MENTIONED IN THIS POST:
Champagne is home to more than 100 different houses, and each one has its own distinctive style. 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 try new producers, learning about individual Champagne house styles can help you invest in wines that will suit your palate.
Why You Should Group Champagne Houses by Style
As a beginning collector, I found myself in a bit of a wine rut when it came to Champagne–most of my Champagne collection consisted of Louis Roederer because I loved the producer’s slightly toasted, medium-to-full-bodied wines. However, I wanted to branch out and try a few new wines, preferably ones that were fuller-bodied than my Louis Roederer vintages. Since I already knew that I had a preference for wines with toasted or biscuity flavors, I looked for houses that embraced that same basic style. In the process, I found three new producers that I enjoyed: Ruinart, The Society’s Champagne, and Jacquesson. Out of these three, I liked the Ruinart wine the most, and I now own a number of this estate’s bottles. This is the most practical reason for collectors to understand the differences between Champagne house styles–you can use this information to discover producers that are similar to the ones you already enjoy or experiment with new styles that you haven’t given a chance yet.
Champagne House Styles: The Basics
A number of factors impact a wine’s flavor profile, including winemaking techniques, dosage, and the grape varieties used in the blend. Champagne “house style” generally refers to non-vintage bottlings, which are carefully blended from many vintages to taste the same year after year. Vintage Champagnes, on the other hand, will vary in quality and other characteristics to reflect the vintage and terroir, but, typically, the house style will still shine through.
Three major characteristic categories 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 likely the wine will have a biscuity flavor profile.
- Floral or Fruit: Other Champagne houses produce wines that are more floral or fruit-forward than they are toasted or yeasty. If the wine doesn’t spend as much time on the lees, it will taste more like apple 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. Bollinger fully embraces a yeasty style, while Pol Roger and Deutz are very 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. If you’re looking for wine that tastes biscuity, then you should start with wines that have at least 12.5 percent alcohol, for instance.
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
When one of my friends tried a glass of 2008 R&L Legras Grand Cru Saint-Vincent for the first time, she thought she had opened a bad bottle. The wine was full-bodied, acidic, and had prominent stone fruit flavors, but it also had a slightly oxidative quality that she thought might be a flaw. However, she later learned that this is just part of the house’s style, and it comes through even in their vintage wines; R&L Legras is known for its oxidative notes, and many collectors find this flavor profile very appealing.
In addition to sorting Champagne houses by body, yeastiness, and fruit flavors of the wine, you can also categorize most Champagne 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, so 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 usually 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.
While a wine may be reductive, oxidative, or in between, that same wine may also be categorized as being 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. This category primarily applies to small grower Champagne producers, however, 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.
If you’re shopping for Champagne with aging potential or for valuable bottles that you can resell on the secondary market, then look for 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.
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 slightly different characteristics.
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 to understand the characteristics that make Pol Roger wines special, try a bottle of Pol Roger Brut Réserve. If you enjoy the iconic flavors of the producer’s flagship label, move on to some of the estate’s other fine wines. In the case of Pol Roger, this would include Blanc de Blancs, the Sir Winston Churchill cuvée, and Vintage Rosé. 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. All of Pol Roger’s wines will taste creamy and have some floral aromatics, even if they differ in other ways. 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.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.