What are the Champagne grape varieties ?
You don't just plant just any grape to make champagne. If nature played an essential role in determining which grape varieties were best suited to the Champagne soil, it was a law passed on July 22, 1927 which fixed the authorized grape varieties. Seven varieties are thus recognized as suitable for making champagne. Among them, three take the lion's share: Pinot Meunier, Minot Noir and Chardonnay represent 99.7% of the region's grape varieties! Arbanne, petit meslier, pinot blanc and pinot gris share the remaining 0.3%, but are nevertheless experiencing a slight upturn in popularity. Here are the basics to know when buying champagne.
Three kings regent grape varieties in Champagne
- Pinot Noir : It represents 38% of the Champagne vineyard. It is a grape variety that is particularly suited to limestone soils, as found on the Montagne de Reims and in the Côte des Bar (Aube). Pinot noir brings fruity notes (red fruits in particular), but also structure, body and power to champagne. Champagnes made only from Pinot Noir are called Blanc de Noirs champagnes and are generally distinguished by their vinosity and power. Among these cuvées, we can mention the Blanc de Noirs from the Janisson house or the excellent Code Noir from the Henri Giraud house.
- Pinot Meunier : This grape represents 32% of the Champagne grape variety. It is a particularly vigorous variety which adapts perfectly to clay soils such as those of the Marne Valley. Pinot meunier is also one of the grape varieties most resistant to difficult climatic conditions. It brings suppleness, roundness, fruitiness to the wines, and a slightly faster development over time. Long regarded as an adjunct and complementary grape variety, it gained its letters of nobility in its last years. Among the cuvées produced only with Pinot Meunier, we can mention the Unusual Meunier from the house Thevenet-Delouvin or the Blanc de Meunier signed Dehours.
- Chardonnay : Although it is certainly the most famous grape variety, it is less present in champagne and represents 30% of the vineyard. This is the variety that we will find particularly on the Côte des Blancs, near Epernay, where we find particularly chalky soils. Chardonnay gives fine, airy champagnes, with floral, citrus and sometimes mineral notes. It is a variety that allows the wine to age slowly. There are many cuvées made only from Chardonnay, but we can distinguish the Prestige cuvée from the Diebolt-Vallois house, and the essential Mineral cuvée from the Agrapart house.
Four (a little) forgotten grape varieties
When buying champagne, you may come across the name of these grape varieties. A few cuvées, such as Les 7 from Laherte, have specialized in their culture and winemaking.
- Le Petit Meslier : Originally from eastern France (Paris region, Marne valley and Aube), it is a grape variety that comes from a cross between two other grape varieties : Gouais and Savagnin. It is a variety which produces white grapes, and which offers fine, dry and fruity wines, with good aging potential.
- L’Arbanne : It is one of the oldest grape varieties in northeastern France. It was found particularly in the Dawn. Very rare today, like the 3 other so-called "forgotten" grape varieties, it is a variety that gives white grapes and edgy, aromatic cuvées, and always with good acidity.
- Pinot Gris : Probably of Burgundian origin, Pinot Gris is a variation of the famous Pinot Noir. It is a variety that we will find mainly in Pays de Loire and Alsace, and which gives high quality, fine wines. It is a variety that lends itself well to over-ripening grapes on stumps. It gives notes of yellow fruits, pastry, and spices.
- Pinot Blanc : It is a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is mainly found in Alsace. It is a grape that will give lightly bodied wines, with low acidity and spicy and fruity aromas.