Champagne is home to more than 100 different houses, which means it’s home to over 100 distinct house styles. From Bollinger’s biscuity, full-bodied profile to Gimonnet’s delicate apple flavors, Champagne house styles are incredibly diverse. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult for even experienced collectors to find producers that make wine in the style they most enjoy. Whether you’re starting your collection of top-quality Champagne from scratch or you’re an experienced collector who wants to branch out and try new producers, learning about individual Champagne house styles can help you invest in wines that will suit your palate.
What Are Champagne House Styles?
Champagne “house style” generally refers to non-vintage bottlings, which are carefully blended from many vintages to taste the same year after year. By contrast, vintage Champagnes will vary in quality and other characteristics to reflect the vintage and terroir. Nonetheless, the house style will typically shine through. A number of factors establish any given house’s style, including winemaking techniques, dosage, and the grape varieties used in the blend.
Three major characteristics contribute to Champagne house styles: yeast flavors, floral/fruit flavors, and the body of the wine. Two of these categories (yeastiness and floral/fruit flavors) offer you valuable information about some of the specific flavors you’ll likely find in the wine. Meanwhile, the wine’s body offers you information about how the wine feels on the palate and may influence how bold or delicate the style is. You can think of each Champagne house’s style as falling on a chart with these characteristics on x- and y-axes, like below:
Let’s first consider the flavor characteristics that each house tends to focus on:
- Yeast, Toast, or Bread: Some Champagne houses focus on creating wines that have distinctly bread-like or yeasty flavors. This is caused by aging on the lees—the longer the house ages its wine on the lees, the more the wine will have a biscuity flavor profile.
- Floral or Fruit: Other Champagne houses produce wines that are more floral or fruit-forward. If the wine doesn’t spend as much time on the lees, it will have more of an apple flavor and the floral aromatics will be more prominent. These wines often taste fresh and crisp.
While many Champagnes have a mix of both toasted and fruity flavors (Bruno Paillard is a great example of this), other Champagne houses focus primarily on one flavor characteristic. While Bollinger fully embraces a yeasty style, Pol Roger is more floral and fruit-driven in flavor.
Next, consider the body of the wines made by a Champagne house:
- Full-Bodied: Wines that are high in alcohol (about 13.5 percent or more) fall into this category.
- Medium-Bodied: Any Champagne between about 12.5 percent and 13.5 percent alcohol is medium-bodied.
- Light-Bodied: Wines that are low in alcohol (less than 12.5 percent) fall into this category.
In general, wines that are floral tend to be lighter-bodied as well, while wines that are yeasty trend toward medium or full-bodied. This isn’t true in every case, but it can help you identify the wines you’re most likely to enjoy. For instance, if you’re looking for wine that tastes biscuity, then you should start with wines that have at least 12.5 percent alcohol.
These categories will help you identify producers that share some common traits. However, the flavor of the wine still depends on the cuvée, so it’s a good idea to look at tasting notes for each wine individually, rather than relying solely on generalizations about the house’s signature style.
Other Ways to Think About Champagne House Style
In addition to sorting Champagne houses by body, yeastiness, and fruit flavors of the wine, you can also categorize most Champagne by the fermentation method and commercial intent.
Reduction or Oxidation
Much of a Champagne’s sweetness and mouthfeel are determined by whether it is more reductive or oxidative (some Champagne may be right in the middle):
- Reductive: These wines receive minimal oxygen exposure during winemaking. They aren’t aged in oak at all and don’t undergo any malolactic fermentation. As a result, they are well-structured, acidic, and typically quite dry, often with earthy or smoky flavors. They can be difficult to drink when they’re young, as they are designed to age for decades. You can identify these wines by the blend: in many cases, they’re Chardonnay-dominant.
- Oxidative: These wines are aged in oak, often for a number of years, and many of them go through a stage of malolactic fermentation. This causes the wines to taste rounder and slightly sweeter than reductive wines. You may also find toasted notes in these wines, especially with age. They are usually Pinot Noir-dominant blends.
