Champagne is one of the world's most prestigious beverages, hailing from France. But can you tell what type of Champagne you're drinking? How do you know if it was made traditionally or not? How does its "style" affect how much you enjoy it? Well, it's all about reading the label.
The key information printed on a bottle of champagne is the name of the producer or wine house. Unfortunately, the champagne house name will not be visible on the label in some cases, although this does not necessarily mean it is not genuine.
Not all champagne labels have the same format, so there may be details present in some and absent in others. Nevertheless, you'll still be likely to read the most important pieces of information in every bottle.
Parts of a Champagne Label
1. The Word "Champagne"
Champagne is a sparkling white wine from the Champagne region of France. You'll see that these bottles have the word "Champagne" written in bold letters, usually at the top, indicating that they are made in the Champagne region.
Sometimes, people mistakenly call other types of sparkling drinks, such as Prosecco or Cava, “Champagnes” when they are not those kinds at all!
Sparkling wines made outside this area are still delicious but cannot legally use the word for their label. They are instead known as “Crémant.”
2. Brand Name
You will see the brand name of your Champagne prominently printed at the top of the label. Some of the best brands include Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, and Dom Pérignon.
Also, there may or may not be additional information such as whether it is a "Prestige Cuvée Wine," which indicates that it is among the top wines from their house, or "Grand Marques,” which means "great brand."
3. Champagne House or Name of Producer
In the world of Champagne, some grape growers make and sell their products while others buy grapes from other vineyards. Many producers will have enough land to grow all that they need but not necessarily make it themselves.
There are about 19,000 grape growers around the world that make Champagne. But only 2,124 of them produce and sell Champagne, and most have only 30 hectares to work with.
Meanwhile, more prominent Champagne producers are known as Champagne houses. The Champagne houses of France are a colossal force in the wine industry.
4. Champagne's Origin / Location / Village
The Champagne region is known for its elegant and sophisticated wines. The classification of these wines is slightly different from that in other areas, which may explain why they're so popular with some people.
For example, in Bordeaux, the classifications depend on where you start your wine journey - by town or villages within a particular area then progressing to vineyards based around those areas. Burgundy follows a more precise system as it's classified through specific vineyard plots.
The Champagne region of France is famous for producing excellent wines. The best ones are classified according to the Crus or villages in which they were grown. There are two ‘top’ levels that you should look out for: Grand Cru and Premier Cru.
5. Level of Sweetness
To counter the acidity of Champagne and many sparkling wines, winemakers add a form of sweetness to balance them out.
Dosage refers to the level of sweetness added before it ferments into sparkling wine, usually through grapes that are not ripe yet, so they lack any natural sugars for fermentation or when there’s too much acidity on a grape variety.
Champagne can contain either of the following amounts of sugar per liter:
- Brut Nature - 0-3 g/l
- Extra Brut - 0-6 g/l
- Brut - 0-12 g/l
- Extra Sec - 12-17 g/l
- Sec - 17-32 g/l
- Demi- Sec - 32-50 g/l
- Doux - 50+ g/l
6. Category of Producer
The double-letter identifier system indicating the type of producer will categorize Champagnes into either of these seven:
- NM (Négociant-Manipulant) - Wines made by Négociant Manipulant are not farmed on their land, but instead purchased from other vineyards but do all steps to make Champagne up until bottling on-site at their facility. They must be labeled as such if they do less than 94% estate fruit.
- CM (Coopérative de manipulation) - The groups that make up Coopérative-Manipulant gather their harvest together at one production facility where they make it into Champagne before selling it under various labels with each winemaker using their name for marketing purposes.
- RM (Récoltant manipulant) - The small family-run grower/producers of Champagnes are referred to as Récoltant-Manipulants. They make Champagnes made with grapes 100% from their vineyards.
- SR (Société de récoltants) - The Société de récoltants is a group of independent growers who have come together to pool their resources for the sake of efficiency.
- RC (Récoltant coopérateur) - The Récoltant-Coopérateur is a grower that has its grapes picked by the cooperative and then processed into Champagne.
- MA (Marque auxiliaire or Marque d’Acheteur) - The Marque auxiliaire is a brand name that you can buy at your local grocery store, but it isn't tied to the produce or grower.
- ND (Négociant distributeur) - A wine merchant who does not grow or produce the wines they sell is called a Négociant distributeur.
7. ABV or Percentage of Alcohol
A bottle of Champagne will have an alcohol content of around 12.5% on average, but the percentage can vary based on what label you're drinking from and could be as low as 11%.
The range is wide enough to give drinkers a chance at finding their favorite balance between quality and drinkability.
8. Volume / Contents
Champagne labels are required to display the size of a bottle. A standard-sized 750 mL is typical, but bottles can come in any number and size.
Magnums are like the size of two standard bottles that contain 1 ½ liters or more! There is also a half-bottle (375 ml) and a whopping 3-liter bottle called a Jeroboam.
Other Champagne Label Information
9. Grape Variety
This indicates the types of grape that go into the Champagne, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The way they're combined will exhibit the style of Champagne, which are as follows:
- Blanc de Blancs - It is a delicious and refreshing type of Champagne made using only white grapes. It is made of pure Chardonnay with a tangy flavor like lemons mixed with the sweet taste of apples.
- Blanc de Noirs - It is a special type of white Champagne made with 100% black grapes, meaning that they combine Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Noirs are known for their berry flavors.
- Rosé - This champagne is created by mixing white Champagne and red wine about 10% or less. The wine mixed is usually Pinot Noir or Meunier, giving its fruity flavor and crispness with a low amount of tannins for an easy-drinking experience.
10. Vintage or Non-vintage
Champagne can be identified as either vintage or non-vintage. If a specific year is displayed on the label, it means that the grapes used to make it were harvested in that same year and are therefore considered "vintage."
Without any date or if the letters NV are shown on the label, the champagne is most likely blended wines from different years' harvests, making them non-vintage.
- Grand Cru - Grand Cru is the top wine classification in France. These wines are given to only a few select vineyards. This distinction is given to wines made from grapes grown in a specific region that has been ranked as having exceptional quality, determined by the terroir of where they are grown.
- Premier Cru - This comes from the French term meaning "first." In Champagne, this is the second-best grade of wine. The classification can refer to vineyards, wineries, and wines made in a particular area with different meanings depending on which part of France they come from.
12. Back Label
Many bottles of Champagne will have information about importers and or distributors at the back portion. This tells you where and how it was imported to your country and who distributed it for sale.
When buying directly from France's producer, the back label may indicate facts about the production process. It includes the grapes used, stories told by producers themselves, and any required legal labeling requirements because a good bubbly deserves genuine authenticity.
When you know how to read a champagne label, picking the perfect bottle becomes easy. It can be fun once you get used to it; you can also ask your retailer for assistance or advice if anything seems confusing or unclear.
Before you pop open or saber a bottle, try identifying all its parts and see if you can get all of them right! To go with your drink, be sure to check out the best champagne glasses to toast your celebrations!