Champagne Crib Sheet

 In Blog

Why have I created this Champagne Crib Sheet? I strongly believe that a better informed clientele will make decsions that are correct for them. I will take an easy example – Veuve Cliquot, a consumer favorite that retails from $49 to $60. This is sourced from all over the region with varying levels of quality juice and no sense of place. I can supply you with numerous quality, ie from only prestigious Premier and Grand Cru villages,  examples for the same price if not less. What have you to lose… except to find a new appreciation of Champagne and a new favorite!

The Grapes

Chardonnnay – 28% of the plantings.
Provides floral notes, hints of citrus and apple plus an ethereal lightness and elegance during cool years.
Can ripen to high sugar and high extract levels in hot vintages yielding wines that are both fat and fruity.

Pinot Noir – 39% of the plantings. Provides cherry and strawberry fruit, power, structure, richness and alcohol.

Pinot Meunier – 33% of the plantings. ). Provides acid, red fruit, depth and earthiness (sometimes pumpernickel or rye bread).

The Dirt

All Chalk is limestone
Grapes grown on chalk are typically quite high in acid, producing lean wines with reserved aromatics.

Clay soils produce wines that can be mineral rich; these wines need more significant time aging to express their true flavors and aromas.

Sandy soils produce wines with more overt fruit characteristics; these wines are open and easy-drinking.

Limestone-rich marls are the preferred soils of Pinot Noir. Marls deliver a deeply aromatic, earthy expression of Pinot Noir.
Montagne de Reims: chalk
Côte des Blancs: chalk
Val de Reims: clays, marls and sands
Vallee de la Marne: marls, clays and sands

The Climate

– Mean annual temperature 11,5° C (52,5° F)
– Average annual sunshine 1.680 hours
– 55 years of severe frost since 1875
– 674 mm
(26,5 inches) of rain per year in Epernay

The Production

  1. Hand Harvest the ripe grapes with low alcohol.
  2. Whole Cluster Pressing at an authorized Press Centre.
  3. There are 3 Cuts from the Press.
  4. Cuvee is the first to emerge from the press – 2050 liters – from center zone of the pulp and rich in sugars, high in acid and most of the delicate. Top end champagnes. This is in essence free run juice.
  5. Premiere Taille – pulp closer to pips and skin, less acid and sugar. 500 liters.Demi sec, extra dry bottlings. Intense but simple aromatics.
  6. Deuxieme taille – outlawed. 205 liters along with rebeche can go to still wine.
  7. Fermentation to about 10.5-11.5%
  8. Next step is blending to make a base wine across these criteria:
    Terroir – different grapes or one single grape
    Grape – blanc de blanc but different terroirs
    Vintage – grapes and multiple locations.
  9. 2nd Fermentation
  10. Liquer de tirage – cultured yeast, cane or beet sugar and yeast nutrients (nitrogen). Biproduct is CO2
    4g/l sugar will create 1atm of pressure, from the CO2 and .22% alc.
    Max amount by law is 27g/l.
    Lie bottles on side on rows separated by lattes – vins sur lattes to ferment.
  11. Post fermentation let the now dead yeast cells, die and breakdown, a process called Autolysis. This gives the Champagne bouquet a  toasty, nutty, biscuit like & brioche sense
  12. Remuage and Disgorgement is basically moving the dead yeast cells down the bottle and ejecting them out whilst maintaining as much bubbles as possible. A the same time the dosage can be added.
  13.  Dosage – Top up with same wine (reserve) and / or dosage. Dosage balances the acidity. It is 1% of total volume but dictates the “style”.
  14. Cork and label and then lie down to let everything settle and then ship.

The Champagne Regions

Montagne de Reims: 27 villages. Most famous for Pinot Noir
The Montagne de Reims lies between the Marne and the Vesle Rivers, forming a broad, undulating headland of forests and thickets that stretches east-west for about 30km and north-south for 6-10km.
The vineyards hug its western and northern flanks, planted in a huge semicircle that extends from Louvois to Villers-Allerand. Vines carpet the limestone slopes and steep valleys of the famous Champagne villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay, following the contours of the mountain from Trépail to Villers-Marmery, before disappearing from view in the folds and creases of its northern flank, skirting the plain of Rheims and the famously picturesque villages of Verzenay, Mailly and Verzy.
The vineyards are predominantly planted to the Pinot Noir except in Trépail and Villers-Marmery where the Chardonnay is also cultivated.
The region produces robust wines with a crisp palate and a fragrant nose — qualities that give Champagne wines their backbone.

