How to Read a Champagne Label

champagne label

image credit: Dominic Lockyer

When stuck at a wine merchant, we could spend hours trying to find the right bottle for a particular occasion. But in order to save time and embarrassment, it’s a good idea to arrive equipped with some knowledge of what you’re getting. After all, before you’ve even got as far as tasting, you can find out a lot more about a bottle of champagne than you might think.

1. Any sparkling wine not deriving from the Champagne region in France cannot be legally labelled as ‘champagne’, so the first thing to do is identify it as such. Some US sparkling wines might break the rules and call themselves champagnes, so be wary of imposters. Bear in mind however, that just because something is labelled as a champagne, it does not mean it is fit for drinking.

2. The second most important thing to pick out is the champagne’s origin. You know you have an authentic champagne if it is sourced form particular corners of France such as Ay, Reims, or Épernay.

3. Next to consider is how dry or sweet you generally like your champagne or wine to be. Brut, the most common grade, typically lacks the addition of much sugar and is dry on the palate. Demi-sec, on the other hand, is much sweeter. Brut compliments aperitifs whereas demi-sec goes well with, or after, dessert.

Read: How is Champagne Made?

clicquot brutimage credit: Nacho

4. Unless the back label stipulates otherwise, the champagne might be a blend of grapes. If the label reads blanc de blancs, the bottle will contain exclusively the lightness of a Chardonnay, blanc de noirs a more full bodied weight, while pink or rosé includes a little Pinot Noir and of course that romantic pink hue.

5. You can tell if a champagne’s grapes are all from the same vintage if a date is clearly displayed on the front label. This is not to say that the best champagnes are all vintage, as some of the finest contain grapes from different vintages, but a true vintage bubbly is aged longer, considered purer, and will put you out of pocket a bit more. Years that produced the finest champagnes include 1971, 1975, and 1982.

6. Finally, the two-letter initial found at the bottom of the label is there to reveal a bit more about the personality of the champagne:

NV (Négociant manipulant) The most commonly seen, are companies that buy their grapes but make the champagne.

CM (Coopérative de manipulation) Sources grapes that are pooled together from a co-operative of growers.

RM (Récoltant manipulant) Is a grower that makes champagne from his own grapes.

SR (Société de récoltants) Involves a collaborative of growers that do not form an official co-operative.

RC (Récoltant coopérateur) Is a member of a co-operative that has bottled a champagne under its own name and label.

MA (Marque auxiliaire) Is a brand name not related to the product or grower. Instead, it may be under the name of the supermarket.

ND (Négociant distributeur) Indicates a wine merchant selling produce under his own name.

Read: Four Champagnes You Ought to Try