How to Choose Champagne

Choosing a bottle of Champagne can be stressful for a couple of different reasons. In the first place, Champagne is not cheap, so it’s not a purchase to fool around with. Additionally, Champagne’s production methods, regional differences, and labeling jargon can make it quite intimidating to most of us. The notes below will help you identify the important things to pay attention to when choosing a bottle of Champagne. So, whether you love a creamy, toasty style of Champagne or like it dry and lean, you’ll be able to pick out your next bottle of Champagne with confidence.

To get started, let’s get one thing out of the way: not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Champagne specifically refers to sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne, France. The reason it’s worth mentioning is because this guide is specifically about this French Champagne. If you’re interested, there are other guides on Cava, Crémant, and Prosecco too.

Sweetness Level

Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Dry, and Doux

Champagne Sweetness Levels Illustrated by Wine Folly
All Champagne is labeled with a word that indicates its sweetness level. The sweetness in Champagne is unlike sweetness in wine because this sweetness comes in the form of a sweetened “dosage” (a mixture of wine and sugar or grape must) that’s added to the wine at the end of its second fermentation (the part that makes the bubbles). The reason there is a dosage in Champagne is because the acidity is usually soo high, the wine would otherwise be undrinkable. Just so you know, most Champagne is produced with a Brut level of sweetness. Here are the sweetness terms and what they mean:

Brut Nature
Bone Dry (0–3 g/L sugar). No added sweetness with 0–2 sugar calories per 5/oz serving. 
Extra Brut
Bone Dry (0–6 g/L sugar). A touch of added sweetness to balance Champagne’s naturally high acidity. 0–5 sugar calories per glass.
Brut
Dry (0–12 g/L sugar). The average Champagne dosage is usually around 6–10 g/L which adds body to the Champagne although, coupled with the high acidity level, it will taste dry or even bone dry. Brut Champagne adds just 5–7 sugar calories per glass.
Extra Dry
Fruity (12–17 g/L sugar). The level of sweetness is still low enough that Extra Dry Champagne will usually taste mostly dry, but with a distinctly more fruit-forward character. Adds 7–10 sugar calories per 5 oz pour.
Dry
Off-Dry (17–32 g/L sugar). A fruity and somewhat sweet style of Champagne with a richer body and texture. Adds about 10–20 sugar calories per glass.
Demi-Sec
Sweet (32–50 g/L sugar). A noticeably sweet style of Champagne that is perfect alongside desserts or cheeses and nuts. Adds 20–30 sugar calories per serving.
Doux
Sweet (50+ g/L sugar). A dessert-style of Champagne that is now relatively rare to find. Very sweet fruit flavors and pairs nicely with creamy desserts (without chocolate). Adds over 30 sugar calories per 5 oz glass.

Style

Standard, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Rosé

Illustrations of bottles of Champagne Rosé, Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs by Wine Folly
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) and how these grapes are used (or not used) determines the resulting style. If Champagne doesn’t have a style listed, you can assume that the producer made it in the standard style, which is a blend of all three grapes in a blanc (white) style.

Blanc de Blancs

(AKA white of whites) This is a blanc style Champagne made with 100% white grapes. In Champagne, this means it will be 100% Chardonnay. There are, of course, a few rare exceptions to this rule with a few very rare grapes (in the same region) including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Arbane, but for the most part, Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay. Blanc de Blancs typically have more lemon and apple-like fruit flavors.

Blanc de Noirs

(white of blacks) This is a blanc style Champagne made with 100% black grapes. In Champagne, this means some combination of just Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Noirs typically have more strawberry and white raspberry flavors.

Rosé

The pink style is made usually by blending blanc Champagne with a teensy bit of red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier wine. The red wine made for Champagne is very different than the Pinot Noir you might think of. Its purpose is to provide pure fruit flavors such as strawberry and raspberry in the taste, along with little to no tannin and very high acidity. It doesn’t take a lot red wine to make rosé, in fact, several producers use 10% or less Pinot Noir for their rosé Champagne.


Aging

Vintage vs Non-Vintage Champagne

Vintage vs Non-Vintage Champagne by Wine Folly
One of the least talked about and most important factors that plays into the taste of Champagne is how long it’s aged. Aging Champagne on “tirage” (as they call it) gives it more bready, toasty, and nutty aromas – highlights of great Champagne. The best producers with the nuttiest wines are known to age their wines on “tirage” for as long as 5–7 years before release. Even though tirage time is usually not listed, the vintage style will give you a clue.

