Blanc de Blancs.
Rosé champagne can be made in one of two ways. Unlike still rosé wine, rosé Champagne can be made by blending red and white wines.
However, the best are made using the ‘saignée’ method, where red grapes are gently pressed to extract the desired level of colour from the skins before they are discarded.
The Best Champagne Brands
We’ve learned about the different types of champagne, but now it’s time we look at what’s really important: the brands.
Champagne brands are more than just a label – they’re history, and are known as the ‘grand marques’ (big brands).
Here are some of the top champagne brands you’ll find:
This prestige cuvée (the name given to the best wine produced by a house) belongs to Moët & Chandon, one of the largest champagne houses in France. Your average bottle of Dom Perignon is aged for seven years before it is released.
Despite its high price of over £100, it is estimated that around five million bottles are produced in each vintage year! Compare that to just 200,000 bottles in total made by Champagne Fleury each year.
Armand de Brignac
Also known as “Ace of Spades”, this wine is currently partly-owned by Jay Z, and is one of the most recognized brands of champagne on the market.
It’s a prestige cuvee made from the classic mixture of grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay), and it sells for nearly £200 per bottle.
This is the champagne to order if you want people to know what you’re drinking!
It has become very well known through celebrity endorsements and its clear bottle wrapped in orange cellophane makes it very distinctive. It is the prestige cuvee of Louis Roederer and costs around £150.
This is another very well-known champagne, yet it is much smaller than big brands such as Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon.
They use a high proportion of Pinot Noir in their blends, and have some deliberate oxidation to give a full-flavoured, toasty champagne. Cost: £40-150 per bottle.
Perrier Jouët Champagne
This is yet another “value” champagne, priced around £30 for the non-vintage, up to £130 for their vintage prestige cuvée, ‘Belle Epoque’, with its famous art nouveau flower bottle.
These are some of the most commonly recognised champagne brands on the market, often making many millions of bottles per year.
If you’re looking for a quality champagne but don’t want to pay the high prices commanded by Cristal or Dom Perignon, we’re extremely proud of our range of organic champagnes.
Champagne Fleury, in particular, are a pioneering estate (the first champagne house to be certified biodynamic) and make some truly wonderful wines representing great value compared to the ‘grand marques’
This champagne has a fruity nose, with bold flavours of raspberry and yeasty complexity. It’s a highly expressive wine made using Pinot Noir grapes and very low levels of sulphur. It’s a house cuvée worth savouring!
This organic champagne is elegant and surprisingly well-priced. Made from Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, you’ll find that it has plenty of character thanks to its wonderful depth, fruity flavours, and perfect acidity/sweetness balance.
This biodynamic champagne is bone-dry, with persistent flavours that will fill your mouth and demand your attention. The aromas are heady and attractive, and perfect for enjoying with food. Incredible value for the quality.
These are our highest-recommended champagnes for you, and you’ll find that they are the perfect way to add elegance and class to your events. They are the best of the champagne types we have to offer!