Glossary of Terms
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. (Copyright 2019 ChampagneGuide.net via Peter Liem)
Agrafe—Literally means “staple” (as in Swingline); in Champagne, this is a large metal clip used to secure the cork before capsules were invented, typically during the second fermentation and aging in bottle. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.
Assemblage—The blend, both in terms of the blend of different grape varieties or the blend of different base wines for a particular champagne.
Autolysis—The chemical reactions caused by the breaking down of yeast cells through an enzymatic process, which occurs when a wine is left in contact with the lees over a long period of time. Autolysis is one of the fundamental processes in the making of champagne, as it imparts particular types of flavor complexity and textural finesse that can be achieved in no other way, and this is one of the main reasons for champagne’s long aging on the lees in bottle after the second fermentation. See Lees Aging.
Bague Carré—A square lip on the mouth of a bottle, used to secure the agrafe. A bague carré indicates that the champagne was bottled with cork for its second fermentation.
Bague Couronne—A thin, rounded lip, seen on the tops of most champagne bottles. The bague couronne secures the crown capsule in place for the second fermentation.
Balthazar—A 12-liter bottle, holding 16 standard bottles of champagne.
Barrique—The most common size of wooden barrel, almost always made of oak. In Champagne, barriques are historically 205 liters in size, although many producers use old 228-liter barriques purchased from Burgundy or 225-liter barriques from Bordeaux. Larger barrels are generally referred to as demi-muids, while large casks are called foudres.
Base Wine—A still wine, or vin clair, usually fermented to roughly 11 degrees of alcohol, used as a component in the blending of champagne. Champagne is generally blended from many different base wines, sometimes hundreds.
Bâtonnage—The stirring of the lees, generally performed with wines aging in barrel, although it can also be done in tank. The lees are stirred to put them in suspension, giving greater richness to the wine. This practice is common in Burgundy, but controversial in Champagne—some producers enjoy the greater depth and power that it brings, while others feel that it’s not appropriate for the intrinsically delicate nature of champagne, imparting too much richness and detracting from the balance of the wine.
Biodynamics—A philosophy of viticulture that not only practices organic methods, eschewing chemical and synthetic treatments, but that also seeks to improve the quality and harmony of the ecosystem through the use of homeopathic preparations and tisanes, as well as through aligning vineyard and cellar work with lunar and cosmic calendars. Biodynamics is highly controversial: its proponents believe that its unique practices bring a vineyard’s ecosystem closer into harmony with the natural world, resulting in a healthier biodiversity and naturally superior grapes, while its critics dismiss its arcane and esoteric methods as superstitious, occult-ish and blatantly anti-scientific. Regardless, many of the great wines of the world are made from biodynamically-grown vines, including those of renowned producers such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Leroy and Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy, Domaine Huet and Domaine de l’Ecu in the Loire and Marcel Deiss and Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace. Biodynamics has attracted a limited but increasingly more vocal following in Champagne, with many producers both large and small experimenting with its methods: well-known champagne producers that are entirely biodynamic include Larmandier-Bernier, David Léclapart, Vouette et Sorbée and Françoise Bedel. Not all estates that are devoted to biodynamic viticulture are officially certified as such, but for those that are, the primary organization for biodynamic certification in France is Demeter.
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.
Brut—The most common style of champagne, containing anywhere between 0-12 grams per liter of dosage. Note that wines of between 0-6 g./l. can be called either Brut or Extra Brut. Wines that contain no dosage at all are usually called Brut Nature or Non-Dosé rather than simply Brut.
Brut Nature—A champagne bottled without any dosage. Also called Non-Dosé or Brut Zéro.
Brut Sans Année (BSA)—Meaning “non-vintage brut”, BSA is a term commonly used in France to specifically designate a house’s entry-level, non-vintage champagne (not an upper-tier non-vintage blend or a prestige cuvée blended from multiple vintages).
Capsule, or Crown Cap—A metal capsule, as found on beer bottles, which is commonly used today to seal a bottle during the second fermentation and aging on the lees, and replaced with a cork after being removed in the process known as disgorgement. It’s illegal to sell champagne bottled with a crown cap, although sparkling wine producers in the New World have successfully experimented with this as an alternative closure, in an effort to avoid cork taint.
