Here’s my primer on the basics you need to know about Champagne: how it gets its bubbles, where the flavors come from, levels of dryness, how to know who makes it, proper glassware, etc. Read this and you are prepared to buy, order, serve, taste, drink, and enjoy Champagne.
Champagne is a place and a wine and maybe a lifestyle. The place is the Champagne region, a historic wine region within the larger Champagne administrative province in the northeast of France. Best known for making of the sparkling wine that bears the its name, Champagne is about 100 miles east of Paris. The legally delimited viticultural region of Champagne is split into five growing areas: the Cote des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne, the Cote de Sézanne, and the Aube. The cities of Reims and Épernay are the main commercial centers of Champagne.
The CHAMPAGNE PROCESS
As the name indicates, the Champagne process or Methode Champenoise evolved in France’ Champagne region. Champagne started off as still wine – sometimes red, sometimes white, sometimes pink – that nature occasionally made fizzy. Methode Champenoise is the process by which the Champagne producers artificially and consistently reproduce that frothy outcome. (Keep Reading)
HOW DRY IS EXTRA DRY?
In the beginning, most Champagne was what is now called Sec or “dry.” These wines were in the 2-4% residual sugar range. While today we would hardly call them dry, they were what was available and were very popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the latter middle of the 19th century, the British market asked for a drier style of Champagne. This same sort of request came twice more from the Paris Market. At the same time, some export customers were asking for sweeter styles of Champagne. From these market driven requests, the six levels of sweetness used for Champagne were developed. Most of the rest of the world has adopted the same wording to describe sweetness levels in sparkling wines whether produced in France, Spain, California, Argentina, or even India. (Keep Reading)
CHAMPAGNE BUZZ WORDS
In most fields of interest, there are a certain amount of specialized language that you have to know in order to understand everything. Champagne is no different. Click here for a the meaning behind some of Champagne’s buzz words.
Champagne, more than any other kind of wine, comes in lots of sizes. And size matters … and, at least when it comes to Champagne bottles, so do the names that describe it. The standard Champagne bottle is 750ml and all the Champagne bottle sizes are based on it. So there are bottles and half-bottles and splits … and there are magnums (aka “mags”) and double-magnums and so on. 750ml bottles are the most common and least expensive way to buy wine. There is an up-charge for small formats (bottles smaller than 750ml) because the packaging materials cost more and there is more labor involved. And there is an up-charge for large formats (bottles larger than 750ml) because there is more cost in the actual bottles and the sizes above a magnum are generally bottled by hand which greatly increases the labor cost. (Keep Reading)
CHAMPAGNE BY THE NUMBERS
All Champagne producers have a number assigned to them and all Champagne labels have that “producer number” on them. It starts with two letters that are followed by a series of numbers. Usually in very small print and sometimes effectively hidden in fancy design, the number is nonetheless there. Those first two letters tell you what kind of producer (negociant, récoltant, co-op, etc.) made the wine. Here is the break down of what those initials mean.
NM: Négociant manipulant. These companies (including most of the larger brands) buy grapes and make the wine. Many also grow grapes. All the the Grand Marques are “NM” producers.
CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Co-operatives that make wines from the growers who are members, with all the grapes pooled together. The wines are sold under the co-op’s brand name.
RM: Récoltant manipulant. A grower that also makes wine from his own grapes (with a maximum of 5% purchased grapes allowed). These Farmer Fizz producers are the Champagne equivalent of the domaine in Burgundy. Co-operative members who make their own second (bottle) fermentations but take their bottles to be disgorged at the co-op may now label themselves as RM instead of RC.
SR: Société de récoltants. An association of growers making a shared Champagne but who are not a co-operative. Very rarely seen.
RC: Récoltant coopérateur. A member of a co-operative selling Champagne produced by the co-operative under his own name and label. Rarely seen in the US.
MA: Marque auxiliaire or Marque d’acheteur. A brand name unrelated to the producer or grower; the name is owned by someone else, for example a supermarket. This is seen on “Buyer’s Own Brands.”
ND: Négociant distributeur. A wine merchant selling under his own name