What information can you find on a label of champagne ?
A champagne label contains a certain amount of information which enlightens the amateur as to the origin, composition and style of the wine contained in the bottle when buying champagne.
The first information to watch out for is the presence of the word CHAMPAGNE on the label, its presence is mandatory. It should also be noted that Champagne is the only controlled designation of origin which is not required to indicate AOC.
We will then find the name of the producer or the brand. If the big houses and renowned winegrowers clearly indicate this, some less prestigious producers indicate their name in small characters or even put only the initials. Signal that should not reassure.
The importance of the type of producer
Then there is absolutely crucial information because it will help identify who is behind the label. This is the professional category to which the company that markets champagne belongs.
- RM (for Récoltant-Manipulant): This is one of the terms that should reassure you, it means that the champagne is made by the winemaker from his own vines. However, there is a small downside, if the winemaker himself disgorges cuvées produced by the cooperative to which he belongs, he will have the right to affix this mention when logic would have wanted him to indicate RC. There are around 2000 RM in Champagne.
- RC (for Récoltant-Coopérateur): This is a winegrower who is a member of a cooperative to which he delivers his grapes. The wines are therefore made from the grapes of all the members of the cooperative. The winegrower collects finished bottles in order to market them under his own name. If the bottles collected from the cooperative are not yet disgorged then it is not mandatory to indicate the name of the cooperative. Otherwise it will be indicated "Developed by the cooperative [name of the cooperative] at [place where the cooperative is located] for [name of the brand or of the winegrower]". There are around 3000 RC in Champagne.
- NM (for Négociant-Manipulant): This term designates winegrowers or companies that vinify from their own vines but also from grapes bought from wine growers. This mention mainly concerns large houses. In fact, the 25 most important Merchants-Handlers rule over half of the champagne market.
- MA (for Auxiliary Brand): These are brands that are often found in supermarkets. These are generally brands created by companies wishing to market champagne under a name that belongs to them (mass distribution, wine merchant, restaurateur, grocery store, etc.). The label sometimes indicates the real producer of the champagne, which gives an idea of its quality. Most champagne lovers are reluctant to buy these champagnes sold under brands that are sometimes used to sell low quality cuvées. There are around 3000 MA in Champagne.
- ND (for Négociant-Distributor): Variant of the MA, this is a brand that buys finished bottles and is content to affix a label to its name itself.
- SR (for Société de Récoltants): Here, it is about winegrowers who come together to vinify and market their wines together, sometimes with recourse to a cooperative. There are only a handful of SRs in Champagne.
- CM (for Manipulation Cooperative): This label designates the cuvées produced and marketed by a cooperative. There are about 100 CM in Champagne.
The champagne identity card
The law requires that the name of the village where the house is located be entered on the label. This does not therefore systematically designate the location of the vines.
The champagne dosage must also appear on the label. The most common is Brut, which contains at least 12g of sugar per liter, but the tendency is to decrease this dosage with more and more Extra Brut cuvées (between 0 and 6g of sugar per liter), see even in Bruts Natures (no added sugar).
Then there are other non-mandatory indications such as the classification on the scale of Champagne wines. The terroir of Champagne is divided between 3 levels for as many grape quality (even if this scale of wines is highly debated). The Grand Cru is the highest level of the appellation, it concerns only 17 villages, followed by the Premier Cru appellation, and finally the Others Crus appellation encompasses the rest of the terroirs.
Information on champagne vinification
We also find on the labels of certain cuvées the mention Blanc de Blancs which indicates that they were made only from the single Chardonnay grape variety, which is the only one of the 3 great Champagne grape varieties to be white. Conversely, the term Blanc de Noirs refers to cuvées vinified from black grape varieties: pinot noir and pinot meunier.
We can also cross the indication Rosé de Saignée which means that the rosé champagne was obtained not by adding red wine to champagne but by macerating grapes (pinots). This method is not prevalent in the region and gives more intense cuvées with a stronger character.
The presence of the vintage indicates that all the grapes used to make the cuvée come from one and the same year. It sometimes happens that some winegrowers choose not to claim the vintage even if the cuvée contains only grapes from a single harvest. If the vintage is claimed on the label, it must also be indicated on the cork.
The disgorgement date also appears on some vintages. Although this practice is more and more common, it remains in the minority. This allows amateurs to know how long the champagne has aged on the lees.
Finally, there are a few rare clos in Champagne and their owners often make a plot cuvée from those and indicate it on the label. The best known are Clos du Mesnil from Krug, Clos Saint Hillaire from Billecart-Salmon and Clos des Goisses from Philipponnat.