If you’re shopping for Champagne with aging potential or for valuable bottles that you can resell on the secondary market, you can look for either reductive or oxidative wines. Both these types of Champagne are potentially age-worthy and collectible. To pick the right style for your palate, consider the following examples of Champagne house styles categorized by where they land on the reductive/oxidative spectrum:
Reductive Champagne Houses
Oxidative Champagne Houses
Whether a wine is oxidative or reductive doesn’t make a difference to its aging potential or market value, so you can reliably invest in any of the wines above if you want to sell your wine for a profit later. The house style you choose will depend on whether you prefer Chardonnay-heavy blends that are linear or Pinot-heavy blends with a rounder structure.
Commercially Friendly or Terroir-Driven
While a wine may be reductive, oxidative, or in between, that same wine may also be categorized by whether it is more commercially friendly, more terroir-driven, or somewhere between these two.
- Commercially Friendly: These wines are simple in structure, fruit-forward, approachable, and often sec, demi-sec, or doux.
- Terroir-Driven: These are wines that are made from a particular vineyard or grown in a specific terroir. Although this category primarily applies to small grower Champagne producers, some larger Champagne houses also have a few terroir-driven labels made from grapes grown on specific vineyards. The flavor profile can vary from reductive to oxidative, depending on the producer’s preference for one style over the other.
Champagne House Styles of Major Producers
While you can categorize Champagne house styles based on the winemaking techniques they use, there will still be variations in flavor between one house and another. For example, although both Moët & Chandon and Taittinger make reductive wines which share some characteristics with one another, they don’t taste exactly the same.
This is why it’s a good idea to memorize a few of the most iconic Champagne house styles. These are producers that you are likely to come across when adding to your collection, and you can save yourself some time by narrowing your choices down to the houses that best fit your own taste preferences.
The following guide can help you determine whether a Champagne house makes wine in a style you’re likely to enjoy:
- Pol Roger: Creamy, aromatic, and floral.
- Louis Roederer: Rich and bready.
- Perrier-Jouët: Elegant and light-bodied.
- Krug: Oaked, nutty, and complex.
- Moët & Chandon: Refined and refreshing.
- Bollinger: Creamy, yeasty, and concentrated.
- Taittinger: Refined and well-structured.
- Charles Heidsieck: Elegant and fruit-forward.
- Ruinart: Creamy, rich, and bready.
- Salon: Delicate and complex.
- Billecart-Salmon: Rich, aromatic, and complex.
- Deutz: Floral and fresh.
- Egly-Ouriet: Fresh and complex.
- Gosset: Fresh and lively.
- Selosse: Rich and oxidative.
- Philipponnat: Spicy, complex, and well-balanced.
- Veuve Clicquot: Complex, rich, and nutty
These tasting notes do not necessarily apply to every wine that these houses produce—keep in mind that some cuvées will have different characteristics.
Why You Should Group Champagne Houses by Style
Because of its consistency over the years, house style can provide a map that will help you explore a wider world of Champagne. Beginning collectors, or those who simply underestimate the diversity of Champagne, can get into a bit of a wine rut. Many focus on a single producer they tried once, amassing, for example, a collection of solely Louis Roederer because they love its slightly toasted, medium-to-full-bodied wines. However, from both a flavor and an investment perspective, collectors benefit by branching out. The value of a diverse portfolio is well-known, and it should apply to your liquid assets as well. For wines you’ll be drinking, it’s also important to stave off boredom: variety is the spice of life, they say.
If you don’t know where to start, let your taste be your guide. If you love the biscuity flavor of the 2012 Louis Roderer Cristal, knowing which houses produce similar wines can help focus your exploration of great Champagne producers. Or you can challenge yourself to gain an appreciation for more floral styles.
Finding the Right Champagne House Style
The best way to find the Champagne house style that you enjoy most is to first sample the house’s flagship wine or the wine that best represents the house’s style. For example, if you want a sense of the history and characteristics that make Pol Roger wines special, try a bottle of Pol Roger Brut Cuveé Sir Winston Churchill. Similarly, Bollinger’s La Grande Année and the iconic Dom Pérignon can give you an idea of their respective producers’ house styles. If you enjoy the iconic flavors of the producer’s flagship label, move on to some of the estate’s other fine wines. You’ll likely discover that these wines vary in flavor, body, and even the grape varieties from which the blend is made, yet they all share a few unifying characteristics.
Approaching Champagne houses this way can help you discover not only which houses make the wines you enjoy most but also which labels you enjoy most from each producer. This, in turn, will bring you closer to a cellar filled with high-quality Champagne perfectly aligned with your preferences.
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