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Decoding the bubbles: How to read champagne labels

Champagne labels can seem like a secret code to the uninitiated. Crack it and you’ll impress family and friends who will be grateful for your knowledge. Champagne labels can seem like a secret code to the uninitiated. Crack it and you’ll impress family and friends who will be grateful for your knowledge. Let us help make your life easier with this short guide to champagne label terminology… Do you know how to decipher a champagne label? It’s time for some fine wine revision. A little knowledge will give you the upper hand while hosting, especially if you are planning food pairings. Here are the need-to-know terms for champagne:

Blanc de quoi?

The three grape types that can be used to make champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. If you’re wanting to know which have gone into the wine you’re drinking, look for the following: Blanc de blancs: This term means ‘white from white grapes’ so in champagne, that means 100% chardonnay. Blanc de noirs: This means the champagne is made with only black grapes so in this case, it’s pinot noir and/or pinot meunier. If neither of these terms are on the label, it will almost always be a blend of all three champagne grapes mentioned above.

Label terms explained: from driest to sweetest

Champagne sweetness levels are determined at the end of production during ‘disgorgement’. This is when the sediment is removed and the bottle is topped up with a mixture of wine and sugar called the ‘dosage’, which sets the sweetness level. Champagne therefore generally falls into these categories, from driest to sweetest:

Pas dosé (also, ‘brut nature’ and ‘dosage zero’). With no additional sugar at all, zero dosage wines are crisp, dry and usually less calorific. There will be less than 3g per litre of sugar.

Extra Brut (less than 6g)

Brut (less than 12g)

Extra Dry (12 to 17g)

Sec (17 to 32g)

Demi-sec (32 to 50g) This means semi-sweet.

Doux (50g+) These will be fully sweet.

The method in the marvellous

On every bottle of real champagne, you will see on the label a variation of ‘méthode traditionelle’ (traditional method, champagne method, méthode Champenoise etc.). This refers to the highest quality, ‘traditional’ method of putting bubbles into each individual bottle. Wines made in this way will have a finer, longer-lasting mousse.

Other interesting nuggets

Some champagnes, particularly the grand marques, will have extra information about the wine in the bottle. This could be in the form of a QR code or unique bottle ID, which you can scan to find out the exact details of the age of the blend and vintage details. All Krug cuvées will carry this. Certain label terms are also unique to the producer and offer information about what makes a cuvée so special. Dom Pérignon has its ‘Plénitude’ range for example, which is also referred to as P2 or P3. These vintage champagnes have been aged on their lees for much longer than usual and only disgorged very recently, so a second ‘plénitude’ is a vintage release 20 or more years after the initial vintage release. It helps justify those price tags too. Chin chin!