We all love to do a little bit of shopping; but unlike picking up those to-die-for shoes or that perfect shade of lipstick, wine shopping isn’t something that should be done on impulse. A good bottle of champagne is expensive, so want to be smart shoppers when it comes to buying that perfect bottle; and part of being an empowered consumer is being an informed one.
Just like the eyes are the window to the human soul, the bottle label is the window to the champagne soul; everything you need to know about the wine is written there for anyone to see—talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve! But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, all of that information can be really confusing—worse than watching a French film without the subtitles. So here is a go-to list for everything you need to look for on the label to make sure you’re making the best purchase possible.
1) The County of Origin. If it isn’t France, it isn’t champagne, pure and simple. Don’t be too bothered if you don’t see the AOC or AC stamp; sometimes these aren’t included, even on the genuine article.
2) The Brand or Marquee. This tells you who produced the wine—which can account for different varieties of flavor.
3) The Degree of Dosage. This will tell you how much sugar has been added to the finishing dosage—or in other words, how dry the champagne is. Common words to look for include: Brut Sauvage or Ultra Brut, or extra dry, sec, or demi-sec.
4) The Hometown of the Wine. This is the town in which the wine was made; so if you’re looking for a particular mixture of grapes, you can cross-reference which subzone the town falls into (like Cote des Blancs and so forth).
5) The Alcohol Content. This will be anywhere from 10.5-13%, but should be somewhere more around 12-12.5%. For vintage dated wine, it should be at least 11%.
6) The Volume of Liquid. Expressed in milliliters, this will range anywhere from 375 ml “half-bottles” to extra-large (and extra-rare) 18 L bottles. The 1.5 liter “magnum” size is most popular for its slow maturation rates.
7) The Trade Registration. Wine producers are given a specific registration number by the CIVC, and each brand owner will be given a different identity to be used on the bottle:
NM or negociant-manipulant is a shipper who owns vineyards and buys grapes, including many of the traditional internationally famed Champagne merchant houses.
CM or cooperative de manipulation is an association of growers who pool their resources and produce and market their wines as a collective whole.
RM or recoltant-manipulants are individually owned estate grape growers that independently produce Champagne using a majority (at least 95%) of their own grapes.
RC or recoltant-cooperateur are growers who use the help of a cooperative and their facilities to produce champagne.
MA or the marque d’Acheteur are third-party merchants who buy and commercialize champagne, but are not involved at all in the production.
The Èlaborateur. This may refer to a Champagne house, a grower, or a cooperative, but refers to whoever made the wine, and will be indicated on the label.
Now that you are armed with some knowledge on purchasing Champagne, go ahead and purchase some and enjoy what’s inside!
One of my favorite quotes and so very true…
“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” ~ Old Acquaintance