Champagne—The Champagne region is a strictly defined area of France, encompassing 634 villages in five different départements: the Aisne, Aube, Haute-Marne, Marne and Seine-et-Marne. However, the viticultural appellation is even more restricted, and only 318 of these villages have the right to produce the wine called champagne. Champagne, the wine, can only come from Champagne, the region, and in the European Union, as well as in those countries who have agreed to reciprocal arrangements with the E.U., the use of the word champagne to refer to any other products is strictly forbidden. Unfortunately, in other places in the world, including the United States, the term champagne is still sometimes used to refer generically to any sparkling wine. As an aside, in this guide I use a capital ‘C’ to designate the region of Champagne, while I indicate the wine of champagne in lowercase.
Chaptalisation, or Chaptalization—The adding of sugar to grape must in order to raise its degree of potential alcohol. The process is named for Jean-Antoine Chaptal, a chemist who advocated this practice during the time of Napoleon.
Chef de Cave—The cellarmaster, who is typically the person in charge 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 heads 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.
Coeur de Cuvée—Literally, “the heart of the first pressing”. The cuvée refers to the first 2,050 liters from a 4,000-kilogram press, and the coeur de cuvée is the highest-quality portion of juice from the middle of the pressing, excluding the first and last portions pressed (a concept not unlike discarding the “heads” and “tails” in the distillation of spirits, although here the differences in quality are not as dramatic, and the first and last portions are of perfectly acceptable quality to be used for making champagne).
Cold-Stabilization—The deliberate chilling of a base wine before bottling, in order to cause tartrate crystals to precipitate so that they don’t form later in the bottle. This is widely practiced in Champagne, as in other regions of the world, but some producers avoid it as it’s seen to be an unneccessary manipulation of the wine, and any tartrate crystals that might eventually appear in a bottle are perfectly harmless.
Cooperative—The cooperative plays an important role in Champagne, vinifying the grapes of its members’ vineyards. The resulting champagnes may be sold under a cooperative label, marked as CM, or coopérative-manipulant. They may also be distributed to the cooperative’s members for sale under their own labels, in which case they are labeled RC, or récoltant-coopérative. (Through a loophole, some of these are eligible to be labeled as RM, récoltant-manipulant, but this is a deceitful practice and hopefully will be discontinued.) However, the majority of the wine produced by Champagne’s cooperatives is sold to négociants, whether as grape must, still wines or even finished champagnes. Of the cooperatives that make and sell wines under their own label, Mailly Grand Cru is undoubtedly the finest in quality.
Cork—The most common material used to close a bottle, and mandatory in Champagne for finished wines. Champagne corks are constructed differently from regular 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 between one and 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 48mm high and 31mm in diameter—and are highly compressed when they are inserted into the bottle, reduced in diameter to only 17mm. This provides for a tight seal, allowing them to retain the carbon dioxide in the bottle.
Corked, or Corky—An all-too-common wine flaw due to the presence of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) in the cork, which imparts a musty, unpleasant aroma. There are various degrees of corkiness, ranging from blatantly offensive and undrinkable to barely perceptible. The most insidious form of cork taint, however, is where the wine’s flavors are dampened and diminished but no overt corky smell is perceived. A corked wine is flawed, and generally speaking, any good restaurant, retailer or producer should replace the bottle. Note that bits of cork that happen to fall into a wine do not make a wine corked.
Coulure—Often called “shatter” in English, this is a failure of the grapes to develop after flowering, reducing the yield or even eliminating it completely, if the flowers fail to pollinate and the grapes don’t set. Like millerandage, this can happen due to a cool and rainy period of flowering.
Crémant—A style of sparkling wine made at a slightly lower pressure than traditional champagne, usually 3.5 to 4 atmospheres instead of the standard six. 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.
Cuvée—In the wine world, the word cuvée generally refers to a blend of wines. In Champagne it also has another, very specific meaning: during pressing, the cuvée is the first 2,050 liters of juice from a 4,000-kilogram press, which represents the finest portion of the pressing.
Débourbage—A settling of the juice after pressing to remove solid particles such as skins and pips before fermentation.
Demi-Muid—A large wooden barrel, usually oak, and often 500- to 600-liters in size, as opposed to 205- or 228-liter barriques. Some Champagne producers prefer this size of barrel for its greater ratio of wine to wood.
