Become A Champagne Connoisseur With These Tips
If you know that Champagne is actually wine that can only be made within the approved Champagne region of northeastern France, then you’re already ahead of the game. While you can generally find a region and grape variety of red wine to stick to that you know you’ll like every time, all Champagnes come from the same region. Add in the issue of having to decipher inscrutable words on the labels and it’s a daunting task determining quality and figuring out what you like.
Unfortunately, there are no real tricks for using your money wisely in the world of bubbly – the more expensive the Champagne is, usually the better its quality, says Mumm Cellar Master Didier Mariotti. “There is no quick way for determining the quality of a champagne, other than by price and by taste,” he says. “The best quality Champagnes tend to be limited in quantity and more expensive, because they are hand-crafted from very carefully selected grapes and often undergo extended ageing prior to release.”
With this in mind, we got a quick primer on buzzwords – and a few more tips from Mariotti – to help you choose the right bottle. Bottoms up.
Understanding the Buzzwords
While Champagne is made mainly from three grape varieties – Pinot Noir (a red variety), Pinot Meunier (a red variety related to Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay (a white variety), the labels on bottles explain the following attributes of whatever’s inside:
- the sweetness of the wine
- the age of the wine
- the grapes used to make the wine
As with anything else, the lingo really counts here. So here are some buzzwords that you should be on top of. Let’s start with the words that describe the sweetness of the Champagne.
The more “brut” a wine, the drier it is. If you are asking yourself how much of a brut you are, think of what kind of white wine you prefer: crisp and dry to go with fish, or a fruity and sweet one to pair with dessert.
Demi-sec does not mean “half-dry” as the name implies. Rather it means that the wine is actually sweet. Logical, no? So if someone asks you to bring something to drink along with dessert, bring a demi-sec.
Doux means soft. So if demi-sec means sweet, you can imagine that doux refers to “slap you across the face and melt your heart” sweet molasses, containing more than 5% sugar.
OK, this part’s confusing. Why? Because “extra dry” bubbly is actually sweeter than brut. Go figure.
And now for words that describe the type of grapes used…
Blanc de Blancs
Translated literally, this means “white of whites”. It means the grapes used are 100% Chardonnay – white wine from white grapes. Less than 5% of Champagnes are Blanc de Blancs.
Blanc de Noirs
Translated literally, this means “white of blacks”. It means the grapes used are 100% red – white wine from red grapes (yes, it’s possible. Just don’t ask us how.) These are even more rare than the Blanc de Blancs.
When a winemaker leaves the skins of the grapes to make brief contact with the newly pressed juice during the first fermentation, you get rose. (For you trivia buffs and connoisseurs alike, it is important to note that what gives red wine its colour is not the actual grape, but rather its contact with the red skin of the grape.) Rosé Champagnes, a small category, are usually, but not always, made from a blend of white and red grapes.
So, now that you know the basics, how do you determine what you like? That’s next…
Understanding What You Like
Now that you know what the words on the bottle mean, you can start to understand whether you’re more into brut or demi-sec, 100% Chardonnay or 100% Pinot Noir.
“People may prefer Chardonnay or Pinot Noir driven styles,” says Mariotti. “There are lots of different styles of Champagne – sweet or dry, light and fresh, or rich and mature. I choose my champagne according to my mood and the occasion. If it’s to pair with a meal, I might opt for a richer, more mature Pinot Noir dominant style. If it’s an aperitif or to celebrate with friends on a special occasion, I may go for Mumm Blanc de Blancs Mumm de Cramant. In the summer I like Mumm Rosé.”
The hack you’ve probably heard before is to look out for the size of the bubbles – the smaller the bubbles, the better quality the Champagne’s supposed to be. But Mariotti says that’s not all there is to it.
“It is true that top quality champagne should always have a steady stream of tiny bubbles in the glass, but really this is an over-simplification. There are a great number of factors affecting quality including sourcing grapes from the best vineyards, the skill of blending during the assemblage, the length of time spent ageing, etc.”
Now you’re armed with a basic knowledge of Champagne, you can take it to the next level by exploring these more intricate processes.
Try Mariotti’s Suggestions Here:
For a richer Pinot Noir-dominant style: Mumm Vintage, or Cuvee Rene Lalou, £128
For an apertif or special occasion: Mumm de Cramant Blanc de Blancs, £79.45
For a lighter, summery taste: Mumm Rose, £36.95
For a family celebration: Brut Selection, £31.50
Maison Mumm has just announced its 2nd collaboration with international DJ David Guetta. The champagne maison and international DJ have partnered on his next music video, out early November 2015, and Guetta has designed an exclusive new limited edition bottle for Mumm’s iconic Cordon Rouge.