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Associated with luxury, celebration, and romance, Champagne is home to the world’s most prized sparkling wine. In order to be labeled ‘Champagne’ within the EU and many New World countries, a wine must originate in this northeastern region of France and adhere to strict quality standards. Made up of the three towns Reims, Épernay, and Aÿ, it was here that the traditional method of sparkling wine production was both invented and perfected, birthing a winemaking technique as well as a flavor profile that is now emulated worldwide. Well-drained limestone chalk soil defines much of the region, lending a mineral component to the wines. The climate here is marginal—ample acidity is a requirement for sparkling wine, so overripe grapes are to be avoided. Weather differences from year to year create significant variation between vintages, and in order to maintain a consistent house style, non-vintage cuvées are produced annually from a blend of several years.
With nearly negligible exceptions, three varieties are permitted for use in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. These can be blended together or bottled varietally, depending on the final style of wine desired. Chardonnay, the only white variety, contributes freshness, delicacy, and elegance, as well as bright and lively acidity and notes of citrus, orchard fruit, and white flowers. Pinot Noir and its relative Pinot Meunier provide the backbone to many blends, adding structure, body, and supple red fruit flavors. Wines with a large proportion of Pinot Meunier will be ready to drink earlier, while Pinot Noir contributes to longevity. Whether it is white or rosé, most Champagne is made from a blend of red and white grapes—and uniquely, rosé is often produce by blending together red and white wine. A Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay will be labeled as ‘blanc de blancs,’ while one comprised of only red grapes are called ‘blanc de noirs.’