The Grapes in Champagne

Sparkling wine can be made almost anywhere.  Wine can be made anywhere.  The French, being the foodies that they are have declared that sparkling wine that comes from a region known as Champagne, can only be called Champagne.  France has many regions, all devoted to their wines, Burgundy and Bordeaux are famous for their reds.

The grapes usually grown to make Champagne; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Chardonnay grapes are white, while the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are dark.  Most Champagnes are a blend of these three grapes, but some producers do make Champagne that is all from one grape.  The Champagne made 100% from the Chardonnay grapes are called a Blanc de Blanc and the Champagne made from the other two grapes are called a Blanc de Noir. It is important to note: The 2010 version of the appellation regulations lists seven varieties as allowed,   Arbane, Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot noir. For now we will stick to the three main grapes.

Chardonnay grapes do not have a strong floors of it’s own, generally.  The flavors it produces can be changed by the terrier (soil) and the temperatures of where it is grown.  Which is why a Chardonnay from New Zealand will taste different than a Chardonnay grown in France. It is easily influenced by oak barrel aging.  The World Atlas of Wine says that Chardonnay is “Broad, versatile, inoffensive-unless over oaked”. I find that it is crisp and sometimes very mineral-ly.  It rarely has fruity notes, which I prefer to taste in my wines.

Pinor Noir have a fruity, flowery element to them.  The Wine Atlas says that pinot noir have tasting notes of cherry, raspberry, violets, fame and mid-ruby.  The last grape, Pinot Meunier or Schwarzriesling, is more acidic then Pinot Noir.  The Pinot Meunier grape adds fruity aromatics to the Champagnes.  I have read conflicting reports that it does not age well, but it apparently does because one of the big Champagne houses Krug uses it liberally.

In my journey of learning about Champagne, I would like to learn what the main three grapes offer to Champagne.  Since most Champagne is a blend of the different grapes, it would stand to make sense that the different blends will each offer a different experience when drinking.  It is my hope that eventually I might be able to determine by tasting which grape is the most prominent in the blend.

There are around 5,000 Champagne makers in the Champagne region of France.  Some are small houses that bottle as little as 50,000 bottles a year and there are big houses that bottle millions of bottles a year.  They each have their own way of blending their cuvèes.


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