It's getting to that time of year again where champagne corks will be popping all over the place. Whether you're an avid champagne drinker or just that person that tags along and has a glass as a toast because your family and friends insist, choosing a bottle of champagne can be a very daunting task for a variety of reasons.
The purpose of this post is to help you better understand the different champagne styles and to aid you in selecting the perfect bottle for the festive season as champagne certainly is not the cheapest drink out there. What we plan to accomplish here is getting to know the differences between vintage champagne and non-vintage (NV) champagne are, as well as Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs. (If you feel like your French has failed you, these two terms literally mean "white from white" and "white from black" respectively).
It's that time of year to get those corks popping
Now some of you may think this is pretty straight forward, which in a sense it is, but I'm just going to break it down for you in an easy step-by-step manner so that after this, you should know all the basics about the differences between champagne styles.
What is Vintage and what is Non-Vintage (NV) Champagne?
In simple terms, one is basically made from grapes picked in a specific year (vintage) and the other is a selected blend from different years (non-vintage), but there is a lot more to it than that. Funnily enough this is actually a very important part in the selection of buying good champagne. I'll let you in on a little trick!
- Aged on the lees for a minimum of 36 months, but often much longer.
- Grapes used must be from the year indicated on the label of the bottle.
- Vintage champagne is not produced every year, but only when a producer feels that they have had a good harvest with quality grapes.
- Vintage champagne accounts for approximately 5% of total champagne production.
- On average it is only produced 3-4 times a decade.
- This style has more complex flavours and is intended for ageing.
Ever heard of the term "Ageing en Tirage"? Well, if directly translated, it means "Ageing in Circulation". This process is when the cuvee is aged during production “on the yeast” i.e., in order to delay the disgorging for many months or even years to give more nutty, bread and toast characters which is a sign of a good quality champagne. The longer the wine is left to age on tirage, the better they seem to be. But how does one know this from looking at the bottle? Well a general rule of thumb is that wines aged for between 5 - 7 years before being released are the ones to look out for, so a dead giveaway is by looking at the vintage. For example, we are in 2017 so the vintages you should be looking out for are between 2010 - 2012. Make sense? I hope so!
- Aged on the lees for a minimum of 15 months, with a maximum of 24 months before release.
- Grapes used are a blend from multiple different years.
- The reason for blending from different years and creating a non-vintage style is for a producer to make a consistent house style each year.
- A lot cheaper than vintage champagne as it is made in bulk.
- This style is a lot fruitier, less yeasty and complex than vintage champagne.
Now, if you would like to impress this festive season then definately look out for some vintage bubbles, but if you just need to rock up to the family lunch with a bottle then I suggest going with a less expensive NV as it will be enjoyed by all regardless.
Check out my recommendations on a Non-Vintage and Vintage Champagne:
We hope your Christmas and New Year table looks like this at the end of it all
But if you're still indecisive, keep on reading because now we're going to tuck into the differences between Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.
What is a Blanc de Blancs and what is a Blanc de Noirs?
If your French has failed you yet again, they translate into "White from White" and "White from Black" respectively. Now, it seems pretty vague but Blanc de Blancs, or White from White, is made soley from 100% Chardonnay (in most cases), which is a white grape. Blanc de Noirs, or White from Black, are made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier which are black grapes. But yet again, there's more to it.
Blanc de Blancs
- 99.9% of all Blanc de Blancs are made from 100% Chardonnay, the other 0.1% can be made from the following 4 grapes: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Arbane, and Petit Meslier, which are also permitted to be called a Blanc de Blancs. (If you manage to get your hands on one of these rather rare Blanc de Blancs, please let me know and I'll happily split the cost!)
- Blanc de Blancs are lighter and drier and have very fresh citrus fruit (lemon and lime) and green granny smith apple flavours. Extremely refreshing.
Blanc de Noirs
- Made from only Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.
- Even though these are black grapes, the colour of the wine is white. These grapes are pressed very gently to avoid the juice from extracting any colour from the dark skins. The skins are seperated from the juice very quickly.
- Blanc de Noirs generally have more body and fruity fleshness and have flavours of strawberry and raspberry with a wonderfully fresh acidity.
- Blanc de Noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir are more robust and complex than a Blanc de Noirs made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Check out my recommendations on a Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs:
"Stacks on deck, Champagne on ice
And we can pop bottles all night
Baby, you could have whatever you like
I said, you could have whatever you like"
Well now it's time to go out and get those special bottles for the family to enjoy over the festive season. If you're still confused about what to get, then just go out and get anything that suits the pocket! After all it's champagne and everyone will love it regardless. If that doesn't work then I suggest grabbing some orange juice and making a Mimosa, either way it will be refeshingly good no matter what style of champagne you get your hands on!