Non-Vintage
Aged for a minimum of 15 months. Non-vintage (NV) Champagne exists so that producers can make a consistent house style each year (regardless of the quality of that year’s harvest). So, if you buy an NV Champagne, you can expect it to be a fruitier and less yeasty style of Champagne.
Vintage
Aged for a minimum of 36 months. On special years when the harvest is good, producers will create a special single-vintage intended to age for a longer period, and that will usually develop into a creamy and yeasty style of Champagne.

Regional Classification

Premier Cru, Grand Cru, Autre Cru

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Another feature on many bottles of Champagne is the commune name signifying where the grapes were grown. There are hundreds of communes, but only 42 have Premier Cru vineyards and just 17 have Grand Cru vineyards and are labeled as such. These classifications mean the vineyards have demonstrated their ability to produce exceptional wine grapes that make high-quality Champagnes. Of course, many experts believe that there are several “autre” crus (other crus) which are equally worthy, but if you have a wine with one of these classifications listed, it’s going to be a pretty good bet.


Producer Classification

Récoltant Manipulant (RM), Négociant Manipulant (NM), etc.

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If you’re one to support independent producers, there’s a useful notation on a Champagne label. Champagne classifies its producers and there are essentially 3 types of producers in Champagne: Maisons (big guys), Cooperatives (medium guys) and Vignerons (little guys).

Maisons are the big Champagne houses (Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier, Bollinger, etc.) and they source their grapes from all over Champagne. Here are the label terms often associated with Maisons and other large producers:

  • NM “Négociant Manipulant” A producer who buys all or some of his grapes from other growers. Anything less than 94% estate fruit must be labeled NM. Maison Champagne is labeled with this producer class, but it’s not entirely uncommon to see grower Champagne under this classification as well.
  • MA “Marque d’Acheteur” aka ‘Buyer’s Own Brand’ A large retail or restaurant that buys a finished wine and sells it under their own private label. If you’ve ever seen a supermarket have their own brand or a fashion brand, this is probably MA.
  • ND “Négociant Distributeur” A buyer who labels and distributes Champagne that they neither grew nor produced.

Cooperatives are in specific villages in Champagne and make a cuvée with multiple growers in the same region (Nicolas Feuillatte, etc.).

  • CM “Coopérative Manipulant” A grower’s co-op that pools resources and produces wine under a single brand.

Vignerons are grower-producers, or a single family/person who grows his own grapes in a specific place and makes his own wine.

  • RM “Récoltant Manipulant” A grower-producer who uses a minimum of 95% estate fruit. This is classically considered the Champagne grower-producer type, although, it’s possible for a Maison to use this classification on a sub-label or brand.
  • SR “Société de Récoltants” A union of growers who shares resources and collectively markets their own brands.
  • RC “Récoltant Coopérateur” A grower-producer who has their own Champagne brand made at a co-op facility.

Regional Terroir

Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bar, etc.

Wine Map of Champagne France by Wine Folly

The last and most in-depth discussion pertaining to choosing Champagne relates to where the grapes were grown. There are 5 main growing regions of Champagne and each is known for some distinct qualities. Of course, there are many exceptions to these rules, but for the most part, you’ll find Champagnes from the various regions to follow these traits.

Montagne de Reims

A hill south of Reims with many sloping vineyards that face south or southeast that allow wine grapes to achieve optimal ripeness. The focus here is on Pinot Noir which leads to a more full-bodied style of Champagne with bigger, richer flavors. The area contains 10 of the 17 Grand Cru vineyards including Ambonnay, Bouzy, Verzy, Verzenay, and Mailly-Champagne. For example, the prestigious Champagne brand, Krug, uses grapes from the Montagne de Reims.

Vallée de la Marne

The valley along the Marne river has many slopes planted with vineyards. There is just one Grand Cru vineyard here, Aÿ, which is located right outside of the city called Épernay. The focus in Vallée de la Marne is on the Pinot Meunier grape, which has an easier time ripening here (because it can be cooler) and produces a rich style of Champagne with more smoky and mushroomy flavors.

Côte des Blancs

This is a slope that faces east and collects the sun. Côte des Blancs is primarily planted with Chardonnay and contains the remaining 6 Grand Cru vineyard areas of Champagne. This is Blanc des Blancs country, producing some of the finest single-varietal Champagne wines on the market.

Côte de Sézanne

South of the Côte des Blancs is another slope which has many vineyards on it, with a similar dominance in Chardonnay. Despite the potential to this region, you’ll mostly find these wines blended into larger Maisons.

