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Champagne Blend

The majority of Champagne is produced using a blend of different grapes. There are three major varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, plus a little Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane, the last four having all but disappeared from Champagne's vineyards although small pockets still exist here and there principally in the Aube in the south of the region. Down the centuries the first three mentioned varieties became predominant simply because it was recognised that they were most suited to the soils and climate of the region and ripened more reliably. The exact proportion of these grapes used by the Grande Marque Champagne producers is the main factor in providing the finished sparkling wine with its own particular style. The character of non-vintage Champagne is also influenced by the addition of older reserve wine to provide depth and complexity which is also enhanced by the length of time that the wine spends on the lees deep in the cellars excavated from the chalk lying beneath the surface of the region.

Vintage Champagne on the other hand, being made from grapes harvested in one year, spends a longer period of time maturing in the cellars to achieve this degree of complexity. The Grande Marques' vineyard holdings account for only about 10% of the total grape harvest the remaining 90% being produced by smaller growers who either sell their harvest to the bigger producers, produce their own wines or, in some cases, do both. Some growers belong to one of several co-operatives which produce, mature and market their Champagne wines.

Champagne Grapes

Champagne grapes each add their own special characteristics to the cuvée or blend and their cultivation tends to be favoured in one of three specific areas within the heart of the Champagne region although due to meso- and micro-climates each area has plantings of all three major varieties. The geology of the vineyards comprises cretaceous chalk in the centre of the region and this allows for excellent drainage and is also good at retaining the sun's warmth, a vital advantage in this northernmost of French viticultural regions. Below are featured the three main grape varieties used for the production of Champagne.

Chardonnay

By far and away the main white grape variety used in Champagne production Chardonnay plantings comprise approximately 28% of the total and are concentrated on an east-facing slope to the south of the town of Épernay known as the Côte des Blancs where it constitues 96% of the total vineyard area with 3% Pinot Noir and 1% Pinot Meunier making up the remainder. The soil here is largely cretaceous chalk which, combined with the south-eastern and southern aspects of the vineyards provides ideal terrain for Chardonnay. This soil is exceptionally well-drained yet harbours reserves of moisture at depth to be used by the vines in very dry conditions. The vineyards of six villages here are designated Grand Cru, the highest classification on the échelle des crus, the system used in Champagne for grading vineyard, and hence grape, quality. These villages are Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Oiry. Chardonnay this far north makes light wines with finesse and elegance which provide a lift to the final blend. A soft creamy quality with lifted stone-fruit aromas is noticeable in the best wines. When used to produce a Blanc de Blancs Champagne, i.e. a Champagne made exclusively from white grapes, Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs displays aromas of walnut when fully mature. Such wines are very highly regarded and many of the Grande Marques offer such a wine. Further south is an area called the Côte de Sézanne which is planted with 70% Chardonnay, 21% Pinot Noir (and increasing) with 9% Pinot Meunier.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir plantings occupy a majority of the vineyard area on the Montagne de Reims, a hilly area between Reims to the north and Épernay to the south, with 56% of the total vineyard area here. On the Montagne the chalk sub-soil is mixed with some clay and sand resulting in a slightly heavier growing medium more suitable for black grapes. In fact Pinot Meunier comprises a further 16% of the vines here with 28% being provided by Chardonnay. Unlike in the Côte des Blancs the vineyards here have a range of aspects, all with their own meso-climates, with the Pinot Noir planted on the north-facing slopes said to be somewhat lighter than on the south facing slopes yet with great sharpness of focus. Generally speaking Pinot Noir provides Champagne with good weight and a fuller, meatier palate together with good fruit flavour. There are many Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages situated on the Montagne de Reims. Pinot Noir is also the most heavily planted variety in the Côte des Bars in the Aube department even though Chardonnay is perhaps better suited here. The reason for this is that the still wine Rosé des Riceys is traditionally produced here and that requires black grapes. After World War 2 the hitherto planted Gamay vines were pulled up and replaced with Pinot Noir.

Pinot Meunier

Pinot Meunier is sometimes unfairly regarded as something of a work-horse grape variety and it is true that plantings of it are being overtaken by newer plantings of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Its main home within the vineyards of Champagne is in the Vallée de la Marne where it covers 63% of the area under vine, with Pinot Noir amounting to 27% and Chardonnay a mere 10%. It is the dominant variety here because the river valley is prone to spring and autumn frosts and, being a late budding and early ripening variety, it is therefore more reliable. Pinot Meunier brings a good level of acidity to the Champagne blend together with a fruity character which is very noticeable in younger wines although it doesn't age as gracefully as either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Pinot Meunier provides the essential framework to many a Grande Marque Champagne and is also made into Blanc des Noirs wines with Pinot Noir.

  1. Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut, Champagne

    Non-vintage Champagne made from 60% Pinot Noir for its power and finesse and 40% Chardonnay to add a mineral freshness. Gold lemon colour with beautifully fine mousse and a rich nose with spicy and floral notes with hints of honey and yellow fruits.

    Details
    Colour Sparkling Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    Country France

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  2. Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut, Champagne Jeroboam

    Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut, Champagne (Jeroboam)

    This Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut Champagne is in a 3 liter (Jeroboam) sized bottle which is just perfect for special occasions such as a wedding or Christening party.

    Details
    Colour Sparkling Wine
    Grape Variety Champagne Blend, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    Country France

    £184.80

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  3. Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut, Champagne (Magnum)

    Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut, Champagne (Magnum)

    Chassenay d'Arce's flagship Champagne which was matured in cellar for 3 years before being released for sale.

    Details
    Colour Sparkling Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Add to Basket
  4. Chassenay d'Arce, Rosé Brut, Champagne

    Chassenay d'Arce, Rosé Brut, Champagne

    Rosé Brut Champagne from Chassenay d'Arce made from a blend of 65% Pinot Noir with 35% Chardonnay grapes to produce a Champagne with elegance and finesse.

    Details
    Colour Sparkling Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    Country France

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