Grape Varieties & Styles of Champagne Defined
Champagne is an extremely complex blended wine — not only a blend of grape varieties but also a blend of wines from different vintages and different vineyards throughout the Champagne region of France. The blend, called the cuvée, combines the strengths of each vineyard. Which grapes are included in the blend, and their proportion is one of the key factors determining the style of the Champagne.
Champagne is usually made using three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are various types of Champagne that can differ widely in terms of both taste and price. The most widely available style of Champagne is non-vintage (NV) accounting for nearly as much as 90% of all Champagnes produced. The list below summarises the various types of Champagne.
The Pinot Noir Grape
It is the predominant grape variety on the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar where the cool, chalky terrain suit it perfectly. It is the Pinot Noir that adds backbone and body to the blend, producing wines with distinctive aromas of red berries and good structure. Pinot Noir, often described as delicate, also adds lovely aromatics to the blend.
A fashionable red grape variety, the Pinot Noir grape produces divinely scented and gorgeously fruity wines. A Pinot Noir reaches its highest peaks of fruit expression in cool climates where the weather allows the grape to intensify in flavour and colour which makes it perfect for France and the Champagne Region.
The Meunier Grape
Pinot Meunier has become a star in its own right in recent years, with Meunier Champagnes becoming increasingly more popular. This robust grape variety shows better cold-weather resistance than the pinot noir and is particularly well suited to the more argillaceous soils of the Marne Valley. The Meunier adds roundness to the blend, producing supple, fruity wines that tend to age more quickly than wines made with the other two varieties.
The Chardonnay Grape
With the amount of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes found in wine shops and on restaurant menus, the chardonnay is king on the Côte des Blancs, yielding delicately fragrant wines with characteristic notes of flowers and citrus. Being slower to develop than the other two varieties, chardonnay produces wines that are built to age.
Pinot Gris, Arbane & Petit Meslier Grapes
These grapes are part of the grape varieties that one finds in Champagne but they are rare and often forgotten. They now represent only 90 hectares of the Champagne region.
Pinot Gris grapes are susceptible to spring frosts but are the first to ripen.
Arbane fears bad weather and is difficult to squeeze so only a few growers grow the Arbane
Petit Meslier develops an incomparable organoleptic richness but is subject to botrytis a fungus that attacks tender parts of the plant.
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