What does brut mean? What is cuvée? And is blanc de blancs dry? Here are all the questions you had about the different types of Champagne answered.
Ah, Champagne. It’s synonymous with celebrations, glamour and… confusion?
When it comes to choosing a bottle of Champagne, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, with so many different kinds of Champagne on offer. Firstly, always remember that a sparkling wine can only ever be called Champagne with a capital “C” if it comes from the region of Champagne in France ‒ it is mandated as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) according to EU regulations.
As for each of the fancy French terms on the labels, these denote classifications of the bottle’s contents. They reveal its flavour profile, origins, which grape varieties it’s made from, and details of the year the wine was made. For example, labels marked vintage and non-vintage Champagne are not only the key to how to tell the age of a bottle of Champagne, but can also inform its palate and nuances.
Some of these classifications overlap, so you might find a couple of different terms on the label of a particular Champagne bottle, which can all get a bit confusing ‒ right? Not anymore. Here’s your go-to guide to decoding Champagne terminology so you can pick the perfect bottle every time.
Different types of Champagne can range from very dry to those on the sweeter side. Brut is a term used to define dryness in a Champagne. The driest Champagnes are referred to as either brut nature, or brut zero ‒ so called because its added sugar content ranges from zero to less than three grams ‒ and they are a relatively rare style.
A level above this is extra brut, a dry Champagne with less than six grams of sugar. These styles are described as being fresh, light, and perfect for summer. If this sounds like your ideal glass of Champagne, try Chandon NV Sparkling Brut.
Brut Champagne, the most common style, is a non-vintage dry blend usually made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. It has less than 12 grams of sugar per litre and often this Champagne tastes of peach, apricot and apple, some mineral inflections, and occasional citrus notes. Some excellent bottles of brut include Henri Laurent Champagne NV and Mumm Cordon Rouge.
Extra sec or dry sec Champagne has hints of sweetness; sec contains more residual sugar to offer some extra sweetness; and demi-sec is the sweetest of this variant, often highlighting fruit flavours like apricot, mango, and even pineapple, as in the case of Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial.
Doux is the sweetest of all the Champagne types, containing more than 50 grams of sugar per litre. They’re not common in Australia, but they are excellent for matching with summer desserts thanks to their lovely, honeyed flavours.
Cuvée, pronounced “koo-vey”, is the French word for “vat” or “tank” ‒ it refers to the vats in which wine is produced. Cuvée on a label refers to the first-pressed juice for the wine, which is considered the most potent, desirable, and highest-quality of the batch.
So, when a bottle of Champagne, or even any other kind of still or sparkling wine, is labelled as “cuvée”, it usually means that the wine contains this first-pressed juice. However, the term is not regulated, so a cuvée label on its own does not necessarily guarantee this. Within the international wine-making world, cuvée can also be indicative of a winemaker’s individual blend or expression of style.
Blanc de blancs, blanc de noir, and rosé don’t refer to the Champagne colour but rather, the Champagne grapes that make up the wine.
Blanc de blancs Champagne is made entirely from white grapes, namely chardonnay. The results are pleasingly acidic, minerally and elegant, making them excellent food pairing wines. “Blanc de blancs” translates from French to “white of whites”, meaning the white juice that is used to create wine is derived from white-skinned grapes. This Charles de Cazanove is a wonderful example of a crisp, fresh blanc de blancs, with nuances of toasted oak.
Blanc de noir is made from pinot noir and/or pinot meunier. Though it’s made from dark-skinned grapes, it’s light coloured because the pale juice is separated from the dark skins before fermentation can deepen its colour ‒ hence blanc de noir is “white of blacks”, meaning white juice derived from black (or red) grapes. It’s generally more full-bodied than a blanc de blancs, with fruity aromas and moderate acidity. Pinot meunier is heavier on the “fruity” aspect while pinot noir provides those tell-tale citrus notes.
Rosé Champagne is Champagne that’s had red wine added during blending, or has spent more time on the skins of the dark grapes during production (a process called “saignée”). It’s medium-bodied and full of character, often with a long finish, lovely acidity, and a nose of pink fruits ‒ strawberry, raspberry, peach, and grapefruit. Perrier Jouet Blason Rose is a lovely pink Champagne with fine bubbles.
Cru is a term that refers to vineyard quality, based on terroir, climate and other factors, usually used to classify superior vineyards that exhibit the best characteristics of a region. While it is used for different wine styles in France, it’s commonly seen on Champagne labels. Grand cru means the Champagne is made from grapes that come from a top-quality vineyard. Premier cru is the level just below. Of the more than 300 wine-producing villages in Champagne, 17 are grand cru and 44 are the ever-so-slightly-less remarkable premier cru.
Once you’ve picked your Champagne bottle with the help of this cheat sheet, the only thing left to do is go shopping and then sharing it with friends. Here’s a guide to how to serve your bubbly wine.