Chardonnay in champagne
30% of Champagne plantings are Chardonnay, predominantly in the Cote des Blancs.
Chardonnay grapes in the champagne region are so much a part of the traditional champagne taste.
Now this is an entirely personal perspective, but I have had to try “harder” to appreciate the chardonnay in champagne, more than the pinots. That’s not to say it has been hard work (drinking champagne never is!) but it’s only been quite recently that I have started falling for the acidity that chardonnay brings.
Understanding the flavours imparted by the grapes
#ICYMI chardonnay grapes are one of just three different grape varieties that can be used to make champagne. The other types of grapes are both red grape varieties – pinot noir and pinot meunier.
Chardonnay in champagne is much slower to mature and evolve than the pinots. But once it does start to mature, its ability to age in champagne borders on the divine.
Chardonnay in champagne also brings two of the hallmarks of champagne – acidity and minerality. I always describe higher chardonnay blends or blanc de blancs (100% chardonnay champagnes) as fresh and light, almost the opposite of the depth and intensity of high pinot noir blends.
To help put it in context, I tend to think of the three grapes as sitting on a spectrum…
- from dark fruits and rich character at the pinot noir end to
- light fruits and bright, fresh character at the chardonnay end with
- pinot meunier occupying the middle ground.
Chardonnay brings the lightness and elegance in champagne and is characterised by citrus flavours from lighter, pale or white-fleshed fruits… like apples, lemons, pears, white peaches, maybe lychees.
Every house uses a particular blend of the grapes for its NV wines, like a signature recipe. Once you start tasting more champagne and consider the grape proportions, I find most people start to develop an understanding of what drives their preferences for one house over another…. most people tend to gravitate to like houses that use either higher pinot, or higher chardonnay, or a more even blend.
Homework assignment #Champagneschool
If you want to try a high chardonnay blend or a blanc de blanc, I would start with Taittinger’s or Ruinart’s “R” de Ruinart (both 40% chardonnay). The blanc de blancs from these houses are also exceptional, as they are so focused on chardonnay in their wines, they make exceptional blanc de blancs.
Champagne Brimoncourt makes an 80% chardonnay NV champagne which I would describe as fresh and bold… and exciting. It may not be to everyone’s taste and it may not be traditional… but it is exciting. The crew behind this wine are clearly wanting to make a strong and creative mark with their wines and… that they do. This house is on my wish list to visit during my trip this July. A house to watch.
Santé my champs lovers
Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #Champagneschool to let me know you’re doing your homework and what you think!
More about champagne grapes
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