All About Champagne

Everything you need to know!


‘Tis the season and everyone is scrambling for Champagne. Do you remember what you bought last year? Did you even like it?

If you can’t answer that question, you really should pay attention to the next few morsels of information. Not only do they explain what you’re buying, but they also give pointers on what the house style of some of the biggest and most popular brands are, as well as tips on what the words used to describe Champagne really mean.

Spend a few minutes getting to know Champagne before heading out to buy the real deal this holiday season. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did when you finally find the Champagne of your dreams. Now the only thing you’re going to need to do is to remember it for next year!

Photo courtesy quinn.anya via Flickr/CC

Non-Vintage House Style

Every large Champagne producer relies on the non-vintage blend to set their house style and earn a consistent revenue stream.

This is, not surprisingly, a mix of several vintages that allows a blender to combine the freshness of younger wines with the complexity contributed by older, more mature wines. The goal in making a non-vintage wine is to offer a consistent style from vintage to vintage. I am a big fan of non-vintage Champagne, but prefer to age it for several years so that it softens up and gains more depth and complexity. Three to five years in the cellar is perfect for my palate.

Photo courtesy Ron Dillette via Flickr/CC

Vintage Champagne

In certain vintages, the Champagne is so good and has such a distinctive character that it may be bottled as a vintage wine. In general, these wines are a step-up in quality from the basic non-vintage bottlings, though there can be exceptions. As with the Crème de Tête, a vintage sparkling wine may require several years in the bottle to offer the drinkability of a non-vintage. You should also be familiar with the style of the vintage. Great vintages come in different stripes, from opulent and ripe to chiseled and structured. It’s easy to love one vintage and hate another, so ask a trusted retailer if you have any questions.

Photo courtesy klmontgomery via Flickr/CC

Tête de Cuvée

These are wines that define a house’s style and go by proprietary names like Cristal, Dom Pérignon and Cuvée Winston Churchill (one of my faves). These represent the pinnacle of the Champagne blender’s art and are wines that frequently benefit from (and many times demand) cellaring to release their potential. Right off the shelf, the current release of these wines can be somewhat disappointing.


If we are looking for value, we should be looking at Crémant, as opposed to Cramant, which is a great vineyard, ironically in Champagne. Crémant sparkling wines are wines made with the Méthode Champenoise process but that come from regions outside of Champagne. Thus there are Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne and, the greatest in terms of production, Crémant de Loire. These are wines that rely on the grapes most well suited to each region, but are always produced in the traditional style.

Photo courtesy d4yw41k3r  via Flickr/CC

Moët & Chandon

Moët is the world’s largest Champagne house and the one with the most famous brand of all, Dom Perignon. Whether or not the myths that the Dom Perignon created the first bottled sparkling wine are true, the quality of the wine is undeniable. It is one of the Tête de Cuvées that really requires cellaring, like 20 years worth, to reveal its glory.

The house style is one that is simple, clean and fresh, creating a wine blend relatively free from obvious wine making influences.

Tête de Cuvée: 2002 Dom Perignon $150

Buy this wine at Sherry-Lehmann!

Veuve Clicquot

Veuve Clicquot is a successful Champagne brand that seems to be resting on its laurels a bit. The wines have seemed to be a shadow of their former selves for years, though that doesn’t seem to bother consumers very much.

The house style is one that is very bright and lean, with citrus fruit and a touch of yeastiness. The Tête de Cuvée La Grande Dame takes this style to a much higher level, remaining refined and elegant with great length and finesse.

Tête de Cuvée: 1998 La Grande Dame $125

Buy this wine at Sherry-Lehmann!

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Mentioned in this article


  • Dear Gregory,

    Were you planning to write on Louis Roederer Brut Premier & Cristal Roederer?
    My favourites after Michel Turgy from " Le mesnil-sur-Oger"

    I wish you a very healthy & prosperous new year 2012.


    Gustavo A. de Hostos

    Dec 26, 2011 at 2:19 PM

  • Snooth User: gmolson
    367356 1

    Well, I must say this about your long list of 13 pages that contained a great deal of useless information on how to select my own choice. There was a great deal of hype to sell products which may sponsor you, very little useful knowledge to assist me in understanding the complexity of champagne, and a great deal of the cuteness of you. Boring information.