Demi-Sec—A relatively sweet style of champagne, containing a dosage of between 33 and 50 grams of sugar per liter.
Disgorgement, or Dégorgement—The process of removing the yeast sediments after fermentation and aging in bottle. The sediment must be collected in the neck of the bottle through riddling, whether manually or through the use of a gyropalette. Typically, the bottle of the neck is then frozen to collect the sediment into a solid mass, and then this mass is ejected when the capsule is removed. Some growers, however, still disgorge bottles without using the freezing technique.
Dosage—Sugar added to champagne after disgorgement, either through a liqueur d’expédition, which is a solution of cane or beet sugar and wine, or MCR, concentrated and rectified grape must. The dosage is usually a crucial component of champagne, as it balances the naturally high acidity of the wine and plays an important role in the aging process, as well as in the development of flavor. The level of dosage determines the category of champagne (i.e. Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Demi-Sec, etc.), and the majority of champagnes today are dosed as brut, between 0-12 grams of sugar per liter. In recent times the trend has been to lower dosage, although this is not always advisable: the dosage in champagne is often improperly understood by both consumers and producers alike, and in reality a dosage in champagne functions much more like salt in food rather than sugar in your tea, expanding and amplifying flavor rather than simply providing sweetness.
Doux—This is the sweetest of the official categories of champagne, used to refer to wines with a dosage of over 50 grams per liter. While this was the most common style of champagne in the 18th and 19th centuries, it’s virtually nonexistent today, although a notable example in modern times is Doyard’s La Libertine.
En Foule—Literally, “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, creating a high-density, rather haphazard array of plants quite unlike the neat and orderly rows of today. In modern times, Bollinger continues this practice in two small parcels in Aÿ, from which they make a champagne called Vieilles Vignes Françaises.
Estate-Bottled Champagne—Champagne produced and bottled by the same company who grew the grapes. This is generally the same as grower champagne, but not necessarily: for example, Louis Roederer’s vintage wines all come from their own vineyards, and can be considered as estate-bottled champagnes.
Extra Brut—An Extra Brut champagne must contain no more than six grams of sugar per liter. It can sometimes contain none at all, and in these cases some producers prefer to label their wines as Brut Nature or Non-Dosé. On the other hand, champagnes between 0-6 g./l. of dosage also qualify for the Brut designation, although most producers will label them as Extra Brut rather than Brut.
Extra Sec, or Extra Dry—A champagne with a dosage level of between 12 and 20 grams of sugar per liter.
Fermentation—In wine, the conversion of sugar into alcohol by yeasts. Champagne undergoes two fermentations: the first undertaken in tank or barrel to create a light, white still wine; and the second taking place after this wine is bottled together with a small quantity of yeast and sugar, in order to create its sparkle. A by-product of the fermentation process is carbonic gas, which is responsible for giving champagne its bubbles during this second fermentation.
Filtration—A process used to remove suspended particles in a wine. Most wines are filtered before bottling, not only in Champagne but elsewhere in the world. However, some producers choose not to filter as they believe that it removes character from the wine.
Fining—A clarification of wine by the addition of a physical agent, such as bentonite or egg whites, that removes solid matter.
Foudre—A large wooden cask, usually oak, ranging in size from several hundred liters to several thousand. Smaller barrels of 200 to 300 liters are generally called barriques or pièces, while medium-sized casks of 500 or 600 liters are referred to as demi-muids.
Grand Cru—In Champagne, a term referring to villages classified at 100-percent on the old and now non-existent échelle des crus, which was a classification used to determine the pricing of grapes. There are 17 grand cru villages in Champagne—Ambonnay, Avize, Aÿ, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Chouilly, Cramant, Louvois, Mailly-Champagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Oiry, Puisieulx, Sillery, Tours-sur-Marne, Verzenay and Verzy—and although the échelle des crus has been abolished, the terms grand cru and premier cru are still officially used, and these villages continue to enjoy a high level of prestige. Note that in Champagne, the term grand cru indicates a classification by village, and not by vineyard, as in Burgundy. In order to label a wine as grand cru, it must be sourced entirely from vineyards in grand cru villages.
Grande Marque—In Champagne, this was a term used for the members of the Syndicat des Grandes Marques, a prestigious organization composed of many of Champagne’s most famous houses. The Syndicat was disbanded in 1997, but the term grande marque continues to be used to refer to those brands, particularly in the United Kingdom.