Côte des Bar

This region is far from the rest of the Champagne on the border between Champagne and Burgundy. This area is mostly planted with Pinot Noir and produces a richer style of Champagne, similar to that of Montagne de Reims. However, because the area is a relative newcomer in making Champagne, it doesn’t have a single Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyard to demarcate its quality. Côte des Bar is a great place to look for exceptional value.


Last Word: Nothing To Lose

If you are a fan of sparkling wine, Champagne is the benchmark of quality and well worth a taste. Regardless of what you buy, just remember this: worst case scenario is you hate it and turn it into a delicious mimosa. We won’t tell anyone. Promise.

Wine Education Course Overview

I’ve got several requests for tips on passing wine exams and how useful it is to get a WSET certificate,  it definitely helped me a lot with the framework of the world’s wine regions and winemaking knowledge.

There are all together 4 levels in WSET programme, which leads you to the title of Master of Wine if you are the luckiest few who survives till the end. For wine lovers, especially those who devote all their passions to wine, it would be great to have this title- Mater of Wine, isn’t it cool?!

Without further ado, let’s take a close view on what are all these courses about…

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 Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET)

Highest Certificate Level 4  Diploma

What wine jobs will WSET help you get?
  • Marketing/Account Manager in a wine-related business
  • Sensory Analyst
  • Wine Educator
  • Wine Distribution Management
  • Wine Region Educational Director
  • Wine Marketing and Wine Sales Leadership Roles

www.wsetglobal.com

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WSET is approachable

For those who are new to the food and beverage industry and would like more direction than given by their place of employment, this is the place to start. This educational series is also great for those outside of the industry that just want to learn more.

The multi-tiered Level Awards make this program very approachable to the most novice of wine enthusiasts. And there is an element of “choose your own adventure.” Want to be more wine or more spirits savvy? Take the level courses for one or the other, or do both. Not all these courses are required to move up to the intermediate and advanced level awards and you do not have to take all the classes.

WSET Level 1 This is a beginner level course designed for anyone trying to get into wine.
WSET Level 2 If you can prove advanced knowledge you can start with WSET Level 2.
WSET Level 3  A Level 2 Award in Wine and Spirits or equivalent is recommended.

Wine & Spirits
This course is 7 days of actual classes but outside study time is necessary. Tasting technique and learning about production and distribution of wine and spirits is the main focus. This could be an ideal class for those in distribution, retail or supervisory roles. Completing a 50 question multiple choice test, with a short answer quiz, and properly written tasting notes on two wines is necessary to obtain this award. 
Resume-building benefits
Passing the Level 3 WSET will award you the ability to apply to use the WSET Certified Advanced Logo on your resume.

WSET Level 4 & Diploma WSET Level 3 is a prerequisite. Receiving a WSET Diploma is a great segue into the IMW.

This is where the courses jump into the globalization and marketing of wine in addition to in-depth wine theory. Short multiple choice exams become passé at this point. A 6 unit exam looms as the gateway to your diploma.

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 Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW)

Highest Certificate Master of Wine.

What wine jobs will IMW help you get?
  • Marketing/Account Director in a wine related business
  • Sensory Analyst or Wine Analyst
  • Wine Director of Education and Programming for large retail, restaurant or hotel chain.
  • Wine Region Director
  • Wine Program Manager in Media or Marketing
  • International Wine Business Director

www.mastersofwine.org

Master of Wine Logo

Prerequisite required.

Acceptance into IMW involves already having a strong core of wine knowledge and experience, made evident by a WSET Level 4 Diploma or equivalent, and having the recommendation from a few Masters of Wine (MW). If you want to pursue a career in the marketing of wine, or as a wine educator; becoming a Master of Wine holds a lot of cachet in both fields. Be prepared to work your ass off. This ain’t no cakewalk. They call you a Master for a reason.

 

What it’s like to pursue the Master of Wine title

Although a syllabus and a personal Master of Wine mentor is provided, setting your rigorous study schedule is up to you. A school year runs from October to May, and it takes at least two of these cycles to just be accepted to take the exam to be then accepted into the Institute. It is the Holy Tabernacle of Wine Certification. The directive with the Institute is to elevate the skills of critical thinking and articulation within each student in matters of wine; with special focus given to international business, and wine analysis on a viticultural and vinicultural level. This is accomplished by annual residential seminars lasting 5 days that are led by Masters of Wine and lots and lots of writing. The first year narrows in on reinforcing gaps in theory, service and wine analysis. An assessment exam of essays at the end determine whether a student progresses to the second year. The second year ups the ante with regular course assignments added to your self study regime. This serves as a continuation of fine-tuning a student’s ability to present their knowledge of any business of wine in a succinct and effective manner.

