You don't know how to choose a good and great bottle of champagne? You feel lost among the different brands and kinds of champagne? What does Brut, Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs and “Millésimé” mean? This article can help you ! Indeed, it gives some explanations about information written on the Champagne bottle label that can help you in choosing the Champagne which fits the best with you needs!
The dosage ( amount of sugar)
This information is the most important because it determines the kind of Champagne and its main characteristics. There are 6 main kinds of champagne based on different sugar amount (after the disgorgement, Champagne houses add a liquor named “liqueur d'expédition” and this liquor will determine the “nature” of the champagne).
Zero dosage or Brut nature: no added sugar, less than 3 grams (0,1 oz) of sugar per liter (33 fl. oz.). Freshness and pureness are the main characteristics of this kind of champagne. It's at the end very different and original compared to the usual « Brut ».
Extra brut: less than 6 grams (0,21 oz) per liter. This not the most famous kind of champagne but it gains more and more « market shares ». Fans love the vivacity and the huge freshness of Extra Brut Champagne. Perfect as a pre-dinner drink / aperitif with friends.
Brut: the most known and appreciated category. Brut Champagnes have less than 15 grams (0,52 oz) of sugar per liter. They are perfect in all occasions: throughout a dinner, aperitifs, dessert. To sum up: Choosing a « Brut Champagne » is the best way to avoid any mistakes but they are more “common” / less original than other kinds of Champagne.
Extra dry or extra sec: these Champagnes have between 12 and 20 grams (0,7 oz) of sugar per liter. Usually, this kind of champagne is sweeter than Brut one.
Demi-Sec Champagne: between 33 and 50 grams (1,76 oz) of sugar per liter. Very sweet Champagne.
Doux Champagne: very very sweet champagne with more than 50 grams (1,76 oz) of sugar per liter. Perfect for a final course (dessert) but be careful, this champagne can be « sickly ».
Blends (assemblages) and single variety wine (mono-cépage)
It's common to find Champagnes named « Blanc de Blancs », Rosé (pink). They are in fact « nontraditional » blends. Indeed, the traditional blends, mix grape varieties and years and that not the case of the following Champagnes:
Blanc de Noirs Champagne: this champagne is made only with the Pinot Noir (Pinot Black) grape variety (only black grapes). This Champagne is « strong » and offers complex flavors.
Blanc de Blancs champagne: single variety, only the Chardonnay is used for this Champagne. Very elegant, refined and fresh Champagne, personally it's one of my favorite
Rosée / pink Champagne: blend of red wine and white wine the pink wine made thanks to a blend). A « pleasure » wine perfect throughout a dinner or for dessert.
Millésimés (vintage year)
Blend of Champagne wines but from the same year chosen for their qualities, characteristics. Usually, the « Millésimés » Champagnes are the best « cuvées ». Hence, a year is written on the bottle label (it's not the case for non Millésimés / vintage year Champagne).
On each champagne label, you can find two letters giving some very interesting information (see example picture below):
SR: société de récoltants (harvester producer corp.). Several Winemakers gathered to produce and sell together their Champagne bottles.
RM: récoltant manipulant (harvester and handler). The winemaker do all the steps alone : vignification thanks to its grapevines only and distribution / selling.
NM: Négociant manipulant (bargainer handler). Champagne house elaborating its own Champagne but thanks to grapes of other exploitations (all of partially).
CM: coopérative de manipulation (handling cooperative). Cooperative selling Champagne elaborated thanks to grapes of its subscribers.
RC: récoltant coopérateur (harvester collaborator). The wine maker brings its grapes to a cooperative which elaborates the Champagne and at the end gives to the winemaker bottled Champagne.
MA: marque d’acheteur ou auxiliaire (trader label). A trader (like hyper or supermarket) ask to a wine maker to ink its brand name on the bottles of the winemaker.
ND: négociant distributeur (bargainer seller). Traders buying bottled Champagne and inking their own brand on bottles.
Please note that these two letters are not a proof of quality but MA Champagnes are some times disappointing.
Usually, you will find the best value for money champagnes among SR, RM, NM and RC.