If you are starting out with grower champagne, there is a number of terms that appear on the back label and where it is helpful to know what they mean.
Vins de Reserve indicate the percentage of wine from other vintages excluding the base vintage.
Cepage desribes the grape sorts used in the Champagne.
Mise en bouteille or Tirage. Every champagne when it is bottled receives a dosage of liquer de tirage, a mixture of sugar water and yeast. This induces the second fermentation. Some producers add the date or month when the tirage was done.
Degorgement. This indicates the day or month when the sediment (the dead yeast from the tirage) is removed from the bottle and when the bottle was corked. This is perhaps the most important date to know as it gives us a sense of transparency. Many of the big house refuse to add the degorgement date and for this reason, I would be careful when buying champagne in a supermarket. Without this date we cannot know how long the bottle has been on the shelves and if the conditions of storage were not optimal, the champagne may have suffer damage.
It is also important to know the degorgement causes bottle shock and the champagne needs in general six months to recover its equilibrium.
Dosage. When degorged a champagne is possesses no residual sugar. With the dosage sugar is added, the quantity per litre defines wether the champagne is Extra Brut, Brut, Sec etc.
Extra Brut – Between 0-6 g/ltr are added to make this now increasingly popular style. Modern wine making methods and global warming has meant a change in sugar use, reducing the need for higher levels of sugar to bring balance to wines. Also the expression of terroir has become the new keyword and low dosage is seen as the key to expressing terroir
Brut – Still the most popular choice for Champagne producers across the region. Between 0-12 g/ltr.
Extra Dry – Bizarrely sweeter than Brut with between 12-17 g/ltr. A lovely sweet spot for those who like a little touch of sugar in their tea!
Sec – The word Sec means dry but in modern terms these wines can feel all but dry. Between 17-32 g/ltr of sugar can be added.
Demi Sec – The most traditional level of sugar for “sweet” Champagnes. 32-50 g/ltr.
Doux – The highest level of sugar with 50 g/ltr or more added! Very few wines hit this level.
Comite Champagne registration number – This is one of the key things to look for. It’s presented as two letters followed by a series of numbers. The two letters represent how the wine was made:
RM (Recoltant Manipulant) is a wine made by a winemaker from his own vineyards.
NM (Negociant Manipulant) is a wine made by a winemaker either from his own vineyards or from grapes/juice that he/she buys in. Most Maisons that you see on the shelves of wineshops and supermarkets are NM.
CM (Cooperative Manipulant) is a wine made from a group of winemakers (cooperative) who label their wines together
RC (Recoltant Manipulant) is a wine made by the cooperative but labelled by a grower.
ND (Negociant distributeur) is a wine made by a winemaker but with a distributor’s label on it.
SR (Societe de recoltants) is a wine made together by a group of growers.
MA (Marque d’Achetuer) is a wine marketed by a third party. You see many of these on the supermarket shelves.