To many consumers, champagne is synonymous to Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, two of the largest champagne houses owned by LVMH. With years of heavy marketing, they have successfully established Champagne as a luxury enjoyment and these two brands being THE CHOICE of champagne. For such purpose, these big houses manufacture their champagne, aiming for a consistent quality and style across years. They achieve so by applying their own secret blending formula:
- A blend of “base” wine from the most recent vintage along with “reserve” wines from previous vintages
- A blend of wines made from different grape varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier)
- A blend of wines made from vines planted in different villages within the Champagne area
- A slightly varying “dosage” level - amount of sugar introduced for second fermentation
The result is like a luxury handbag; and they can satisfy the ever-growing need of consumers with almost exactly the same product and consistently over time.
However, the world of champagne is so much broader and deeper, and it goes way beyond these standard, non-vintage champagnes that we normally see in supermarkets, wine stores, restaurants and bars. Below are examples of some special cuvees that champagne producers also make superbly to satisfy the connoisseurs.
Vintage cuvee: The most notable variant is the vintage or millesime champagne, which is only produced in good year, with 100% wines from a specific vintage of excellent quality. Most recent vintage champagnes include those from 1998, 2000, and 2002. If the winemaker is not satisfied with the quality of the vines from that year, they would choose not to make any vintage champagne. Some good examples include Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame or Dom Perignon millesime.
Single varietal: Other than vintage variance, champagne producers also make higher quality wines using single grape varietal. With 100% chardonnay used, it is known as “blanc de blancs”; the opposite would be “blanc de noirs” whereas only black grapes (e.g. Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier) are used. For example, Taittinger’s flagship, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, is a vintage cuvee with 100% chardonnay.
Specific vineyard: Similar to Burgundy where terrior or the underlying vineyard has critical implication on the quality of the wine, champagne producers also produce superb champagne from specific, high-quality vineyards, but often in miniscule quantity. Many wine lovers would pay a fortune to try Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay, a vintage cuvee using 100% Pinot Noir (Blanc de Noirs) from a single vineyard of only 0.68 hectare in size.
Yet, there are other even more interesting evolutions (or revolutions) going on in the seemingly mature Champagne region. We will talk about those in subsequent issues. Stay tuned!