A Glossary To All The Champagne Words You Pretend To Know (And Some You Don't)
As excerpted from Peter Liem's new book, 'Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region.'
December 6, 2017
Champagne is festive as hell. Whether on a Tuesday night in dire need of some zazz, or during one of the many, many parties you promised you'd show up to this season, bubbles are always there for you. Champagne is optimistic and pretty and delicious and cool, which is probably what was running through Peter Liem's head when he wrote his epic new book on the stuff (we're assuming).
Since its the holidays and we’re spiffing up our Impressive Knowledge Bank, we flipped right to the glossary of this gorgeous tome to get to the goods. You never know when you need to whip out an intriguing factoid or correct some putz at an ugly sweater soirée trying to mansplain crémant. Does that make you a Champsplainer? Yes, but lucky for you, that’s the best thing to be.
By Peter Liem | Photographs by Gentl and Hyers
As with any wine, champagne has a special vocabulary, often employing highly technical terms.
Some terms have the same meaning as elsewhere in the wine world, but a few are specific to champagne. This is a personally compiled glossary of some terms that you might encounter.
assemblage. The blend, both in terms of the blend of different grape varieties or the blend of different base wines for a particular champagne (often from different years).
Balthazar. A 12-liter bottle, holding sixteen standard bottles of champagne.
blanc de blancs. A champagne made exclusively from white grapes, which almost always means that it’s 100 percent chardonnay. However, champagne made from other white grapes, such as pinot blanc, arbanne, or petit meslier, is also entitled to this designation, although these are very rare.
blanc de noirs. A champagne made exclusively from red grapes. It can be 100 percent pinot noir, 100 percent pinot meunier, or a blend of the two varieties. Note that the term blanc de noirs is sometimes used in the New World to designate pink sparkling wines, but in Champagne, a blanc de noirs is a sparkling white wine.
botrytis. Grape rot, which in terms of wine can come in both desirable and undesirable forms, although in Champagne it is never desirable. Botrytis cinerea (often referred to as noble rot) is the desirable form for making sweet wines in many regions of the world. In Champagne, any sort of botrytis is generally detrimental to the character and finesse of the wine, and it is avoided wherever possible.
boues de ville (or gadoues). This was sterilized trash from Paris or Reims that was spread in the vineyards to break up clay soils and control erosion. While it was originally organic, it eventually grew to include bits of plastic, glass, and metal that posed environmental threats, and it was discontinued.
brut. The most common style of champagne, containing anywhere between 0 and 12 grams per liter of dosage. Note that wines of between 0 and 6 grams per liter can also be called extra brut. Wines that contain no dosage at all are usually called brut nature or non-dosé rather than simply brut.
chef de cave. The head of the winemaking team at a négociant house. In the New World, this person might be called a winemaker, but in many champagne houses, the winemaking team is large, involving multiple winemakers, and the chef de cave is the one who leads the group and provides overall direction.
clos. A term historically used to refer to a vineyard surrounded by walls, although the walls may or may not still be present today. A clos designates a special and prestigious site, and some well-known clos in Champagne include Clos des Goisses, Clos du Mesnil, and Clos du Moulin.
cork. The most common material used to close a bottle, and mandatory in Champagne for finished wines. Champagne corks are constructed differently from the corks used for still wines, as they are composed of separate sections: the main body, called the manche, is made of agglomerated cork, while the miroir consists of two or three discs of natural cork, affixed to the bottom portion that comes into contact with the wine. Champagne corks are larger than regular corks—up to 1.8 inches (48 millimeters) high and 1.2 inches (31 millimeters) in diameter—and are highly compressed when they are inserted into the bottle, reduced in diameter to only .7 inches (17 millimeters). This provides for a tight seal, allowing them to retain the carbon dioxide in the bottle.
crémant. A style of sparkling wine made at a slightly lower pressure than traditional champagne, usually 3.5 to 4.5 atmospheres instead of the standard 6. This term is now used for sparkling wines in other parts of France but has been banned in Champagne itself, although several producers continue to make this style of wine under different names.
doux. This is the sweetest of the official categories of champagne, used to refer to wines with a dosage of more than 50 grams per liter. While this was the most common style of champagne in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it’s virtually nonexistent today, although a notable example in modern times is Doyard’s outstanding La Libertine.
en foule. Literally means “in a crowd.” The old, pre-phylloxera method of planting vines in Champagne by the system of provignage, or layering, in which vines would be propagated by burying branches of adjacent vines in the ground. This creates a high-density, rather haphazard array of plants, unlike the neat and orderly rows of today. In modern times, Bollinger continues this practice in two small parcels in Aÿ, from which it makes a champagne called Vieilles Vignes Françaises.
grower champagne. Champagne grown and bottled by a single estate, from its own vines. A grower champagne is not intrinsically superior or inferior
to one made by a négociant, but today, the best grower champagnes are increasingly diverging in character from traditional champagnes, offering a distinctly different type of experience.
Jeroboam. In Champagne, a 3-liter bottle, equivalent to four standard bottles of champagne. Normally, this is the largest bottle that champagne is fermented in (larger bottles are made by transversage, or the decanting of finished wine from multiple smaller bottles). Note that in Bordeaux, a 3-liter bottle is referred to as a double magnum, and a jeroboam is a 4.5-liter bottle of wine.
mousse. A champagne’s effervescence.
muselet (or plaque de muselet). The muselet is the wire cage that holds a champagne cork in place, while the plaque de muselet is the metal disc affixed to the top of the cork, which usually has some sort of design unique to the producer or to the particular cuvée.
Nebuchadnezzar. A 15-liter bottle, holding twenty standard bottles of champagne.
saignée. Literally means “a bleeding.” In Champagne, this is a process of making rosé champagne in which color is derived from maceration on the skins rather than by the blending of red wine. A saignée tends to produce rosés that are darker in color and more pungent in aroma in their youth. Advocates of the saignée method prefer it for its bold fruitiness and its naturally achieved character, which they sometimes feel is more authentic than blending red and white wine together. Critics of saignée rosé say that it can lack finesse, and also that its production is irregular, unable to be consistently reproduced from year to year.
vintage champagne. Champagne made from the harvest of a single year, instead of being blended with the wines from other years, as most champagnes are. Oftentimes a vintage champagne is perceived to be of intrinsically higher quality than a nonvintage champagne, but in theory, this is not necessarily true. In practice, however, vintage champagnes tend to be made from a stricter and higher-quality selection of grapes, thus intended to be made as a higher-quality wine than the same producer’s entry-level nonvintage brut. However, some producers will make top-quality champagnes from a blend of multiple vintages—Laurent-Perrier’s Grande Siècle, Krug’s Grande Cuvée, or De Sousa’s Cuvée des Caudalies, for example—and these should not be viewed as inferior simply because they lack a vintage date.