Crus, grape varieties, vintages, dosage … these elements may be combined in seemingly endless permutations that make for a truly astonishing range of Champagne wines.
The blending process at the heart of Champagne winemaking plays on the diversity of nature, combining wines from different crus (growths), different grape varieties and different years. These subtle factors generate all the singularity and the expression of Champagne wines.
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‘Cru’, the French term for ‘growth’, refers to a certain winegrowing location with a particular growing environment, especially soil and climate, which favours a particular grape variety. Champagne is represented by 319 crus and 280,000 individual vineyard parcels, each with its own specific profile.
Each Champagne grape variety has its own unique personality, which expresses itself differently depending on the terroir. Varietal expression is at its purest in single varietal Champagne wines:
Non-vintage Champagne wines are traditionally blended from grapes grown in different years (= different vintages), but they may also combine wines from a whole range of crus and varietals – it all depends on the style of Champagne. Non-vintage blends are the means to achieve a consistent house style regardless of vintage variability. The house style is unique to each brand of Champagne.
Vintage Champagne is blended from the wines of a single ‘millésime’: a single outstanding year that the individual producer chooses to declare as a vintage. Vintage Champagne wines bear all the hallmarks of their outstanding years.
Champagne wines have different colours.
Some are pale gold verging on green-gold; others are old-gold verging on grey-gold; others again are straw-yellow tending to bright-yellow. The colour depends on the blend and the style of wine in question: the more powerful the wine, the deeper the colour.
Rosé Champagne is made via maceration of whole, uncrushed black grapes, or by blending white wines with a ‘still’ red Champagne appellation wine. Depth of colour, as for white Champagne, varies from light to dark depending on depth of flavour and aroma.
All Champagne wines must spend at least 15 months aging in the producer’s cellars. This increases to three years for Vintage Champagne and considerably longer for the Special Cuvees – time brings out the richness and flavour of Champagne wines.
The word ‘Brut’ indicates that the Champagne contains very little dosage: it has been bottled almost in its natural (‘brut’) state, requiring only the smallest addition of sweetness to bring out its aromatic expression. More than 90% of Champagne wines are categorized as ‘Brut’.
It is this added touch of sweetness (dosage) that provides the basis for the Champagne sweetness scale. At one end of the scale is ‘Extra Brut’ (no dosage whatsoever) and at the other end is ‘Doux’. The categories between these extremes are Brut, Sec and Demi-Sec.
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