101 – Champagne basics

Let’s start right at the beginning.

This article will answer the champagne basics, the information you’ve always wanted to know, but haven’t been game to ask.

In a world where champagne can often be drowned in snobbery and pretentious nonsense, it can be incredibly awkward to admit you don’t know what ‘Grand Cru’ means.  A description of ‘Grand Cru’ and other basic terms is outlined below.

If you want a deeper understanding of how champagne is made, and some of the more in-depth terms, click here.

Blanc de Blancs

Literally ‘white from white’. White champagne made exclusively from white grapes, usually chardonnay.

Blanc de Noirs

Literally ‘white from black’. White champagne made exclusively from the dark-skinned grapes pinot noir and/or meunier. This is achieved by gentle pressing, removing the juice from the skins before any colour leaches out.

Chef de Cave

The ‘chief ’ or ‘chef ’ in the cellar (champagne winemaker).

Brut/Extra Brut

Brut means raw/dry, containing less than 12g/L sugar (formerly less than 15g/L sugar – champagne is becoming pleasingly drier!). 12g/L of sugar is equivalent to less than a teaspoon in a cup of coffee. Extra Brut has even less sugar (less than 6g/L).

Cuvée

The first 2,050 litres of juice from a 4,000-kilogram press.  This is the best bit of the juice.  The term also refers to an individual blend or style, and this is its most common use on labels.

Sec, Demi-Sec

Sec = Dry, though ironically it’s sweeter than brut, with between 17 and 32g/L of sugar. We’re up to two teaspoons of sugar in your cup of coffee now!
Demi-sec = Medium Dry (sweeter). 32-50g/L of sugar. If you drink your coffee with 3 or 4 teaspoons of sugar, this could be the champagne for you.

Cru, Premier Cru, Grand Cru

This is Champagne’s antiquated vineyard classification system. The highest vineyard classification is Grand Cru. In Champagne, this classification is crudely applied to a village and all the vineyards within its bounds acquire the same classification. Seventeen villages are classified as Grand Cru. Premier cru is the next tier, with 41 villages. All other champagne villages are simply referred to as Crus. There are 320 in all.

Vintage

Wine from grapes picked in a single year.

Non-Vintage (NV)

A champagne containing wine from more than one vintage (year).

Rosé

A pink version of champagne.  It’s typically made by blending champagne with a small amount of local red wine.  Sometimes, the Chef de Cave will create the pink colour by allowing the skins of red grapes to leach their colour into the blend.  Why is rosé champagne so expensive? Find out here.

What’s next?

Now you know the basics – check out the way champagne is made.  Here, you will pick up some other terms to help you identify the type of champagne you enjoy the most.


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