The magnificent 3… actually 7; The 7 grape varieties used in Champagne
Posted by Nick Gaskin on August 17, 2015
The grapes grown in Champagne, while grown all over the world are unique in Champagne with it’s compatibility with each variety different to any other grape growing region.
In this Blog I provide an outline on each grape, what it brings to a blend and what it’s unique characteristics are. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, Twitter or Facebook.
Pinot Noir accounts for approximately 38% of total plantings in Champagne and is predominant in the Montagne de Reims and Cote des Bar. (nb: find out more about the Champagne grape growing regions here)
Pinot Noir is a black skinned grape variety that gives Champagne weight on the palate, and provides structure along with red berry aromas.
Pinot Meunier is another black skinned grape variety which is known for it’s excellent resistance to extremes in cold weather as it buds earlier and ripens later than Pinot Noir.
Pinot Meunier makes up approximately 32% of vines in Champagne and is found mostly in the Marne Valley, it also ages much more quickly in the bottle than the other two primary varieties and is found mostly in young non vintage wines for immediate drinking.
Chardonnay is a white skinned grape variety that makes up approximately 30% of the vines in Champagne. The most elegant Chardonnay is found in the prestigious Cote de Blancs region and is the slowest to develop and produces wines that are suitable for ageing over long periods. Chardonnay brings fragrant characteristics to Champagne of flowers, white fruits, citrus and sometimes minerals. Chardonnay dominant Champagnes tend to be more delicate and thus are suited to be consumed as an aperitif or with delicate seafood dishes.
The ‘Forgotten 4’
The sometimes forgotten grape varieties in Champagne are extremely rare and make up less than 0.3% of planting in present day. It is very difficult to find these varietals in Champagne and you will only find it in small traditional growers, however the unique characteristics they bring to a Champagne make them worth seeking out.
Pinot Gris is a widely used grape variety around the world but is very rare in Champagne. Pinot Gris is a pink skinned mutation of the black skinned Pinot Noir and in fact they look identical in the vineyard right up until veraison. (The period in the grapevine’s growth when berries change color and become softer. After flowering, and during the early development stages of the bunches, all grapes have a herbaceous green color. During veraison, white grape varieties turn a lighter, more transparent yellow, while black grape varieties become red.)
Pinot Gris bring flavours of pear, white stonefruit and spice to a Champagne blend.
Pinot Blanc is widely found in Alsace in northern France, as well as Germany, Austria and Italy. It has characters not dissimilar to Chardonnay, however it is more full bodied and brings additional notes of apple, almond and even some smokiness. Due to Pinot Blanc’s weight on the palate it’s also very versatile for pairing with food, it is equally as well paired with Quiche Lorraine as it is with Pad Thai.
Arbane is a very rare white grape variety with only a few acres surviving in the Cote des Bar district in southern Champagne. The grape variety can be dated back to 1388 but is mostly extinct other than select areas around Europe. Arbane brings complexity, minerality and spice to a Champagne blend.
Petit Meslier is a light skinned, white grape variety that is almost extinct in Champagne other than a few plots in the Marne Valley, West of Epernay. Petit Meslier brings floral, green leafy notes to a Champagne.
Petit Meslier vines bud very early in the season which puts them at risk of Spring frost, this is probably the reason very little is left. Some food pairing ideas include rock oysters and cured fish.
If you would like to try some interesting blends and single variety Champagnes of exceptional quality, please take a look at these 5 Champagne growers;
Originally published at www.perthchampagneclub.com.