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Champagne brands and producers

Producers and Brands

Most of the growers sell their grapes to the large "Champagne houses" or "négociant", who bottle the wines under their own label. The majority of these large Champagne houses are located in Reims or Epernay along the majestic "Avenue de Champagne".
The list for the world-famous Champagne brands is relatively short and you won't fail to find something familiar in a restaurant wine list or in a wine and liquor store: Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Cristal, Krug, Moet et Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Dom Perignon, Joseph Perrier, Ruinart, Salon, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin. While each of these brands is a great Champagne, you will need to taste many different ones to determine your own preference.

Tips: The Champagne region includes other producers too, ranging from big "coopératives" to tiny family estates. The quality of their wines varies enormously, but generally offer better value.
Vintage and Non-Vintage Cuvee Champagnes

Non-Vintage / Vintage Cuvées

Non-vintage Cuvée or non-vintage bottles are the most popular style of Champagne. They are generally blend of two or three of the region's grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The bulk of the blend comes from one vintage, which is supplemented with 10 to 40 percent of wines from earlier harvests, known as reserves.
Vintage Cuvée Champagne, like most other wines, are made from a single year's harvest grapes. Under Champagne regulation, vintage Champagne must be composed of at least 85% of grapes from the vintage year, and have a minimum of 3 years of bottle aging.

Tips: Unlike Vintage Champagne, Non-Vintage bottles have a consistent style and don't vary too radically depending on the quality of the vintage year. Vintage Champagne goes well with all fish and seafood dishes especially with rich, creamy sauces, and caviar.
Grand Cru and Premier Cru Champages

Grand Cru / Premier Cru Champagne

Two terms are most often seen on Champagne made by small-scale growers, rather than by Champagne houses, which buy most of their grapes or still wine from several sources.

"Grand Cru" indicates that the Champagne is made from the highest quality grapes coming only from the 17 Grand Cru designated villages.
"Premier Cru" is applied to the Champagne with grapes from the next best 41 Premier Cru designated villages.

Tips: Large Champagne houses almost always use Grand Cru and Premier Cru grapes in Deluxe and Prestige Cuvée labeled Champagne.
Cuvee Prestige or Deluxe Champagnes

Prestige Cuvées / Deluxe Champagne

Cuvée Prestige or Deluxe or some call them cuvée spéciale or tête de cuvée. These are the top of the class. These Champagnes are produced by large Champagne houses and are almost exclusively vintage Champagnes made from the Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
They are produced in limited quantities, most only in the best vintages. They are generally brut and come in Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé styles.

Tips: Cristal is the first prestige cuvée produced by the House of Roederer. It was originally created in 1878 for the Imperial Court of Russia and Czar Alexander II. In the early 1920s, limited bottles of Cristal were put on the market in France and it has been available commercially since 1945. Widespread awareness of its high price has given this brand an image of exclusivity.
Grower Champagne

Grower Champagne / Champagne de Vigneron

Recently, Champagne produced by estates that have their own vineyards in the region are gaining popularity with devoted followers. These growers usually hold vineyards around a single village. Their work is described as "Artisanal winemaking" and they produce Champagne with distinctive character that is more terroir-driven than an emphasis on a consistency like "house style" Champagne.
A Grower Champagne or Champagne de Vigneron is identified by the initials RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) preceding the required producer identification on the label (usually printed very small). Usually they cost less and often provide value compared to large Champagne houses.

Tips: They vary in style depending on the producer and location, have more flavor with little or no dosage (sugar level) added, food pairing varies by style and are usually similar to Brut Champagne.
Blanc de Blancs Champagne

Blanc de Blancs

Non-Vintage Cuvée Champagne made from 100 percent Chardonnay, a white grape variety, which is a star performer in the region. It gives freshness, delicacy, elegance, and finesse to the wine.

Tips: Blanc de Blancs makes for a perfect aperitif and goes well with cheese, smoked salmon, caviar, shellfish and seafood with light sauces. It also pair well with mushroom and light chicken dishes.
Blanc de Noirs Champagnes

Blanc de Noirs

Non-Vintage Cuvée Champagne made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier red grapes. Pinot Noir gives weight and richness and Pinot Meunier contributes fruitiness and floral aromas to the wine. Because of minimal contact of the clear juice with skins, color is simply offset by the small amount of red skin pigments and turns into deep golden color.

Tips: Makes a good aperitif and pairs well with strong cheese, seafood and full-flavored poultry dishes.
Rose Champagne

Rosé Champagne

A small category produced in different styles, from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of all 3 grape varieties. They are made either by leaving the clear juice of red grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time known as the saignée method or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still red wine to the sparkling wine cuvée. Typically they come in different shades of light red color

Tips: Light Rosé makes a perfect aperitif and pairs well with salmon or strawberries. Fuller flavored Rosé is excellent when accompanied with poultry, game birds and pink-roast lamb dishes.
Brut or Dry Champagne

Brut or Dry Champagne

The Brut designation indicates the dryness of a Champagne. The amount of sugar added after second fermentation and aging will dictate the level of dryness of a Champagne and they are labeled as following:

Brut Nature or Brut Zéro is the dryest Champagne, with less than 3 grams of sugar level per liter.
Extra Brut is also very dry with less than 6 grams of sugar dosage per liter of Champagne.
Brut is the most common dry Champagne with less than 12 grams of sugar per liter. Usually all Blanc de Blancs, Blancs de Noirs and Rosé Champagne styles are Brut.

Tips: Typically are used as toast and celebratory wines on their own, but they are perfect aperitif wine and pair well with cheese specially hard cheese, fruit dessert, smoked salmon, caviar and shellfish. Brut Champagne can also accompany seafood, poultry with light sauce, cream and mushroom sauce dishes. Avoid sauces with high acidity such as tomato-based or Oyster vinegar sauces.
Sweet Champagne

Off-dry and Sweet Champagne

The terms Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux are used to indicate the sweetness level of a champagne, based on the amount of the sugar they contain:

Extra Sec is an off-dry Champagne, slightly sweeter than Brut, with a dosage (added sugar) between 12 to 17 grams per liter.
Sec is a mildly sweet Champagne with a dosage of 17 to 32 grams per liter.
Demi-Sec is a sweet champagne with a dosage of 32-50 grams per liter.
Doux is a term designated to the sweet dessert Champagne, which contain over 50 grams of sugar per liter.

Tips: They can be served with dessert, or on their own, and also make for original pairings with spicy, exotic cuisine.
Cremant or sparkling wine

Crémant or Sparkling wine

Crémant is bubbly wine created outside of the Champagne region of France. Typically, they are vinified in the same traditional way as in Champagne (méthode traditionelle), with grapes grown in their particular region and not limited to the standard Champagne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. They cost less and are produced in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Jura, the Rhone Valley, Savoie, and other wine regions of France.

Tips: Crémants vary depending on the style, the region, and producers. While they are great for a celebratory toast, they are also perfect aperitif and outstanding with variety of seafood and lighter dishes.
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