Grower Champagne—Champagne grown and bottled by a single estate, from their own vines. A grower champagne is not necessarily 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.
Gyropalette—A mechanical device used in place of riddling, to collect the yeast sediments in the neck of the bottle in preparation for disgorgement. Gyropalettes have made this process much faster, with no resulting loss in quality. Almost all champagne producers, large and small, use gyropalettes today, although some still riddle bottles by hand, either to preserve tradition or to accomodate oddly-shaped bottles that don’t stack neatly in the cage of a gyropalette.
Jeroboam—In Champagne, a three-liter bottle, equivalent to four standard bottles of champagne. Normally, this is the largest size of bottle that champagne is fermented in (larger sizes are made by transversage, or the decanting of finished wine from multiple smaller bottles). Note that in Bordeaux, a three-liter bottle is referred to as a double magnum, and a jeroboam is a 4.5-liter bottle of wine.
Lees Aging—The lees are the deposits of spent yeast cells leftover after fermentation. Lees are nourishing and potentially beneficial, imparting a particular character to the wine and functioning as a natural antioxidant. Before bottling, the base wine for champagne is sometimes aged on its fine lees, those leftover from the initial fermentation. However, lees aging in Champagne generally refers to the aging of the wine in bottle, where the yeast cells left over from the second fermentation are trapped inside the bottle until the bottle is disgorged. This period of aging on the lees is fundamental to the creation of champagne’s inimitable character, and a minimum amount of time on the lees is imposed by law—15 months for non-vintage champagnes and three years for vintage-dated ones, although in practice the period of lees aging is usually much longer at the better houses.
Lieu-Dit—A named parcel of vines, such as Les Crayères in Ambonnay or Terres de Noël in Oger. (In Burgundy, think of named vineyards such as Les Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny or Les Pucelles in Puligny-Montrachet, and you get the idea.) It’s estimated that there are over 84,000 different lieux-dits in Champagne.
Liqueur d’Expédition—The blend of sugar and wine added to champagne as dosage, just after disgorgement. Either cane or beet sugar is normally used, and the wine can be young or old, depending on the producer’s preference.
Liqueur de Tirage—The solution added at bottling to induce the second fermentation, composed of wine, yeast and sugar. As a general rule, four grams of sugar per liter of wine will produce one atmosphere of pressure; the standard measurement in champagne is 24 grams of sugar, which produces roughly six atmospheres, although a little may be lost at disgorgement.
Lutte Raisonnée—Literally, a “reasoned struggle”, meaning a middle path between conventional, chemically-dependent viticulture and strictly organic farming. In the wet, cold and northerly region of Champagne, strictly organic farming can often represent too great of a risk for many growers, especially with the constantly looming danger of mildew. In theory, lutte raisonnée means seeking to decrease the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, or even to eliminate them completely, while reserving the right to treat the vines with synthetic products in times of dire need, such as in the vicious mildew and oidium attacks of 2007 and 2008. In practice, it encompasses a wide range of philosophies, ranging from the virtually organic to the virtually conventional, and whether or not one’s need is really dire is subject to interpretation. As Aurélien Laherte of Champagne Laherte Frères dryly notes, “Tous le monde a raison“—everybody has “reason”, and everybody thinks they’re right. All the same, lutte raisonnée is rapidly becoming an accepted standard in Champagne, and in truth, the lutte raisonnée movement has been responsible for the overall decrease in synthetic herbicides and pesticides in the region, which is a good thing. Although most growers work without any sort of externally implemented controls or standards, there is a group called Ampelos, which several champagne producers belong to and which certifies the viticultural practices of its members. Described by one of these, Laurent Champs of Champagne Vilmart, as “lutte integrée raisonnée contrôlée,” or an integrated, reasoned and controlled method of viticulture, it outlines strict guidelines as to what methods may and may not be practiced, following a heavily organic regime while allowing for certain exceptions against grave maladies such as excessive mildew and oidium.
Magnum—A bottle containing 1.5 liters of wine, considered by many champagne producers and aficionados to be the ideal format for aging champagne.