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Taking the MW exam

To become a Master of Wine you will endure a 3-part examination. Theory and Practical first; if passed, then a dissertation. All are comprised of, surprise! lots of writing. Theory is four papers, three hours apiece. Practical is three blind flights of 12 wines where, in addition to identification, the wines must be analyzed for their quality, winemaking, and style. The 10,000 word dissertation must be on an original wine topic chosen by the student and approved by the Institute.

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While preparing for my WSET level 4, few words to share with those who decided to take the same path as mine: It is NOT as easy as you have imagined, not at all! nevertheless, it does’t mean it cannot be achieved. If i can do it, you can definitely do it!

While we suffer from all the papers and theories, we learn, we grow and eventually we are more confident to call ourselves – wine lovers & grape adventurers!

Cheers to all!

 

 

How Many Glasses in a Bottle and Other Wine Facts

A standard bottle of wine contains a little over 25 ounces of wine, but how much is that really? This chart shows a visual relationship to what’s inside a bottle of wine from the number of servings to how many grapes were crushed to make it. Get to know wine on a fundamental level.

How Many Glasses in a Bottle of Wine?

5 glasses

This number isn’t exact. Glass serving size actually ranges quite a bit, from about 3-6 ounces, because wines range in alcohol level from 5.5% – 21% ABV.

In Australia, wines are required to list the number of servings based on the alcohol content. For example, a bottle of Shiraz would have 8.9 servings and a bottle of German Riesling would have 4.7 servings. The Consumer’s Federation of Australia also proposed replacing all restaurant glassware with a single standard glass and an etched fill line. Not cool.

What’s Inside a Bottle of Wine

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Wine Drinking Facts

  • On average, 2 people can finish a full bottle of wine in 2.5 hours.
  • If you drink a bottle of wine a week for your entire adult life you will consume about 2,970 bottles of wine.
  • If you drink a glass of wine a night every night of your adult life, you will drink an equivalent of 4,160 bottles of wine.
  • A bottle of wine has an average of 750 calories (range is 460–1440 depending on style).
  • Dry wine has zero fat and 0–2g carbs.
  • Sweet wine has zero fat and ranges from 3–39g carbs.

How Heavy is a Bottle of Wine?

  • An average full bottle of wine weighs 2.65 lbs.
  • An average bottle of wine contains 1.65 lbs of wine grapes.
  • A case of 12 bottles of wine weighs about 30–40 lbs.
  • Heavy glass bottles can account for over 50% of total weight of a wine bottle.
  • In 2012, the EU exported 1.57 billion pounds of bottled wine (includes weight of glass) to the US.

Wine Production Facts

  • There are 1,368 confirmed wine varieties in the world.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape variety in the world.
  • In 2010, the world produced enough wine for everyone to have 5 bottles.
  • The average bottle of wine contains 520 grapes (varies from 300–900 grapes).
  • About 5.5 bunches of grapes go into a bottle of wine.
  • There are 5 bottles in a gallon of wine.
  • In the US, you can legally produce 200 gallons of wine for personal use.
  • There are 295 bottles in a standard wine barrel.
  • About 600 bottles are made with a ton of grapes.
  • An acre of vineyard can make anywhere from 600–3600 bottles of wine.

Great wine appreciators are not alcoholics; they are responsible drinkers who enjoy the journey of understanding taste and the stories behind wine more than the effects of alcohol.

Take the mystery out of reading German wine labels

Before we begin our study of the white wines of Germany, tell me this: Have you memorised the 7 Grand Crus of Chablis, the 32 Grands Crus of the Cote d’Or, and the 391 different wineries of the Napa Valley? I hope you have, so you can begin to memorise the more than 1400 wine villages and 2600 plus vineyards of Germany. No problem, right? what’s 4000 simple little names?
Actually, if you were to have studied German wines before 1971, you would have had thirty thousand different names to remember. There used to be very small parcels of land owned by an assortment of different people. That’s why so many names were involved.

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Can you take the mystery out of reading German wine labels?

