Your Ultimate Guide to Champagne Terms
Understanding what's on the label will help you choose a bottle of bubbly that suits your palate.
When you're browsing the Champagne section at a liquor store or picking out a bottle of bubbly online, it can be a little overwhelming. There are a myriad of Champagne varieties with differing taste and flavor profiles. On top of that, there are also several different types of sparkling wine that might taste similar and look like Champagne, but aren't. "Many people use the word Champagne to mean any sparkling wine, however, by law Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France where laws dictate the types of grapes used and particular methods for how the wine is made to ensure the highest quality," explains the team at Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. On the other hand, “sparkling is a generic term that can be used for any wine containing bubbles.”
Understanding and differentiating between the terms on any given bottle of Champagne can get a little tricky, but it's worth learning the basics. Here, an in-depth glossary of Champagne-centric phrases that will help you the next time you're picking out a bottle of this effervescent libation.
Doux, Demi-Sec, and Sec
Chances are you will come across these terms in your Champagne search, and they refer to the sweetness level of the wine. Jamie Soriano, Krug Champagne brand director, explains: "They correspond to the 'shipping liqueur' or dosage that defines the level of sugar in the Champagne. 'Sec' means dry. 'Demi' means half. 'Doux' means soft." When you're selecting a bottle, remember that doux is the sweetest followed demi-sec, then sec.
Extra Dry, Brut, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature
After sec come the four drier styles of Champagne: extra dry, brut, extra brut, and brut nature, which is the driest style and has no added sugar. Brut is the most common style of Champagne and has 12 grams of sugar or less per litre.
Non-Vintage and Vintage Champagne
Vintage Champagne has a year listed on the bottle to indicate that the grapes are from a single year's harvest. By contrast, most Champagne is non-vintage and doesn't list a specific year on the bottle but is typically indicated on the bottle by an "NV" notation. Non-vintage Champagne is a blend from multiple years used to create a consistent "house style." By law, a vintage Champagne must be aged for a minimum of three years, though it's often aged much longer, while a non-vintage Champagne is aged for a minimum of one year. According to Soriano, 90 percent of Champagne sold is non-vintage. Furthermore, because of how it is produced, vintage Champagne tends to be more expensive than its non-vintage counterparts.
Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs
The phrase blanc de blancs literally translates to "white of white," while blanc de noirs means "white of black." What does that mean in terms of Champagne, you wonder? As the translations of these terms imply, blanc de blancs are Champagnes made exclusively from white grapes (in this case, Chardonnay grapes), while blanc de noirs is white Champagne made from the juice of black-skinned grapes. The only two red grapes permitted for use in Champagne are Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.
Most Champagnes are made using a combination of grapes grown all over the region. The final blend is called a cuvée, which derives from the French word cuve, meaning vat or tank.