Wines of Worth: Champagne



Today, October 26, is the third annual Global Champagne Day. For those who sip and share through social media, #ChampagneDay is the hashtag to connect with wine lovers worldwide. But whether you’re toasting virtually to your computer screen, or face to face with friends, you need the goods in the glass. In honour of Global Champagne Day, I wanted to share a little primer and history about the most festive, most celebratory and arguably the most delightful of wines, Champagne.

It can’t be stated enough – Champange comes ONLY from the delineated Champagne region in France. Not all sparkling wine is Champange – far from it. Other places around the world, including our BC backyard, craft fine sparkling wines (we share the 49th Parallel with the Champagne region). Producers can follow the same painstaking and lengthy process and use the same grapes – mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – just like Champange. But unless you’re one of the 300,000 or so specific vineyard plots in northeast France where it is legal to plant Champagne grapes on over 34,000 specifically delineated hectares, and then follow to the letter the AOC rules for aging and release, you’re simply not Champagne.

Vines have been growing and cultivated in Champagne since the Roman times, at least since the 5th century. The wines at this early time however were still, not sparkling, and made in hopes of rivalling their neighbours in Burgundy. The northerly climate of Champagne poses challenges for fully ripening Burgundy’s Pinot Noir, so no real rivalry came to be. Naturally sparkling wine was a sporadic result, occurring when fermentation continued after bottling, trapping carbon dioxide bubbles under pressure. It wasn’t until the early 18th century that people began to understand and intentionally produce bubbles in the bottle, and begin to standardize the process and the materials required to do so. This was also the era when many of today’s illustrious Champagne houses were established.

Today 90% of all of the vineyards are owned by independent growers (about 19,000 growers) and nearly 2000 of these growers make and sell their own wine (“Grower’s Champagne”), accounting for approximately 22% of the sales. The vast majority of exports however are controlled by the large merchant houses. These global powers own only a small fraction of the vineyard acreage collectively, making sourcing grapes and wine a priority. The 10 largest houses account for over 50% of the region’s sales.

Though it’s pretty much always delicious, it can be tricky for the consumer to differentiate Champagne. It certainly helps to think of Champagne as a blend – a blend of grapes, vineyards, terroir, and for the most part, vintages. Currently there are 319 different villages over the Champagne region, each ranked and rated on the Echelle des crus, or ‘ladder of growths’ based on the quality of the grapes and vineyards. Of these villages, 17 are named Grand Cru (100% score) and 44 are Premier Cru (90-99% score). Theoretically Grand Cru vineyards are best, and have the prestige and price to match, though it helps to know your producer and site. Unlike Burgundy, where the Cote d’Or is carved into numerous terroir-directed parcels (think Vosne-Romanée vs Volnay, for example), Champagne is one large appellation (AC Champagne).

Another main way to differentiate Champagne is by style. The following are main style categories:

Dosage level: Champagne ranges from Brut Nature (bone dry) through Doux (sweet). Most is in the Brut range (dry, up to 15 g/L of residual sugar)

Colour: Most Champagne is white, through there is a significant proportion of Rosé Champange as well. If it is labeled Blanc de Blancs (White from Whites), it is made entirely of Chardonnay. If it is Blanc de Noirs (White from Blacks), it is a white Champagne made from the gentle pressing of red grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. For Rosé Champagne, producers can blend still red and white wines together before secondary fermentation, or less commonly (and at a higher production cost), allow the juice from black grapes to rest on the skins for a short period of time, drawing out colour. The latter method is known as saignée.

Non Vintage vs Vintage: Over 90% of production is Non Vintage, meaning the base wines were blended from different vintages. The skill of the master blender is very important, especially to mirror the established house style year after year. Vintage Champagne is produced only in better years, when a house ‘declares’ that the harvest is suitable for this higher tier bottling.

Prestige Cuvée: These wines are almost always the product of Grand Cru vineyards, and are the premium bottling of the house. No expenses are spared in the production and aging of these exclusive wines. Moet & Chandon was the first to commercially produce a Prestige Cuvée with their Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. These Prestige Cuvées are generally vintage dated.

Late Disgorged: These vintage Champagnes are regarded nearly as highly as the Prestige Cuvées as they spend extra time aging on the lees prior to release. In some instances, these rare wines are decades old before they hit the market.


Whichever Champagne you choose, you’ll be rewarded with an elegant, effervescent and ethereal glass of wine, one steeped in history and tradition, and unquestionably worthy of a cheers. Don’t limit this wine to birthdays, weddings and #ChampagneDay.

Here are a few style recommendations readily available on our market:



Taittinger Brut Reserve NV
AC Champagne, France
Consistently attractive and delicious year after year. Toasty biscuit nose, apple, hazelnut shell aromas. Lovely cream, apple and minerality on the lengthy finish.


Pierre Gimonnet Brut Blanc de Blanc NV
Cuis Premier Cru
AC Champagne, France
Crisp and bright, austere linearity with green apple and floral notes. Lovely lemon dough, spiced intensity on finish. Brilliant with raw oysters. Elegant.


Laurent Perrier Rosé Brut NV
AC Champagne, France
Saignée method. Fresh strawberry, citrus and raspberry aromas, rounder bodied, with fine mousse and notes of strawberry, cream, brioche, dark cherry and mineral and a lingering cherry-currant finish.


Pol Roger Brut Vintage 1999 (may see 2000 in stores now)
AC Champagne, France
Smokey, roasted coffee bean, toasty nose, yeasty dough and crackers. Deep, rich and concentrated palate of caramel, apple and full cream. Beauty concentration and lingering finish.


DRINKing Guide: How to use our purchasing information.

*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. Some may be in limited quantities. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores. Prices may vary.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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