Verzenay Grand Cru: J Lallement – no oenophile should miss the chance to taste a top growers less blended version particularly those of.. Jean Lallement.
Verzenay Grand Cru: Pehu Simmonet this is 100% Chardonnay!!


Cote des Blanc, 13 villages. Most famous for Chardonnay

It is a cuesta running NE to SW & 8 miles long.
The chalk-covered ridge of la Côte des Blancs is where the Chardonnay finds its finest expression, source of that famous Blanc de Blancs that Champagne blenders then artfully combine with Blanc de Noirs from the Montagne de Reims and the Marne Valley to create the prestige cuvees that are the pride and joy of the Champagne Houses.
It is 97% Chardonnay.

The Grand Crus are:
Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Oger, Oiry.

Cremant & Avize constitute the historical heart of the Cote. They were the 1st on the Cote to be classified as Grand Cru.

Avize – the Grand Cru of the Cote that arguably produces the most complete, age worthy wines. It has a reputation for lead pencil elegance! We have the great producer Varnier Fanniere

Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is considered by many to be the most prestigious grand cru village in the Côtes de Blancs, if not Champagne. The vineyards are most famous for Champagne Salon as well as the famed Clos de Mesnil of Krug.
Here is a Champagne that goes under the radar – Clotilde!

1er Cru: Pierre Gimmonet et Fils sources from Cuis which is adjacent to Avize.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils proudly avoids the grand cru label. “We have no grand cru blends, because the wines are better balanced when they’re blended with premier crus.
Gimonnet is one of the most consistent producers of great Chardonnay Champagne!!

Vertus Premier Cru – Doyard a wonderful house going back hundreds of years. 

Valle de la Marne, 9 villages. Least famous region and is majority Pinot Meunier
South of the Montagne de Reims & North of Epernay. Steep valley with the East side on the edge of Dry Champagne (Chalk)

Aÿ is the most famous Grand Cru in the Marne Valley.  Renowned for its Pinot Noir, Ay produces remarkable wines: exceptional body, delicate nose  — qualities that bring finesse and backbone to the blend.

Hautvillers, cradle of Champagne perched above a sea of vines, is where Dom Pérignon, is said to have discovered the art of Champagne-making. Here the Pinot Meunier reigns supreme, except in Cumières where it is joined by the Pinot Noir.
Geoffrey makes the best Champagne in the 1er Cru Village of Cumieres which is below Hautvilliers.

Tous Sur Marne Grand Cru – Lamiable

Some of the A.O.C Rules & Regulations

A non-vintage Champagne must mature on lees for at least 15 months (36 months for a vintage dated wine)

Press Centre: Size, nature of eqpt, press capacity, performance records and maintenance history and vol of clarification tanks.

Pressings (only 1st two allowed for Champagne):
Cuvee: 1st 2050l
(Premiere) Tailles: next 500l
Ageing: 12 months on lees
NV: 15 months in cellar (starting Jan 1st)
Vintage: 36 months in cellar, 100% grape from one year.
15% kept back for Reserve each year.

The dosage

Doux : more than 50 g. of sugar per liter
Demi-sec : 32-50
Sec : 17-32
Extra-dry : 12-17
Brut : less than 12
Extra-brut : less than 6
Brut nature }
Pas dose }     Less than 3g & no added sugar for these three.
Dosage zero }


Wine Scholar Guild 5 star 2015: Despite relatively low acid levels (2015 is the lowest acid year since 2003), most feel that the wines of this preponderantly warm, dry year are finely balanced, structured, fresh, concentrated and meant for long ageing. A vintage year for all — with some growers claiming that 2015 is the best vintage since 1947.
Jancis Robinson: Richness should characterise the vintage, and Pinot Noir did particularly well. Some excellent vintage champagne should be produced.

Wine Scholar Guild 3 star 2014 : There was an ample crop of irregular wines with very good results for Chardonnay and Montagne de Reims Pinot,

Wine Scholar Guild 4 star 2013: Good conditions then resumed for an October harvest of tense and acidic but good quality fruit, ideal for ageing. A vintage year for most.

Wine Scholar Guild 4 star 2012: Overall maturity equals 2009. A vintage year is anticipated.
Jancis Robinson: An exceptional vintage in Champagne. Despite low yields thanks to frost, hail and disease early in the season, August saw conditions improve dramatically resulting in exemplary maturity, acidity and grape health at harvest.

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