Grape Varieties in Champagne


Champagne grapes are unique due to the particular topography, soil and climate of the Champagne delimited region. The three grape varieties used in the production of Champagne are: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (black) and Pinot Meunier (black). A blend of the three grape varieties goes into the production of most champagne in differing quantities. There are exceptions such as Blanc de Blancs, which is made from pure Chardonnay and Blanc de Noir, made solely of black grape varieties such as Pinot Nior.

Pinot Noir is the most widely planted variety with 38% share of the vineyards. Meunier covers 31% whilst Chardonnay is on the rise with 31% share. Besides this trio of famous grapes some houses still cultivate rare historical varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane and Petit Meslier.

Each variety of Champagne has its own role in in the blend, whether it be for structure, freshness, colour or aroma but three varietal blend is still the most typical non vintage champagne such as Moet & Chandon Imperial, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Pol Roger Brut Reserve and Bollinger Special Cuvee.

Chardonnay
With its long and linear structure, Chardonnay constitutes the backbone of champagne, enhancing the wine’s fruitiness. It is a robust, early-ripening variety that thrives on chalky terroirs, like those found in the Côte des Blancs. Initially, Chardonnay may exhibit sharp acidity, but as it ages, it develops a rounder profile with toasty aromas. It imparts a sense of minerality to the wine, accompanied by floral notes and fresh citrus like ripe apples, lemon, grapefruit and in warmer years more tropical notes like pineapple and guava often emerge.

Pure Chardonnay champagnes are known as Blanc de Blancs. Here are some prime examples of both Non-Vintage and Vintage Blanc de Blancs:

Non-Vintage:
Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV
Charles Heidseick Blanc de Blancs NV
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV
Vintage:
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2012
Billecart Salmon Cuvee Louis Blanc de Blancs 2012
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2013
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2010

Pinot Noir
Often described as the ‘muscular base’ of champagne, Pinot Noir contributes richness, body, and depth to the wine. Champagnes made from Pinot Noir are fuller and more robust than those made from Chardonnay. Pinot Noir wines are characterized by their distinctive red fruit aromas (such as cherries, strawberries, and cranberries) and floral notes (including rose and violet). This grape variety matures early and predominates in the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Bar regions, favoured by the cool, chalky soils there.

Meunier
Meunier is often considered ‘slightly inferior’ to the aforementioned grape varieties due to its weaker aging potential. As a result, Meunier is typically used in non-vintage champagnes designed for immediate consumption, as it allows the wine to become drinkable sooner. Despite its usually high acidity, Meunier contributes a rich, expressive fruitiness to the blend. This robust varietal is less prone to frost damage than the other two because it buds later. Consequently, it thrives in clay-rich soils, like those found in the Marne Valley, and can withstand more severe climate conditions.

Blanc de Noirs (meaning white wine from red grapes) are blended solely from red grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or a mixture of both. They can be non-vintagevintage or prestige cuvée champagnes. For example;

Non-Vintage:
Piper Heidsieck Essential Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut
Billecart-Salmon Rendez-vous No3 Meunier NV (100% Meunier)
Bollinger PN AYC18 Brut NV (100% Pinot Noir)
Domaine Alexandre Bonnet Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut NV
Vintage:
Leclerc Briant Blanc de Meuniers 2016
Bollinger B13 Blanc de Noirs 2013
Bollinger La Cote aux Enfants 2013
Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 2002

 

While it’s commonly believed that Champagne is produced exclusively from three grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier), this isn’t entirely accurate. Four additional varieties are also permitted within the AOC region: Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

Though they represent just 0.3% of the cultivated area, their distinctive qualities merit recognition. These ancient varieties introduce fresh potential for the taste profiles of Champagne wines.

Arbane: This lesser-known, captivating variety ripens late and presents challenges in cultivation due to its low resistance to adverse weather and difficulty in pressing. However, it yields a Champagne of exceptional finesse, characterized by both floral (such as hawthorn blossom and carnation) and fruity (including vine peach, apple, and quince) aromas.

Petit Meslier: This grape variety grows in small clusters and produces tiny grapes. It lacks hardiness, yields low crops, and is highly prone to disease. However, it bestows upon Champagne a smoky bouquet that lingers on the palate, accompanied by citrus notes. Drappier Quattuor Blanc de Quatre Blancs NV is one of the few champagnes made from all four of the white grapes permitted in Champagne; we all know Chardonnay and this blend has equal proportions of Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc.

Pinot Gris: This grape variety is closely related to Pinot Noir. It is low in acidity and imparts strong smoky and nutty notes to wines, so much so that in Champagne, it is affectionately referred to as “Enfumé,” meaning ‘filled with smoke’.

Pinot Blanc (also called Blanc Vrai): This grape is also part of the Pinot family, a variant of Pinot Gris, and thus related to Pinot Noir. It offers more consistency in cultivation than Pinot Gris and matures quicker than Pinot Noir. Wines produced from this variety are robust and full-bodied. Drappier Clarevallis Organic Extra Brut NV is made from 75% Pinot Noir, 10% Meunier, 10% Chardonnay & 5% Blanc Vrai. Domaine Alexandre Bonnet’s Blanc de Blancs is a blend of equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.

We do in fact stock a unique Champagne with all seven grape varieties. Domaine Alexandre Bonnet Les Contrees 7 Cepages 2019

Today, these ancestral grapes represent a minuscule fraction – 0.4 per cent – of Champagne’s plantations, but over the past 20 years their planting has grown by 45 hectares to a total of 136. Even if these varieties do not pose a threat to the ‘The Big Three’, they bring versatility to Champagne and another dimension to its story. Although wines from Champagne are dominated by three varieties, an increasing number of grower Champagne producers are experimenting with the four ancestral grapes also permitted.

 

 

Chardonnay grape variety

 

Vineyards at Ruinart

 

Bollinger Blanc de Noirs Vineyard

 

Pinot Noir grape variety