Sparkling wine and champagne grapes are primarily Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. These primary grape varieties are used in the production of champagne. Each variety plays a different role and is used for a different effect. A blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) will taste different than a blanc de noirs (100% Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier) which will taste different from a basic blended champagne (which may contain Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay). Winemakers will also blend different percentages of champagne grapes to achieve desired results. This report applies to the Champagne region of France. Grapes used to produce sparkling wines may vary.
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Meunier
- Other Varieties
Chardonnay grapes are the white grapes of the three primary grapes. Chardonnay is a white grape that is most responsible for backbone, acidity, and finesse in sparkling wine. It helps make the wine ageworthy. Chardonnay also adds creaminess, minerality and occasionally some toasty aromas. It typically adds floral, apple and citrus notes. The Côte des Blancs district south of Épernay is planted primarily with Chardonnay grapes. Chardonnay is also planted in the Côte de Sézanne (south of the Côte des Blancs). It is adaptable to different climates. In Champagne’s cool continental climate it seldom reaches full ripeness before harvest, which adds crispness and freshness as compared to wine produced in warmer growing areas. It buds early so it is somewhat susceptible to late spring frosts. It accounts for just over one fourth of the grapes planted in the Champagne region.
|Pinot Noir Grapes
Pinot Noir grapes are among the three primary champagne grapes. Pinot Noir is a black grape credited with bringing out fruit character, weight/body, and strength in champagne. It is not as acidic as Chardonnay. It also adds some notes of red fruit such as strawberry to the tasting profile. Skins are removed prior to primary fermentation when white champagne is to be produced. For rosé champagne production, there may be a brief period of skin contact during primary fermentation, called the Saignee method or a blend of red and white still wine may be combined prior to secondary bottle fermentation (which is also the case with Pinot Meunier). It is well known as the grape variety of the famous red wines of Burgundy. It has a reputation for mutating easily. In Champagne it has its greatest fame growing in the Montagne de Reims district south of Reims and north of Épernay. Pinot Noir is also the predominant grape grown in the Aube district, which is a separate area about 70 miles southeast of Épernay. Pinot Noir accounts for about 35 to 40% of all grapes planted in Champagne.
|Pinot Meunier Grapes
Pinot Meunier grapes are one of the three primary champagne grapes. Pinot Meunier, often called just ‘meunier’, is a black grape that was an early mutation of Pinot Noir. It is slightly more acidic than Pinot Noir, but less acidic than Chardonnay. Pinot Meunier makes champagne more accessible in youth through fruit forward style and aromatics. It also adds complexity to young wine and helps ensure a consistent product. It buds later than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and ripens earlier than Pinot Noir, making it a more dependable grape. Often described as a workhorse grape, Pinot Meunier is undoubtedly under appreciated. Most producers (though not all) don’t brag about their Pinot Meunier and perhaps they should. In Champagne, Pinot Meunier is the prevalent choice in the damp, frost prone district of Vallée de la Marne. In the past it was the most planted grape at around 40%, but it has been overtaken by Pinot Noir and now accounts for just over a third of plantings.
Other Grape Varieties
There are other champagne grapes other than the three primary grapes. Secondary grape varieties including arbanne, petit meslier and pinot blanc are permitted in champagne blends on an historical basis. However, they are sparsely cultivated (less than 1%) and hardly ever used.