German wine labels give you plenty of information. For example, take a look at the label above.
Joh Jos Christoffel Erben is the producer
Mosel is the region of the wine’s origin. Note that the region is one of the big four.
2004 is the year the grapes were harvested.
Urzig is the town and Wurzgarten is the vineyard from which the grapes originate. The Germans add the suffix “er” to make Urziger, just as a person from New York is called a New Yorker.
Riesling is the grape variety. Therefore, this wine is at least 85 percent Riesling.
Auslese is the ripeness level, in this case from bunches of overripe grapes.
Qualitatswein mit Prädikat is the quality level of the wine.
A.P.Nr.2 602 041 007 05 is the official testing huber- proof that the wine was tasted by a panel of tasters and passed th extract quality standards required by the government.
Gutsabfullung means “estate-bottled.”

What makes a great wine great?

Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtley, expression, qualities that keep you coming back for another taste. Rejecting a wine because it is not big enough is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it is not loud enough.

There are five elements to determine a great wine:

Varietal character

Balance of components

Complexity

Sense of place

Emotional response

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Cheers From Leonardo DiCaprio

If this is truly a time of peak Leonardo DiCaprio, then let’s take a moment to honor one of the 38-year-old star’s go-to screen moves: the raising of a glass.

DiCaprio, who also yells a lot during his movies (when he isn’t making one of these faces), has saluted audiences already this year in “The Great Gatsby”; he’ll do it again in the upcoming film “The Wolf At Wall Street,” because of course he does. The guy just looks cool holding a drink.

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Opening a Champagne – Not with a BANG But a WHISPER

Opening Champagne is not difficult- and far more exciting- than opening a bottle of still wine. Each Champagne bottle is under 6 atmospheres of pressure, about the same as a truck tire. With so much pressure behind it, a cork can fly an astounding distance. But that’s only if you open the bottle incorrectly. The correct, safe, and controlled way to open and serve Champagne is:

1. Break and remove the foil, not the wire cage, from around the cork.

2. Place your thumb firmly on top of the cork to keep the cork from flying.

3. With your other hand, unscrew the wire (it takes about six turns) and loosen the cages. You actually don’t have to take the cage off completely.

4.Holding the cork firmly, begin to twist it in one direction as, from the bottom, you twist the bottle in the other direction. Contrary to popular opinion, a Champagne cork should not make a loud thwork! You’re supposed to ease the cork out, so that it makes just a light hissing sound. Unbidden, more than one older Frenchman has advised me that a Champagne bottle, correctly opened, should make a sound no greater than that of a contented woman’s sigh. Frenchmen are French men after all.

5. Holding the bottle around the base, pour. Fill each glass with about 2 inches of Champagne. Then go back and top them all up.

6. If there’s Champagne left, seal the bottle using a Champagne stopper and place it back in the ice bucket to refrigerator.

7. In Champagne, it’s considered rude to turn an empty bottle upside down in an ice bucket.

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The White Wine With Fish Rule

20100527-wines-with-fish-600x411The old rule “white wine with fish; red wine with meat” is based on matching body (the weight of the wine in the mouth) and colour, The adage dates from the days when many white wines were light in body and whitish in colour (like fish), and many red wines were weighty and, obviously, red (like meat). It is, however, the body and components of the wine- not its colour- that are important in matching wine with food.

Today many red wines, such as Oregon pinot noire and northern Italian merlots, are far lighter in body than, for example, barrel-fermented and barrel-aged California and Australian chardonnays. In the 1980s many of realised this (or at least sensed it unconsciously), abandoned the old rule, and began drinking red wine with fish and white wine with meat. By mid-1980s top American steak houses were selling almost as much chardonnay as cabernet sauvignon.

Aroma Wheel

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Aroma wheel, graphical representation of tasting terms used for arms, devised at the university of California at Davis by Ann C Noble and others in the early 1980s. Her research into sensory evaluation of wine had indicated that there was no general agreement either on terminology or on its application. The aroma wheel was developed to provide a standardised lexicon which can be used widely to describe wine aroma in non-judgemental terms, grouping specific terms which can be defined to provide a basis for communication. In its attempt at clarification and categorisation it is used by professionals and provides a good basis on which tasting terms for aroma can be taught to novices, even if with experience, most individuals tend to develop their own terms, which may be just as precise and descriptive. The aroma wheel does not include terms which describe the physical dimensions of a wine (such as full bodied or tart)

The extensive use of the wine aroma wheel has led to the development of an analogous mouthfeel wheel to describe the texture and mouthfeel, sensations of red wines.

To know more about Aroma Wheel, Click: http://winearomawheel.com