How to Choose the Perfect Champagne

French Champagne is the crown jewel of any occasion, and not limited to a welcome beverage or one used for a pre-dinner toast. In fact, many top chefs across Europe, and more recently the U.S., suggest vintage Champagne pairs better with beef than red wine! Electing Champagne as the drink of the occasion is easy -- selecting the right Champagne, however, can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some tips to help you choose the perfect Champagne with confidence.

CHAMPAGNE:  Know the Difference

All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. To be called Champagne, the sparkling wine must be: 1) exclusively made in the Champagne region of France, 2) made from the traditional Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), and 3) made by méthode champenoise (the traditional Champagne making method that requires a second fermentation in the bottle).

DOSAGE:  Find Your Sweet Spot

 

Champagne is classified with a label that indicates the level of sweetness (dosage = amount of sugar added).

Brut Nature has zero sugar added and has become more popular amongst Champagne aficionados who are looking for the brightest, most acidic Champagnes that reflect flavors and sweetness that only Mother Nature has provided.

Extra Brut is lower on the sweetness chart, EB Champagnes have a brighter acid and lower dosage {sugar}, often making it the perfect Champagne to share with your more sophisticated or ‘wine snobby’ friends. Many people think all Champagne is sweet and will give them a nasty hangover… but an EB will be a breath of fresh air for many.

Brut is usually a good place to start and one of the more commonly available Champagnes. A crowd pleaser, most Brut Champagnes have enough sweetness to balance the natural acidity in Champagne but don’t taste like a dessert wine.

*Champagnes in the other four categories will typically either be paired with or replace dessert.

STYLE:  It’s All About the Grapes

There are three main grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The usage of certain grapes determines the style. If it is not listed, one can assume that the producer made it in the standard style, which is a combination of grapes, also commonly referred to as a Cuvée.

Blanc de Blanc is made using only the white Chardonnay grape. A 100% Chardonnay, or Blanc de Blancs, typically have more lemon and apple-like fruit flavors with a mineral edge. There are a few additional varietals used, such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Arbane, but on very rare occasions. Chardonnay fruit is typically grown in the southern part of Champagne known as the Côtes de Blancs. It pairs nicely with seafood or shellfish.

Blanc de Noir is made using red grapes that include Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This Champagne may include either varietal on its own, or more often, a blend of both. While Pinot Noir is fruit forward and adds body to the Champagne, Pinot Meunier typically adds intense fruit, more floral notes, and roundness. Structurally, a nice Blanc de Noirs will hold up to duck, poultry and red meats, cheeses, and truffles.

Rosé, pink style Champagne, is made by blending champagne with a small amount of red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier still-wine before the second fermentation occurs. It doesn’t take a lot of red wine to make Rosé, in fact, several producers use 10% or less Pinot Noir for their Rosé Champagne. Rosés are nicely consumed alone by the pool, or their soft fruity flavors and balanced acidity will complement most dishes.

 

VINTAGE:  Age is Important

Aging of Champagne is one of the main components of production and one that helps Champagne differentiate itself from other sparkling beverages. All Champagne is required to age in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months, but many of the best producers are known to age their champagnes for 5-10 years before release. The longer a Champagne is aged, the more the natural acidity balances and softens the wine producing softer and more integrated flavors. A Champagne with “vintage” on the label means it has been aged for at least 3 years. 

Non-vintage (NV) Champagnes are aged for a minimum of 15 months but are typically left 2-3 years before release.

Vintage (MM or Millesime) refers to a truly exceptional year and Champagne that is aged for a minimum of 36 months, but many are left for 4-10 years.

Final Thoughts

As many have had the opportunity to visit California or other wine regions, learning what you like takes time and lots of tasting! Similarly, finding your favorite Champagnes or better, the perfect Champagne for every occasion, is less about trial and error and more a process of tasting and learning with each purchase of Champagne… the beautiful sparkling wine from France! We hope the above provided some guidance and foundation for you this season.

Would you like to take the journey with us? Experience Champagne all year with Sherri’s Champagne Club! Twice a year, you will receive a shipment of 6 hand-picked, small production, Grower Champagnes from France! Contact me for more information. Xx

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