What do the world’s best-selling Champagnes taste like?

18th September, 2017 by Patrick Schmitt

The biggest names in Champagne may be highly recognisable, but what do they taste like? We assess the top 10 leading labels for style and quality.

The quality of Brut NV Champagne, such as Veuve Clicquot’s ‘Yellow Label’ has been on the rise over the past 10 years

As part of the drinks business Global Masters wine tasting competition series, we have been judging Champagne quality since 2012 using sparking wine experts and Masters of Wine only.

And, in the past few years, we have ensured that the Champagne Masters – which seeks to assess the relative quality of just Champagnes according to price and style – includes the biggest names in the business.

Along with all our competitions, the judging is done ‘blind’, which ensures that no taster is influenced by source area or producer.

With this in mind, over the following pages, we are able to bring you a totally impartial analysis of the style and quality of Champagne’s biggest names, along with a brief look at the components of these blends – which use wines from a range of years, and grapes from across the Champagne region.

Significantly, the quality of Brut Non-Vintage Champagne, which is the standard-bearer for any brand, has been on the move over the past 10 years, with today’s blends offering greater depth and precision – which stems from an increase in the proportion/age of reserve wines in the blend, while, at the same time, lowering the amount of sugar added just before the fizz is corked, otherwise known as the dosage.

Better quality vineyard management and harvesting techniques have also yielded higher-quality grapes, giving rise to improved base wines for making Champagne – a necessary development as the competition among rival sparkling wines intensifies.

While, helping the biggest names in the Champagne trade are major investments in winemaking facilities – the leading houses are aiming to increase scale and quality.

Indeed, as previously reported by db, huge sums have either been recently spent or are being committed to updating production facilities at major-volume maisons such as Lanson, Taittinger, Moët and Veuve Clicquot, as well as smaller but equally high-profile brands such as Bollinger, Pol Roger and Roederer.

For those not familiar with the Champagne winemaking terms used above and throughout this list, please see the definitions below:

  • The dosage is a final addition of wine and sugar syrup that determines the residual sugar of Champagne.
  • Reserve wine is an aged still wine used for blending with still wine of the youngest vintage before the combination of wines undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle to become non-vintage Champagne.
  • Lees ageing refers to the practice of leaving the wine in contact with the dead yeast cells formed after the second fermentation in bottle. The interaction of the wine with its lees is called autolysis, and brings a creaminess to the wine, along with bready aromas and reduced astringency, depending on the time a wine spends in contact with the lees. It’s widely believed that four years contact is necessary for the bready aroma to be clearly detectable.
  • MLF refers to malolactic conversion or fermentation. This is a process after the primary fermentation whereby malic acid present in the grape must, which has a very sharp taste, is converted to milder lactic acid by the successive action of various bacteria of the genera OenococcusLactobacillus and Pediococcus. In modern stainless steel fermentation vessels it can be started by inoculating the wine with a bacterial culture, and stopped by fining, filtration or cold stabilisation. Some Champagne houses block the conversion, notably Gosset, Lanson, Alfred Gratien, Krug and Louis Roederer (although the last may allow a proportion to go through MLF, depending on vintage conditions).
  • Brut Non-Vintage (BNV) is Champagne made from a blend of harvests with a dosage of less than 12 grams per litre (g/l) of residual sugar, although there is a 3g/l tolerance.

11 Responses to “What do the world’s best-selling Champagnes taste like?”

  1. Tim Ambler says:

    What champagnes were tasted other than the five reported?

  2. Great review of champagnes – but what glass was used for the tasting: the flute that was recently scorned by one house, the old fashioned saucer, or another whose name we should be told?

  3. Christine says:

    Which Champagne will you be featuring in part 2?

  4. Patrick Schmitt says:

    We use Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic white wine glasses.

  5. This trend of the consumer has occurred in Spain and in particular in the largest consumer and production region, Catalonia.
    At the moment the cavas / wines sparkling brut nature are the greater part of the offer

    Content of sugar:

    BRUT NATURE Hasta 3 g/l y sin adición de azúcar
    EXTRA BRUT Hasta 6 g/l
    BRUT Hasta 12 g/l
    EXTRA SECO Entre 12 y 17 g/l
    SECO Entre 17 y 32 g/l
    SEMI SECO Entre 32 y 50 g/l
    DULCE Más de 50 g/l

    Wines Inform Assessors, Barcelona

  6. Patrick Schmitt says:

    The top 10 are now featured in this list, with the extra five best-sellers being Canard-Duchêne, Lanson, Piper-Hiedsieck, Pommery and Taittinger.

  7. Chris says:

    Quantity and quality rarely make good bedfellows.

  8. Johan Tan says:

    I’m surprised that they didn’t include Louis Roederer in this list. But i guess they only picked the brands with more than 4 million bottles sold in 2015…

  9. Chris says:

    Yeah it’s an interesting list. Must have a price point feature or bottle caps. I would put in a big shout for Charles hiedsick,

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