Malolactic—Often called malolactic fermentation, it is strictly speaking not a fermentation, but rather a conversion of sharp, malic acidity to softer, creamier lactic acidity. It’s widely practiced in Champagne to balance the high acidity levels found in the region, although some producers choose to block it in order to retain the firm, lively structure of the malic acidity. Informally, malolactic is often shortened to simply malo in both English and French, especially in conversation.
MCR (Moût concentré et rectifié)—Concentrated and rectified grape must, preferred by many smaller growers for the dosage, instead of the traditional liqueur d’expédition. Those in favor of it cite its greater neutrality and freshness, its convenience, and the fact that it’s made from grapes instead of beets or sugarcane; those against it note that it’s made from grapes originating in the Languedoc or even farther away, making a mockery of the idea of terroir, and some also question its neutrality, claiming that it does in fact impart a particular texture and flavor to the wine.
Méthode Champenoise—The old name for the traditional method of making champagne, banned by the European Union in 1985 as a concession to protecting the Champagne appellation.
Méthode Traditionelle—The traditional method of making champagne or sparkling wine, involving a second fermentation in bottle. This is the officially-approved term today in the European Union for sparkling wines made by the champagne method.
Methuselah—A six-liter bottle, holding eight standard bottles of champagne.
Micro-Terroir Champagne—A champagne from a restricted area: either a monocru champagne (from a single village) or a mono-parcelle champagne (from a single vineyard).
Millerandage—A condition created by cool weather during flowering, causing berries to set improperly in grape bunches. The affected bunches develop berries of different sizes that mature at different rates. This is commonly viewed as a problem, as it reduces yields, but a grower can also use it to his or her advantage as the berries that remain tend to be highly concentrated in flavor.
Millésime—A vintage year or a vintage wine. A champagne must be declared as a vintage wine at harvest in order to be able to say Millésime on the label. Note that the word Millésime simply means that the wine comes from a single vintage, and strictly speaking, has nothing to do with its level of quality.
Monocru—A champagne made from grapes grown entirely in a single village.
Muselet, 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, that usually has some sort of design unique to the producer or to the particular cuvée. There is a massively obsessive demand for these little discs among a certain cult of collectors, concentrated particularly in France and Belgium (if you don’t believe me, see this site). Old or rare versions can fetch tens or even hundreds of euros.
Mytik Diamant—A type of cork stopper produced by Oeneo, in which cork bark is pulverized into particles, treated against TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) under a process of compressed and heated carbon dioxide similar to that used for decaffeinating coffee, and agglomerated together again with a special glue. Mytik Diamant corks contain at least 70 percent of cork material, and are guaranteed against cork taint. It remains to be seen how these will affect the long-term aging of a champagne, but many champagne producers, both négociants and growers alike, have embraced the Mytik cork, and have reported great success against TCA taint.
Nebuchadnezzar—A 15-liter bottle, holding 20 standard bottles of champagne.
Négociant—A champagne producer that bottles and markets champagne using grapes purchased from other growers. This reflects the traditional structure in Champagne that has existed for hundreds of years, whereby growers would own vineyards and grow grapes, selling them to négociants who would make the wine. A négociant may own vineyards as well, and in fact, some négociant houses own hundreds of hectares of vines, but they don’t make wine exclusively from their own vineyards. Today more growers are bottling their own wines, but the vast majority of champagne continues to be produced by négociant houses. In addition, a number of prominent grower estates have recently switched to négociant status in order to purchase grapes, as land has become prohibitively expensive and difficult to obtain in the Champagne region, and this is a trend that is likely to increase in the future. Wines made by a négociant are labeled as NM, or négociant-manipulant.
Non-Dosé—A champagne released without any dosage. Also called Brut Zéro or Brut Nature.
Non-Vintage Champagne—A term used to refer to wines blended from multiple years. Non-vintage champagnes can be made at many different levels of quality: a non-vintage brut is generally a producer’s basic, entry-level champagne, but many producers, especially grower-estates, have an upper-level non-vintage wine that is made from a stricter selection and is generally of higher quality than their basic non-vintage champagne. (A good example is Vilmart, whose Grande Réserve is their basic, non-vintage brut, but who also makes the Grand Cellier, an upper-tier champagne that is also a blend of multiple years.) In addition, some producers even make prestige cuvées blended from multiple years, such as Laurent Perrier’s Grand Siècle or Alfred Gratien’s Cuvée Paradis, and these should not be confused with those houses’ entry-level, non-vintage champagnes.
