Welcome to our 100% champagne blog full of the best sparkling recommendations to discover Epernay and our how to choose champagne guide! Who are we? Sarah (the editor of the articles) and Romain, happy owners of our apartments in the heart of Epernay, but above all, two lovers of Champagne.
Like you, we love to travel, and this blog allows us to share with you that little something extra that will make your stay in Champagne unique.
Today, I’m not taking you on tour, but I’m talking to you about the unavoidable treasure of our region and its grapes, champagne. You will finally have the answer to the question: how to choose your sparkling champagne?
My aim is to share with you some advice on selecting and buying the best champagne. Far from the technical wine guides that are not accessible to everyone without specific knowledge, I give you simple suggestions to choose champagne here.
After these few lines, you will finally have the keys to find your way around the wine shelves and choose a bottle of good champagne among all the vintages on offer.
The keys to choose your champagne
Whether it’s to choose a bottle for yourself, to buy one for your guests or to buy for a loved one, choosing a bottle of champagne is not always easy, with so many vintages!
Because we’ve all found ourselves lost one day having to choose from a selection of dozens of wines and champagnes, I’ve decided to give you the essentials for choosing a bottle of sparkling champagne.
And to make the task accessible to everyone, I want to share this information with you in the simplest way possible, without necessarily using all the technical wine jargon.
Before I start, I’ll give you a list of the things you absolutely must check on a bottle of champagne when you buy:
- The presence of the Champagne appellation
- The type of champagne (Brut nature, Doux, etc.)
- Two initials that indicate the professional category of the winemaker
- The origin
There are, of course, other compulsory indications on wines and champagne labels, but I will show you the ones you need to decipher when choosing your sparkling bottle of champagne.
The more curious can find the regulations on wines and champagne with details of all the compulsory mentions and the meanings.
The label on the back of the wine bottle is not compulsory but is very interesting and will give you information about the nature of the champagne and its grapes. It mainly contains information on the wine grape varieties, the champagne’s flavours and aromas of the champagne or even suggestions for the best food and wine combinations.
Origin and professional category of the Champagne producer
Along with the professional registration number, two initials must appear on the label to inform the consumer about the bottle’s origin.
How to decode these two small letters? I give you all the information on these initials, which tells you a lot about a bottle of champagne:
- C.M: coopérative de manipulation = the members supply the wine grapes to the cooperative, which is responsible for making and marketing the champagne wines
- R.C: récoltant coopérateur = the wine harvester leaves his grapes with the cooperative to recover a product in the process of being made or ready for consumption in order to sell it directly
- R.M: récoltant manipulant = the winegrower harvests, elaborates and markets his champagne
- S.R: société de récoltants = group of producers who make and sell champagne wines with the grapes of their members
- N.M: négociant manipulant = responsible for the elaboration of the champagne after the purchase of the grapes. This is, for example, the case of the big brands.
- N.D: négociant distributeur = reseller of champagnes purchased once the manufacturing process is complete. He puts his own label on the bottles even if he did not participate in the elaboration of the champagne wine.
- M.A: marque d’acheteur = the distributor sells under his own brand champagne purchased from producers. This is often the case for champagnes sold in supermarkets, where you can buy different champagnes sold under the same brand.
Now you understand why these two letters are important to check when choosing your sparkling champagne!
Vintage & Champagne Millésimé
You must have already come across the word “Millésime” on a bottle of champagne without really knowing what it means. We tend to think that this denomination gives an exceptional character to the champagne, but it is not quite like that!
The vintage actually expresses the year of the grape harvest and the winemaking so that we would say “Vintage 2005” for a sparkling cuvée made in 2005. However, this is not information that we often come across, as the majority of champagnes are produced with several vintages of grapes.
If the mention of a vintage gives information about a year, the words “Champagne Millésimé” on a bottle will be a good indication of which wine to choose. This means that you are looking at a prestigious cuvée from a so-called exceptional year.
Wondering how to choose the best vintages? Thanks to this guide of the vintages since 1939, you will be confident in selecting superb champagnes.
Choose your champagne according to the sugar content
At the end of the champagne making process, a note of liqueur is slipped into the bottle, and this is the dosage stage.
The dosage also determines the taste of the champagne, and with this information, you can also choose the best bottle to match your sparkling menu.
The sweeter the champagne wine, the higher the sugar content, and vice versa. For example, a bottle of brut champagne is not very sweet. For your information, here is the sugar dosage according to the type of champagne:
- sweet more than 50 grams of sugar per litre
- semi-dry between 32 and 50 grams of sugar per litre- dry between 17 and 32 grams of sugar per litre
- extra dry between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per litre- brut less than 12 grams of sugar per litre
- extra brut between 0 and 6 grams of sugar per litre
As for the composition of the liqueur, this is a well-kept secret by the Champagne Houses, each one having its own recipe which gives a particular style to the cuvées.
And after this stage comes the time for the final corking of the bottle of champagne, which will be opened one last time for your tasting!
Blanc de Noirs, an exceptional champagne?
The latest fashionable trend, the Blanc de Noirs, is gaining ground in specialist shops and is increasingly being served on the tables of champagne and wine lovers.
It is a white coloured champagne made from black grapes, generally pinot meunier and pinot noir, which are relatively common wines.
Some wine bottles end up being offered at high prices simply because of the words “Blanc de Noirs” on the label. But in reality, this is only information about the type of grape variety and not a specific mention or appellation.
If you want to taste Blanc de Noirs and are looking for a real one, I suggest you check the vintage information on the label. The most important information will be the mention of red wine grape varieties on the back of your bottle of champagne.
Champagne from cooperatives
Even if it is not always indicated in large letters on the bottles of champagne, it is frequent that the wines and champagnes sold in the shops are from cooperatives.
How can you tell if a bottle of champagne is from a cooperative? The words ‘Coopérative de manipulation‘ must be written on the wine bottle’s label. But what you need to know is that more and more cooperatives are giving themselves a name, which is bound to sell better on the wine and champagne shelves.
Do you know Nicolas Feuillatte? It’s the perfect example; we tend to think that it’s a brand of a Champagne House known for its brut selection, whereas it’s actually the name of a cooperative.
So you can easily buy good champagne vintage from cooperatives, even on the supermarket shelves.
In any case, in order to choose and buy the best sparkling champagne, it is important to decipher as much information as possible on the label. Thanks to these tips, you’ll finally know how to choose the right champagne, the one you’ll be requesting again.
Note: if you see the words “declassified champagne“, “hors quantum”, or “jeunes vignes“, do not choose these wines, it is a scam.
All that’s left is to go to your favourite wine shop to apply these sparkling tips and treat yourself to a tasting of bubbles worthy of the name.
But beware of the so-called “light taste,” this is a taste defect that occurs due to too much exposure to light. To avoid this, you are better off choosing a bottle in a box, still wrapped in its carton, or select one from the very back of the shelf! It’s not very practical, but throwing your money and champagne down the drain would be a shame.
You can also find our favourite places for a sparkling champagne tasting in Epernay, where you can have a good time with friends and family.
See you soon for a sparkling getaway in Champagne, France!
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