Champagnes combine finesse and elegance with power. It is a very special wine produced by an elaborate process that enables the still wines of the region to be made into effervescent sparklers. Unlike many table wines, it is most usually a blended wine produced from a mixture of the permitted grape varieties grown throughout the designated Champagne vineyard as well as with wines from different years.
The permitted grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both black) and Chardonnay (white). The defined vineyard areas extend primarily within the department of the Marne over three distinct areas: the Montagne de Reims (between Reims and Epernay), the Vallée de la Marne (the hills along the Marne valley), and the Côte des Blancs (south of Epernay, planted almost exclusively with Chardonnay). There are also lesser Champagne vineyards in the Aube.
The concept of blending wines from grapes grown throughout the Champagne vineyard is one reason why Champagnes from the grandes maisons — the large Champagne houses who have created the prestige and world appeal for this special wine — are of so consistently high quality. Indeed this essential concept of blending a cuvée to create a more harmonious and balanced whole has been essential to Champagne since the 17th century. In the case of non-vintage Champagne, not only are wines from grapes grown in different vineyards used, wines from different vintages are also blended to create the cuvée. For it is only through making use of old reserves that the grandes maisons are able to produce year after year the consistent range of Champagnes unique to each house.
Vintage Champagnes, by contrast, come from a single harvest. Such wines are produced only in exceptional years when the chef du cave considers the harvest sufficiently superlative to declare a vintage and thus produce Champagne from a single year’s harvest only (the year will be declared on the bottle). Vintage Champagnes generally have greater structure, body and concentration while maintaining the freshness and elegance that is the hallmark of all great Champagne. Such rarities require ageing for considerably longer periods than non-vintage before release.