Organic Viticulture—Viticulture practiced without the use of any synthetic products, whether pesticides, herbicides or treatments against maladies such as mildew. In Champagne, organic viticulture is often viewed with skepticism, as the region’s northerly latitude and wet weather present distinct challenges, particularly when it comes to combatting mildew. A common criticism in the region as well of strictly organic viticulture is in its use of copper: copper is the prescribed treatment against mildew if one eschews synthetic products, but its critics say that copper’s toxicity is much higher than that of certain synthetic materials, causing greater ecological damage. Despite all of this, organic viticulture is steadily gaining a greater following in the region, especially among the younger generation of growers. Perhaps even more significant is that many more high-quality growers have adopted largely organic methods of working even if they haven’t embraced it all the way, meaning that they are using less synthetic products in general. Organic growers may be certified by organizations such as Ecocert, and this is usually indicated on the bottle, as with the wines of Georges Laval or Françoise Bedel. As with other wine regions in the world, however, not all organic producers in Champagne are certified. This is not necessarily because they are cheating—some producers don’t want to be pigeonholed as being organic, preferring to be known for the quality of their wines rather than for simply working organically. Others don’t see certification as significant, noting that it represents only a lowest common denominator and doesn’t necessarily correspond to the way that they work themselves. “The problem with certification is that it’s a negative way of thinking,” says Pierre Larmandier of Larmandier-Bernier, who farms biodynamically in addition to being organic. “It focuses on what you don’t do rather than the opposite.”
Perpetual Blend or Perpetual Cuvée—A system of storing reserve wines by blending them together in a single cuvée that is constantly replenished by wine from the new harvest, thus eventually creating a complex, multi-vintage blend that will always include a small percentage of wine from every year added to it. The concept is similar to a solera, except that a solera involves multiple tiers or scales of wine, called criaderas, that are used to replenish each other, whereas a perpetual blend utilizes only a single cuvée.
Phylloxera—Phylloxera vastatrix is a vine louse that is thought to have originated in eastern North America, but has since spread around the world, beginning in the middle of the nineteenth-century. It attacks the roots of the vine, destroying the root system and depriving the vine of its ability to intake nutrients and water. The affected plant will eventually wither and die, and must be uprooted. Phylloxera arrived in Champagne in 1890, devastating its vineyards, and today the only solution is to graft vines onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks. A few producers in Champagne have small plots of ungrafted vines, but this is extremely rare.
Poignetage—The act of shaking the bottles during lees aging, to put the lees in suspension and prevent them from sticking to the sides of the glass. It can also be done after disgorgement, to more evenly distribute the liqueur d’expédition.
Post-Disgorgement Aging—Champagne is aged for much longer in the cellar than most wines of the world are, but it’s generally consumed upon release, shortly after disgorgement. Top-quality producers try to hold their champagnes after disgorgement for at least six months before release, as the wines need time to recover from the physical shock of the act, but champagne almost always benefits from additional aging beyond this, and the wise consumer will reserve a place in his or her cellar to store champagne alongside the still wines. Even basic, non-vintage bruts can often improve with another year of aging, while vintage champagnes can sometimes continue to evolve for decades. It should be noted, too, that aging before disgorgement and aging after disgorgement achieve different results, as the wines exist in different environments: before disgorgement, the wine is in a largely anaerobic environment, as the lees are natural antioxidants. As Jean-Hervé Chiquet of Champagne Jacquesson says, “Lees aging gives maturation and complexity in a much less oxidative way than aging after disgorgement.” The act of disgorging introduces oxygen into the wine and removes the presence of the lees, inaugurating a new stage in the wine’s development and allowing it to eventually progress towards the mellow, biscuity richness that uniquely characterizes old champagne.
Premier Cru—In Champagne, where classifications have been carried out by village and not by vineyard, this refers to a village that would have been rated between 90 and 99 percent on the old échelle des crus: that is to say, it would have received between 90 and 99 percent of the fixed price for grapes in that harvest. There are 43 premier cru villages in Champagne, all of which are located in the Marne département, and these include two villages, Chouilly and Tours-sur-Marne, that are rated as grand cru for only one variety. (Chouilly is rated as 100 percent for chardonnay but only 95 percent for pinot noir, while Tours-sur-Marne is rated 100 percent for pinot noir and 90 percent for chardonnay.)
