Finding the perfect champagne means being able to read the label. This is a useful skill to have in order to have a more enjoyable trip to your favorite wine merchant. In this article, we’ll help you accurately dissect the information presented on the label so you can take home the right sparkling wine for the occasion.
Here are the most prominent pieces of information on the label and how you can interpret them.
This element is the first and most likely the largest element you see on the label. Champagne is produced in the region of, you guessed it, Champagne, in France. That’s where it gets its name, so it will be indicated as such.
Be careful with brands that slap the name on the bottle for the sake of elevating the perceived quality and sales potential of the product.
Producer name and country of origin
You will find information on the specific location of the Champagne house from which the drink was made. If it says Ay, Reims, or Épernay, you have yourself a premium quality wine.
A champagne label will also indicate the sugar content or dosage, which seals in the final taste before the last corking. How dry or sweet your bottle is will determine your overall experience.
Brut, which literally means dry or raw, is one of the most common grades you can find that preserves the natural taste of the grapes with just up to 12 grams per liter of added sugar. It is the go-to sparkling wine if you need a good aperitif.
Sometimes, you will see brut nature, pas dosé, or dosage zéro, all of which simply refering to the same thing--the bottle has 0-3 grams per liter sugar content for pure, unadulterated taste.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have demi-sec, which translates to half dry. It has a good balance of sweetness with 32-50 grams of sugar per liter. This will be a perfect complement foie gras or cheese and basically desserts and even spicy dishes.
Another labeling you might find is extra brut, which has 6 grams of sugar or below, making it essentially bone-dry.
Sec or dry, on the other hand, increases the sweetness with a sugar dosage of 17-32 grams. Next on the scale is extra dry, which, despite what the name suggests, is sweeter than brut with 12-17 grams. If you get a Doux Champagne, you have the sweetest bottle around, with the highest sweetness level at 50 grams per liter.
Grape variety (may or may not appear on the label)
Champagnes are pretty versatile wines that you can pair with a variety of dishes. It can be your regular accompaniment for an entire menu or a number of guests with different tastes. Here are the labels that indicate this:
Blanc de Blancs
The champagne is made from white grapes aka chardonnay. This is perfect if you're in the mood for seafood, fish, oysters, or parmesan.
Blanc de Noir
Produced from red grapes, this full-bodied bottle is either a pinot noiror pinot meunier, if not a blend of both.
With the fruity aroma of red and black cherries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries, pinot noiris the perfect gastronomic companion to apoultry dish with sauce, cheese, red meat, mushrooms, grilled vegetables, and even chocolate.
If your champagne comes from the pinot meunier variant, expect a bright raspberry and cranberry flavor with slightly smoky undertones. If pork, eggs, and shellfish are on the menu, this wine will enhance the experience. It should also taste amazing with roast duck, or blue cheese, charcuterie, or short ribs.
This champagne has a uniquely romantic pink color that has extra notes of red fruits plus citrus, melon, and flowers. Like its counterparts, it is pretty versatile and can go with pasta, rice, or shellfish.
The type of producer is indicated by the two letters followed by six digits that make up a registered code number that is usually located on the bottom.
- NV is négociant manipulant, a common designation that refers to companies that make the champagne from purchased grapes.
- CM, which stands for coopérative de manipulation, sources grapes from a co-op of growers.
- RM or récoltant manipulant uses its own grapes to produce the champagne.
- SR, which means société de récoltants, come from a collaborative of growers that have no official co-operative.
- An RC aka récoltant coopérateurlabel means the wine was bottled by a member of a co-operative with its own name and label.
- MA or marque auxiliaire refers to a supermarket brand name outside of a product or grower.
- If you see ND or négociant distributeur, you're looking at champagne from a wine merchant that sells under his own name.
Year of harvest
You may also notice “NV” on the label. This simply indicates that the champagne is non-vintage, which means it is a blend of grapes harvested from different years and are aged shorter than vintage counterparts.
On the other hand, a vintage wine is simply marked by the year its contents were harvested. What you have is a champagne that comes from 5% of production typically produced only three to four times in a decade. If it is from 1971, 1975, and 1982, it could very well be one of the finest wines you will ever taste.
Other details on the champagne label include the size of the bottle usually in milliliter (for example 750 mL) plus the percentage of alcohol it contains (12.5%).
Wrapping Up can add another subject: If you are purchasing the Champagne as a gift, look for offerings that come in a gift box. Or, most retailers will offer gift packaging and even a ribbon for that special occasion.