Different Types Of Champagne Grapes
Sparkling wines are often confused with Champagne. Yet, this name is reserved to only a few privileged beverages. Not only this denomination is reserved for wines coming from the specific region in France, but this drink can only be made from a few types of Champagne grapes.
In other words, your sparkling Riesling produced in California isn’t Champagne.
But which are the different types of Champagne grapes accepted by the winemakers? Is it possible to achieve a champagne-like beverage at home? Let’s start with the basics.
Champagne: A Short History
Champagne is one of the most famous wines in the world, a symbol of luxury and aristocracy. The supremacy of this drink derives from centuries of sought-after quality, passionate studies, and revolutionary technological innovations that have marked the history of sparkling wine in general and Champagne in particular.
The winemakers in the homonym region in France were probably the first to understand the importance of branding and marketing, cultural revolutions that marked the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But the popularity of this beverage goes beyond a name.
The quality of Champagne is strictly controlled by regional and national associations, while the grapes used in the vinification process are among the noblest in the world.
In fact, only three prized varietals are widely accepted for the vinification process. Famous all over the world for their exceptional qualities, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are the Champagne grapes almost exclusively used by the producers.
But the quality of the beverage is not determined by the type of grapes alone. It’s also determined by where the grapes are grown. The climatic and geological conditions present in the Champagne region are impossible to find in another territory, that’s why no other region in the world is able to replicate the distinctive flavors and aromas of this drink.
Curiously, of the three accepted grapes, only the first is white. Both Pinots are black varieties yet they are suitable for the vinification of white wines.
Classification Of Champagne Vines
Champagne grapes are classified by a local association and INAO, a national governing body that regulates the denomination of wines, into three categories, Premier Cru, Grand Cru, and Cru.
This system determines the quality of the vineyards, offering the consumer a clear indication of the provenience and types of grapes used. Obviously, this category also determines the price of a bottle, which can vary widely from a few tens to a few thousands of dollars.
Premier Cru is classified as the best quality, followed by Grand Cru and Cru.
Types Of Champagne Grapes
Chardonnay is one of the ancient types of grapes, originally from Burgundy area. It thrives in the cold climate of this region and for this reason, it was one of the first types of grapes to be grown in the Champagne region.
Just like Burgundy, Champagne region is characterized by an equally cold and temperamental climate. But Chardonnay grapes are easy to grow and they are also easy to transform into wine. This characteristic explains both their popularity around the world and the suitability for champagne-making.
Not only Chardonnay has no ripening problems in cold climates, it’s also renowned for its exceptional yields.
One of the characteristics that made Chardonnay the preferred type of Champagne grapes is the unique aromatic contribution. These versatile grapes develop aromas of raspberries, exotic fruits, peaches, but also roses, tea, tobacco, and vanilla. All these aromas give character to Champagne and make Chardonnay the most prized type of grapes for this beverage .
Champagnes obtained exclusively from this type of grapes are denominated with the wording “Blanc de Blancs”.
Pinot noir is another type of grapes from Burgundy area adopted by Champagne for its great attitude to cold climates and for its unmatched quality. But unlike Chardonnay, these grapes are delicate and quite problematic. They are difficult to grow and even more difficult to turn into wine.
The vinification process in champagne-making has to be cleverly scheduled to allow the transformation of a red wine into white, process that usually happens during a second fermentation in the bottle. Some wineries even produce Champagne from unripe Pinot Noir, obtaining substantially more acid wines.
In this case, the sparkling wine is obtained through a classic method. In the second phase of the vinification process more sugar is added to the wine, solving the problem of acidity and increasing the alcohol concentration.
This method is renowned for bringing on aromas and flavors of red fruits with herbal hints.
One of the many Pinots, Pinot Meunier is a type of grapes used almost exclusively for Champagne. In fact, most winemakers in other regions don’t even know it exists. With a more structured aroma and distinct flavors, this type of grape is known to reinforce the weakness of Pinot Noir in those years that are unfavorable for the latter.
Pinot Meunier is renowned for its strong spicy aromas and solid body, but it is never vinified alone because the quality of the two other types of grapes is superior. For this reason, Pinot Meunier is used almost exclusively to strengthen the structure and enrich the aromas of Champagne.
Types Of Champagne
Champagne grapes apart, a distinction between the types of the beverage can be made based on the year of production. Vintage champagnes are made from grapes harvested in the same year. Non-vintage champagnes are made from wines harvested in different years.
The latter should usually be consumed young, while vintage types are prone to aging, thus more expensive.
We can also make a distinction based on the type of Champagne grapes used for the vinification. Trois Cépages is the most common type of champagne and it is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
As mentioned above, Blanc de Blancs is the most prestigious type. It is produced exclusively from Chardonnay grapes and is characterized by complex aromas and flavors.
Blanc de Noirs, on the other hand, is obtained either from Pinot Noir or a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. From these grapes is also obtained the rosé variety.