There are three historical grape quality ratings in the Champagne region:
Grand Cru: Villages whose grapes are rated at 100% - Accounting for less than 9% of total champagne production.*
Premier Cru: Villages rated at 90% or more.
No Cru rating: All other villages producing grapes.
Unlike in other wine producing areas, in Champagne the grape quality is rated according to the village where the wine is made and does not depend on which wine house/maison created the wine (as in Bordeaux for example).
*All our producers are from Grand Cru villages, with one or two exceptions for the rare grape types.
This relates to the 'dosage' of sugar added at the last stage of production. The sugar added is in rock crystal form.
Brut Zero/Brut Nature: No added sugar - Less than 3 grams per litre of natural sugar is present in the grapes.
Extra-Brut: Between 0 and 6 g/litre added.
Brut: 6-12 g/l
Extra Dry: 12-17 g/l
Sec/Dry: 17-32 g/l
Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/l
Doux: > 50 g/l
The rarest types of champagne are Brut Zero and Doux. Brut Zero or Brut Nature are made from the best grapes and the best years as they rely on the natural sugar in the wine. Only the top winemakers attempt these.
The harvest in champagne is all carried out by hand, machines are not permitted. After the harvest, grapes are pressed and the primary fermentation begins in vats. In the winter the maker decides on how to achieve the taste of their particular 'maison', their style. They may decide to add some of the previous years wines to the mix to achieve the desired end taste.
At this stage a true Rosé (Rosé Saignée) will have the black grape skins left with the wine to create the Rosé colour (some of the grape juice is 'bled' off to intensify the colour and flavour).
Rosé only accounts for between 5-8% of Champagne's yearly production and this saignée method accounts for less than 5% of all Rosé champagne. This is because (exceptionally in the Champagne region) most Rosés are made by adding some still red wine (eg. Bouzy Rouge) from previous harvests, making champagne of this type a true rarity.
Next, yeast, sugar and old wine (called le tirage) are added, and the secondary fermentation in bottles is started. The length of time that the bottles are kept like this is a minimum of 15 months, or if a vintage year is declared 3 years. The longer the time the wine is in this stage the better the taste, the complexity and the smoothness of the champagne. Most of our champagnes easily exceed these minimums, by up to 10 years in some cases.
After this stage the bottles are put into racks for 'riddling', or letting the sediment form in the bottle. The racks (called pupitres) hold the bottles with their necks pointing downwards so that the dregs collect in the bottle neck. The bottles are turned every day, with most grower makers performing this task by hand. After 3 months of riddling the sediment is removed from the bottle by removing the cap and allowing the pressure in the bottle to disgorge the waste impurities. Some makers freeze the bottle's neck to help with this process. The final and key stage is the addition of the 'dosage' (added as sugar dissolved in wine, to fill up the neck of the bottle) followed by the placing and securing of the champagne cork.
On each bottle of champagne there is the makers identifing mark, consisting of two letters and a long number.
RM: Récoltant-Manipulant / Grower Maker. These are typically small artisan producers who grow the grapes and make the champagne at their 'Maison'. They account for a small proportion (about 3%) of total production - All of our producers are RM's.
NM: Négociant-Manipulant / Wholesaler Maker. These are people who buy grapes and make the champagne on their premises, often in Rheims or Epernay. Most of the well known champagnes are made like this and nearly all UK champagne is of this type.
CM: Co-operative Maker: These are people who grow large quantities of grapes in groups and create brand names to sell their champagne under, such as Nicolas Feuillatte.
RC: A co-op member selling co-op champagne but under their own label.
SR: An association of growers, but not a co-operative.
MA: A brand sold under a retailers own label and unrelated to the grower or maker.
ND: A wine merchant or wholesaler selling under it's own name.
The three main grapes in champagne are Pinot Noir (38%), Pinot Meunier (32%) and Chardonnay (30%). There are a small percentage (0.3%) of the rarer grape types - Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Our range includes these rarer types when possible (eg. our Moutard Arbane 2004).
The composition of many champagnes sold in the UK is often; 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. This is sometimes referred to in champagne as 'gout anglais', (although technically the term originally referred to the lower amount of sugar in UK champagnes). Blanc de Blancs is all chardonnay, and Blanc de Noirs is all pinot noir, pinot meunier, or a mix. Our range includes all types.
We always encourage responsible drinking and believe that champagne has a few extra benefits it's worth enjoying. Brut Zero is very low in calories compared with other alcoholic drinks, and the way champagne is made removes a lot of impurities present in other drinks that are often the cause of hangovers.
Champange also contains high levels of polyphenols which may provide heart health benefits, and according to Oxford university, champagne get's you drunk quicker, whilst scientists at Reading university believe drinking champagne could improve your memory!