How To Understand a Champagne Label

Which Champagnes do we accept at Whisky.Auction? And more to the point, why?

How To Understand a Champagne Label

The only sparkling wine we accept is Champagne which comes from the Champagne region of France.

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Non-Vintage (NV) is a blend of 60-80% fruit from a recent vintage with the balance being ‘reserve’ wines from older vintages to give the finished wine the ‘house’ style, for instance a Chardonnay-dominated, crisp, elegant style or a richer, fuller Pinot Noir style.

NVs generally consist of at least a third Pinot Meunier. This grape is an earlier-maturing, fruity cousin of Pinot Noir which gives a Champagne immediate appeal but limited cellaring potential.

Most NVs are designed to be consumed within two to five years of the vintage. Some houses, including Pol Roger, Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot, Gosset produce NV Champagnes that lend themselves to longer aging. There are over 2000 Champagne producers in the region, making good, bad and ugly wines: as a rule we don’t want to accept basic NV Champagnes from lesser and unknown producers: many are made to tick price points on supermarket shelves and will quickly lose their appeal if kept for too long.

We sometimes combine lots of NV Champagnes even if they are from well-known producers or ‘Grande Marques’.

2

Vintage Champangne is made from wines from one single vintage, and generally from better vineyards and villages. These Champagnes are released at around six years old, and can age for a decade and longer. As Champagnes age they tend to lose much of their fizz, deepen in colour and become (if they’re any good) more ‘vinous’ or wine-like. Appreciation of these mature Champagnes is all very subjective, but in the UK in particular there has long been an interest in older Champagnes.

Notable vintage years: 2008, 2004, 2002, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1985, 1982, 1976, 1975.

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Prestige Cuvée. These are the top of the range, generally vintage-dated wines, in posh packaging from the best vineyards and winemakers, with extended cellaring potential. For example Dom Pérignon, Krug, Louis Roederer Cristal, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Bollinger RD, Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame, Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill, Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque.

Just to confuse things, there are a handful of Prestige Cuvées that are multi-vintage blends (so technically Non-Vintage), but very much at the top end of the scale in terms of price, quality and age-ability. Krug Grande Cuvée is certainly the best known and most often seen, though Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle is another worthy mention.

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Krug Grande Cuvée from mid-2011 Krug very helpfully started putting an ID code on the back of the labels, which enables you to find out a huge amount about the base wines, vintages used and so forth. https://www.krug.com/krugids

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Keep in mind that Champagnes and wines in general are much more sensitive to poor storage than spirits due to their much lower ABV. Kept in warm temperatures (such as your kitchen wine rack or a restaurant shelf) for any length of time may result in the wine oxidising or becoming ‘cooked’. Avoid badly faded labels and suspiciously brown or deeply coloured Champagnes.

Larger format bottles such as 1.5 litre magnums, if well-stored, tend to keep better and mature at a slower rate than regular 750ml bottles.