A Quick Guide to Buying, Drinking, and Serving Champagne

A Beginner's Guide to Buying, Drinking, and Serving Champagne

Champagne is one of the world’s most heralded drinks. Ancient traditions, world-wide respect, a tendency toward festivity, and a renewed commitment to sustainability are some of the appealing reasons why this bubbly wine has secured a top slot in the public eye. But even more appreciated than those admirable qualities is the taste: Champagne is delicious.

Can a wine this well-known still foster mystery? Is there anything wine enthusiasts don’t know about Champagne? Well, actually, yes. Many people, even wine drinkers with years of experience and know-how under their belt, often have questions about Champagne. For both Champagne beginners and bubbly experts, here are a few of the most common ones that our staff fields from guests in the shop.


Where are the Champagne vineyards?

Champagne is about 90 miles due east of Paris. The wine growing region includes 319 villages (crus) in the Marne, Aube, Aisne, Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marn departments. Over half of the plantings are in the Marne. 17 villages are entitled to Grand Cru status and 42 are entitled to Premier Cru status. There are four main growing regions in Champagne: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, and Côte des Bar. 


What is grower Champagne? What is house Champagne?

Let’s set the stage to answer this one. Here are some Champagne basics. In the Champagne region there are nearly 20,000 wine grape growers. Many of these sell some or all of their crop to the Champagne maisons or  houses, which produce the majority of the wine that enters the market in the United States, amounting to millions of bottles. In order to do this, the houses rely on local growers to supply the fruit they need to function at this capacity. Grower Champagne is vigneron wine, grown and crafted by a single estate, often just one person or a small family enterprise. 

Grower Champagne at its Best - Dhondt-Grellet and Laherte Freres


How do I read a Champagne label? 

Every bottle of Champagne is marked with a specific set of letters. In total, there are seven official ways to identify Champagne:

NM - Négociant Manipulant: As mentioned above, this is the most common, signifying that 94% or more of the fruit was purchased from external growers. Most House Champagnes will show ‘NM’ on the label.
CM - Coopérative Manipulant: This states that a single co-op produced this wine from numerous regional growers’ fruit. 
RM - Récoltant Manipulant: This means that 95% or more of the fruit within the bottle was estate-grown and not purchased. AKA, RM = Grower Champagne. 
RC - Récoltant Coopérateur: This means that a vigneron grew their fruit but used a co-op facility to vinify and brand their wine.

The three less common markings are: MA - Marque d’Acheteur, meaning a large retail shop or restaurant purchased a final wine to sell  it under a private label; ND - Négociant Distributeur, meaning someone labels and distributes the wine but did not cultivate or vinify it; SR - Société de Récoltants, meaning a group of growers collectively works together and markets their own brand.



What are some of the best Champagne producers?

There is a great deal of quality coming out of Champagne, and it’s hard to label any particular producer the best until you discover what you like to drink. That being said, we have a few favorites that really seem to please customers and prove themselves with impeccable standards in the vineyard and cellar. Check out our list of Icons, Inspirations, and Insiders to find bottles that fit your style and budget. 

 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Grower Champagne


How is Champagne different from other sparkling wines?

This is the prime example of origin labeling: in order to be called Champagne, it must be grown and produced in the Champagne region of France. Technically, Champagne’s appellation laws allow for seven grape varieties to be used in the production process, though 99% of production relies on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. 

Champagne sparkles thanks to the méthode traditionelle or méthode Champenoise, in which a secondary fermentation is executed in the bottle. Champagne is notably labor-intensive and defined by texture, complexity, high acidity, delicate bubbles, and age-worthy potential. Other wines that use the méthode traditionelle but are made elsewhere in France are called crémant. 

Other traditional method wines made around the world have their own names, and there are several other techniques for producing bubbles which are by definition not allowed in Champagne. For more on these wines, check out our explainer and suggestion guide.



What is blanc de blancs vs blanc de noirs? 

These are French terms meaning ‘white from white’ or 'white from black’. In other words, a blanc de blancs is a white wine made from a pale-skinned grape such as Chardonnay, while a blanc de noirs is a white wine made from a dark-skinned grape such as Pinot Noir. Otherwise, Champagne can also be produced in rosé, which means the wine has had some skin contact with the dark-skinned grape to produce color (Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier in the case of Champagne).


What is vintage vs non-vintage Champagne?

Vintage Champagne is crafted with grapes from the harvest of a specific year, which will appear on the label. This represents a small amount of the region’s output and producers typically won’t release a vintage each year, but rather several times throughout a decade when conditions allow for an elevated wine. They require additional bottle age and will often come from the most celebrated vineyards. 

Non vintage Champagnes blend grapes from the most recent harvest with what’s called reserve wines — this is a mix of vintages. On the label, you’ll see NV to indicate this. Champagne houses produce non vintage bottles to adhere to a house style, which is often what consumers have come to expect. Through blending, the house will be able to produce a consistent product year over year. This is not a statement of lesser quality than vintage Champagne, but instead a commitment to an iconic style that has been cultivated by the house or estate. 


What are Champagne sweetness levels?

Dosage is the addition of a small amount of‘ liqueur de dosage. This takes place just before the bottle is ultimately placed under cork. The style of wine is influenced by this addition. In many cases it is simply the wine plus sugar, in other cases where the winemaker seeks to add further dimension, this could be a specially crafted reserve wine plus sugar. 

It is a requirement that Champagne labels reveal the wine’s level of dosage (sweetness) in the following fashion:

Doux: 50+ grams of sugar per liter
Demi-sec: 32-50 grams of sugar per liter
Sec: 17-32 grams of sugar per liter
Extra dry: 17-12 grams of sugar per liter
Brut: Less than 12 grams of sugar per liter
Extra Brut: 0-6 grams of sugar per liter
Brut nature: Zero dosage and less than 3 grams sugar per liter


What glass do I use to serve Champagne?

The thin and elegant flute glass has a reputation for being the ideal Champagne vessel, but many wine professionals prefer a white wine glass. This is because the flute doesn’t allow much room to enjoy the aromatics (ie: it’s a bit crowded for a nose!) and Champagne is abundantly perfumed. There’s also the vintage-style coup, which is wider at the mouth but more shallow than a traditional wine glass — some people love the look and choose them for entertaining. We would use Glasvin Universal which is handblown, durable, and versatile. 

Use a Universal Wine Glass or Standard Wine Glass for Champagne instead of the Standard Flute


How do I open a bottle of Champagne?

Here’s the full list of steps. If you prefer, let Dustin show you how it’s done in this video. Click here to watch.


What is the ideal temperature for serving Champagne?

Serve Champagne at 47-50°F. Any colder and you’ll miss out on aromatics — any warmer and the flavors won’t be as bright. To get there, put the bottle in an ice bath for 30 mins or in the fridge (on its side) for four hours. Don’t use the freezer to accelerate cooling.

One last note. Sure, Champagne is the ultimate gifting and celebration bottle, but don’t limit yourself. Champagne is lovely with brunch, lunch, or dinner and actually tastes amazing with simple salty snacks and fried foods. In fact, two of the most mouthwatering pairings for bubbles are potato chips and fried chicken. And on a budget, there are excellent bottles in our collection for under $50. In other words: it’s always a good time for Champagne!

Champagne for the Holidays from Verve Wine