There are several types of champagne grapes used to make sparkling wine in the Champagne wine region. While Champagne houses each have their process, only a few grapes are commonly used. Whether you have a non-vintage Champagne or a rare 19th century Champagne at your next special occasion, knowing the grapes that go into the bottle deepens your wine appreciation.
The Seven Grape Varieties of Champagne
In modern Champagne, the following three Champagne grape varieties are typically used in creating wines in the Méthode Traditionnelle (i.e., traditional method).
- Chardonnay. Champagne experts love to use Chardonnay because it is considered a “wine maker’s grape.” Chardonnay is a wine maker’s grape because it can grow in many different climates. Many popular Champagne brands feature Chardonnay as the primary grape. You might even see “Chardonnay” on Champagne labels in some cases. However, Chardonnay is the least commonly used grape in the Champagne region (find out more about the difference between Chardonnay vs Champagne). If you come across Chardonnay-based Champagnes (also called “Blanc de Blancs Champagne”), you’re in for something special!
- Pinot Noir. This red wine grape made famous by the movie “Sideways” is a popular grape variety in Champagne. Pinot Noir is the main contributor to the “Blanc de Noirs” type of Champagnes. Surprisingly, you can make white wine from a black-skinned grape like Pinot Noir.
- Pinot Meunier. Historically, Pinot Meunier played a supporting role in the finished wine. That’s starting to change today. Some wine producers are shunning tradition (i.e., no more blend of wines approach) and making 100% Pinot Meunier wine or Meunier Champagne.
The vast majority of champagne vineyards produce one or more of the grapes listed above. However, an increasing volume of champagne sales reflects a different approach. These other types of champagne wines include other white grape varieties.
The “Forgotten Four” Champagne Grapes
While the above three wine grapes are the most common, other grape varieties are used in champagne production. The following “forgotten four” grapes have been used to make champagne wine in the past. Some champagne producers are working to bring them back. If you are looking for something fresh and different in your sparkling wine, look for sparkling wines that use these grapes. IF you decide to become Champagne cognoscenti, who want something different from popular styles like Rosé Champagne, seek out bottles made from these grapes.
- Pinot Blanc. Genetically related to Pinot Noir, this white wine grape variety originated in the Alsace wine region. It is not used in many types of sparkling wine.
- Pinot Gris. Related to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris is a pink-skinned grape that is permitted in modern-day Champagne.
- Petit Meslier. This white variety is valued in modern-day Champagne because it adds acidity to the wine. This white variety is light-skinned and tastes like apples.
- Arbane. Finding the Arbane grape in Champagne is difficult – it has nearly disappeared. However, some champagne producers use the grape. For example, Champagne Gruet offers arbane champagne wine. Don’t expect to see this grape widely used.
Frequently Asked Questions About Champagne Wine
Which is the most expensive Champagne?
There are two ways to answer this question: historical and contemporary. In historical terms, some wine collectors have spent over $100,000 on a bottle of wine sunk by a German submarine during the First World War. Find out more about that story in my article: the most expensive wine in the world.
Assuming you are not a wine collector but have some money to spend on prestigious champagnes, what are the options? Let’s take a look at some of the most expensive Champagne bottles currently listed on the wine-searcher website:
- Moet & Chandon Esprit du Siecle Brut. This bottle of wine sells for over $6000 per bottle.
- Louis Roederer Cristal ‘Gold Medalion’ Orfevres Limited Edition Brut Millesime. This high-end bottle of champagne wine sells for an average price of $3949.
- Dom Perignon P3 Plenitude Brut. No list of prestigious Champagnes would be complete without Dom Perignon. This particular bottle of wine has an average sales price of $3,771.
Don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a single bottle of wine? Don’t worry – I don’t either.
Fortunately, plenty of excellent champagne wines are available in the $50 to $150 range, especially if you look for champagne brands that offer a bottle of non-vintage Champagne. If those prices do not fit your budget, look into champagne alternatives – sparkling wines made in other regions of the world using the same champagne method developed in France. You can also find excellent rosé Champagne from the south of France, Canada, and other wine regions worldwide.
The champagne method (i.e., Méthode Traditionnelle) is not the only way to create excellent sparkling wine. Some wine producers use a different, affordable process. This affordable process typically involves using a tank, so it is called the tank method.
Is Champagne stronger than wine?
In general, champagne wine has a similar alcohol level to still wine (example: Moet alcohol percentage). Typically, champagne producers make wine with about 12% alcohol by volume. In contrast, you can find wines ranging from below 10% alcohol by volume (i.e., low alcohol white wines), and some powerful red wines have 15% alcohol by volume or higher.
If you mainly drink light white wines with low alcohol, most champagne brands will have a higher alcohol level than what you are used to drinking. The opposite is true for red wine fans: most champagne bottles have lower alcohol levels than many red wines.
Keep in mind that many people tend to finish off a bottle of wine after opening it. The tendency to fully finish off a bottle of Champagne is due to a few reasons. First, the champagne greats make excellent bottles of wine, and it is tough not to finish it! Second, the bubbles you see in your champagne glasses will fade pretty quickly.
Champagne uncorking: how do you do it safely?
There is a specific technique involved in champagne serving if you want to avoid wasting the wine. The reason for this Champagne etiquette for opening a bottle exists for a good reason. Champagne corks are under considerable pressure due to the bubbles inside the bottle. To keep your wine in your champagne flutes, follow these steps.
1 Allow the wine bottle to sit still
Shaking the bottle or moving it suddenly before opening means a greater chance of an unwelcome explosion. If you have just carried the wine bottle home from the store, give it 10-20 minutes to settle before opening. If it helps, think of taking time to open the bottle as a way to show respect to the champagne houses that have worked so hard to produce this bottle of finished wine for you.
2 Remove the metal foil
Most champagne bottles have a metal covering over the champagne cork. Remove this carefully, ideally using a knife. If you’re not careful, you can cut yourself on the metal foil. The extra protection around the cork is one reason for the high champagne price you pay.
3 Untwist the metal cage on top of the champagne cork
Traditionally, it takes five to six twists to open the wire covering a modern-day Champagne. Remove the wire covering slowly. Champagne producers use a metal covering over the cork to keep the wine safe.
4 Place your thumb on top of the cork securely
Now you can start to ease the cork out of the bottle. Do this step slowly, and you will be rewarded with a slight pop from your modern-day Champagne. It is considered very poor champagne etiquette to “fire” a champagne cork at anybody.
5 Pour the wine into your champagne flutes
While some in the champagne etiquette world might recommend champagne flutes, they are not required. You can use any wine glass you like. Using champagne flutes does add to the experience, especially if you are drinking the wine on special occasions. As you drink your brut Champagne enjoy the experience!
Where Is Champagne Made?
Now you know all about champagne grapes, don’t stop learning now. Check out this overview of the Champagne wine region to learn more about the world’s best known type of sparkling wine.