CHAMPAGNE - THE GRAPES
Champagne - The Grapes
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
Champagne is made predominantly with three grape varieties. Although the majority of Champagne is 'white' in colour, two of the main grapes used are red skinned - Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The third grape used is Chardonnay (white skinned). The 'red' grapes are able to produce 'white' wine due to a number of reasons, including that all grapes are hand picked rather than using machines, they are then pressed very gently, and during fermentation there is no contact between the grape juice and the skins.
Other Grape Varieties
There are three other grape varieties used in Champagne, however these make up only 0.02% of current production. They are Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc. In fact there are even a further three grape varieties that could be used in theory, due to historical laws dating back to 1927 and 1929. These are Pinot Gris (Fromenteau), Pinot de Juillet and Pinot Rose. Prior to 1962, a 10th grape variety was grown - Gamay.
Structure derived from Grapes
The Chardonnay grapes provide length and backbone in the Champagnes. These grapes are grown on predominantly east facing, chalky slopes. The Pinot Noir grapes, grown on north facing slopes, provide acidity and a biscuity flavour. The terroir (ground / soil) on the Cote des Blancs, is very similar to that on the Cote de Beaune in Burgundy. The Pinot Meunier grape is used to assist the early maturation of the Champagne, enabling the Champagne to be enjoyed at a younger age.
Due to the different terroirs, and the different grape varieties, many of the larger Champagne Houses will produce their House Wines by blending grapes from different regions, different varieties, and different villages. The top Champagne Houses often blend together different grapes from over 100 different Crus (villages) to ensure that their Champagne style is the same year on year.