    Dec 26, 2011 at 3:06 PM

  • Snooth User: deldred27
    628491 3

    gmolson must not have gotten what he wanted for Christmas. He/she seems to be in a bad mood.

    Dec 26, 2011 at 4:03 PM

  • Snooth User: homestar
    512161 83

    well, in fairness to the cranky gmolson, I have to agree with the gist of the criticism. the article said it would educate me about champagne so I could make better choices. it went on to describe some expensive champagnes and why they are expensive. perhaps the only real consumer information there is that if you want a bargain, don't choose champagne proper but other sparkling wines produced in that style. I"m afraid my ability to choose good champagne on anything other than price isn't helped too much.

    Dec 26, 2011 at 4:37 PM

  • I agree with gmolson...the aticle is mostly useless. And I cannot believe that Gosset, the oldest champagne house still in production is not even mentioned !!! Unbelievable....may I suggest to all, please try a bottle of Gosset Grand WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED !!!!

    Dec 26, 2011 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: juicelover
    964443 12

    for the price and quality id take prosecco 10 out of 10 times. got a great deal on Zonin prosecco at $12bucks. crisp and clean. not as yeasty as the french champagnes.

    Dec 26, 2011 at 7:15 PM

  • Snooth User: bobbymcgee
    316593 43

    Useless information pitching greater than $100 bottles that need to be cellared for up to 20 years. How about some useful information about bottles that you can buy, chill and drink and not bust the piggy bank?

    Dec 26, 2011 at 7:18 PM

  • Snooth User: ChefJune
    359212 33

    You mentioned Piper Heidsieck while ignoring the "other", bigger Heidsieck, Charles!

    They're made by the same winemaker, Regis Camus, but in two different styles. Camus recommends drinking Charles from white wine glasses to get maximum benefit of the aromas. The Brut Reserve is not only delicious, it's a good value.

    Dec 27, 2011 at 12:47 AM

  • Snooth User: D Licious
    924410 7

    Gotta agree whole-heartedly with 'juicelover'... in the sparkling wine catagory, the biggest bang for your buck has got to be prosecco. We've tried many and have never been disappointed and never paid over $15 usd. Zonin and Zardetto are both excellent examples.

    Dec 27, 2011 at 1:21 PM

  • And not to nitpick, but you put a picture of Roederer next to the description of Laurent Perrier ...

    Dec 28, 2011 at 3:34 PM

  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    Can only agree that this is a strangely superficial and unfocused piece on Champagne.
    If you want to write about the top of the category, what happened to Krug (by many critics believed to be the best of the bunch), Bollinger or for that matter Pol Roger and their Winston Churchill cuvee you even mention as a personal favorite?
    if you want to educate us a bit, what happened to insights on vintages, typification like blanc de blanc/noir & Rosé. Or dosage, growers vs. negociants, levels of sweetness etc.
    If you want to give tips on alternatives, why stop at French cremant, when you have excellent methode traditionelle products from all over the world - Spain & Italy in particular? Look at Franciacorta (f.ex. the Ca Del Bosco range) and you will find some of the best sparkler out there at very competetive cost.
    (Prosecco is nice too, as many here mention, but in all fairness its not second fermented in the bottle and as such its a different product).

    This is not doing justice to one of the finest wines out there - nor to its many alternatvies...

    Dec 30, 2011 at 1:17 AM

  • Snooth User: Lenagel
    384904 4

    I hate to beat someone who's already on the ground but I must say, Gregory, that we are used to more depth in your research work and my thinking reading your piece is : although I am sure anybody would be glad to buy Tete de cuvée everytime, the reality is most of your readers are more likely to have to look for the non-vintage bottles at their local store so you have not succeeded in helping us this time.
    I hope you will come back with something more convincing on Champagne soon!

    Jan 02, 2012 at 6:41 AM

  • Snooth User: rosebrien
    79281 34

    This article sucked...sounded like a copy and paste from the houses marketing brochure.

    Jan 02, 2012 at 12:49 PM

  • Snooth User: rosebrien
    79281 34

    This article was useless...sounded like a cut and paste from the houses marketing brochures. Could have learned as much from the stickers on the shelf at the wine store...gee, champagnes that cost $150/bottle are good...I'm much more prepared to buy good champagne now.

    Jan 02, 2012 at 12:51 PM

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