Prestige Cuvée—A prestige cuvée, sometimes also called a tête de cuvée, represents the most meticulously selected, most expensive, and presumably the highest quality champagne in a house’s range. Well-known prestige cuvées include Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Pol Roger’s Sir Winston Churchill and Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, while the first prestige cuvée of all was Dom Pérignon, launched by Moët & Chandon in 1936.
Rebêche—The final pressing of the grapes, following the cuvée (the first 2,050 liters) and the taille (the next 500 liters). By law, the rébeche cannot be used in champagne production, and is generally sent to be distilled.
Récoltant-Coopérateur (RC)—A producer who grows grapes and gives them to a local cooperative, who in turn makes the champagne and gives a portion, in bottles, back to the grower. The grower then sells the champagne under his or her own label, marked as RC.
Récoltant-Manipulant (RM)—A producer who grows grapes and makes champagne exclusively from their own vines, although an RM is legally allowed to augment their grape production with purchases of up to five percent of their harvest. See Grower Champagne.
Rehoboam—In Champagne, a 4.5-liter bottle, holding six standard bottles of champagne.
Remuage, or Riddling—A complex process involving both the turning and tilting of bottles in an upright rack, to collect the sediment at the neck of the bottle in preparation for disgorgement. Antoine de Müller, cellarmaster for Veuve Clicquot in the early 19th century, is credited with inventing the riddling rack in 1816. Today, riddling by hand is still practiced, but it is increasingly becoming replaced by the gyropalette, a mechanical device that accomplishes the task in a much shorter amount of time.
Reserve Wine—Older wines that are blended with the current harvest to make a non-vintage champagne. Smaller growers usually keep reserve wines from the last one or two vintages, while some négociants have large stocks of reserves dating back for decades. Louis Roederer, Bollinger and Krug are among those houses famous for maintaining an impressively vast collection of reserve wines.
Rosé Champagne—A pink version of champagne, most often made by the blending of a little red wine with normally vinified white wine. Champagne is the only appellation in France that is allowed to blend red and white wine together. Rosé champagne can also be made with the saignée method, which involves macerating the juice on the grape skins in order to impart color.
Saignée—Literally, a “bleeding”. In Champagne, 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.
Salmanazar—A nine-liter bottle, holding 12 standard bottles of champagne.
Sec—In French, this literally means dry, but in Champagne it refers to a champagne with a dosage level of between 17 and 35 grams of sugar per liter.
Sexual Confusion—Well, hopefully this isn’t too rampant among humans in the region. Confusion sexuelle refers to a treatment against the grape moth, in which small packets of synthetic pheromones are distributed among the vines to confound the male moths and prevent them from mating. This is considered to be a much more eco-friendly solution than alternative ones, which involve the spraying of vines with various chemical products, and thus it’s gaining more widespread use in vineyard regions across France, including Champagne.
Single-Vineyard Champagne—A champagne that is made entirely from a single parcel of vines, as opposed to being blended from many different vineyards, as the vast majority of champagnes are.
Solera—Strictly speaking, the solera method is a system of fractional blending, used in Jerez for the production of sherry. It involves a complex system of blending various criaderas, which contain wines of different ages, with the bottled wine coming from the last stage, the solera itself, which is the oldest level of the blend. In Champagne, Anselme Selosse of Champagne Jacques Selosse employs a true solera for his Substance, but the word solera is also sometimes used to refer to a less complex system of perpetual blending, whereby a single tank is used for the storage and blending of multiple vintages of wine, continually replenished by the new harvest. See Perpetual Blend.
Sparkling Wine—While this might be perceived as snobbery, I believe that this is the correct term for any wines of an effervescent nature that are made outside of the Champagne region of France. This should not be viewed as pejorative, but simply as proper nomenclature: the word Champagne refers to a geographically delimited appellation, just as Bordeaux refers to wines from a region in southwest France and Napa Valley refers to a region in northern California, and to use the term Champagne for sparkling wines made in California is akin to labeling a Central Coast merlot as Bordeaux. Happily, no quality producer of sparkling wine anywhere outside of Champagne continues to call their wine champagne, as it would only serve to detract from their image, and today it’s only the Korbels of the world that persist in this practice.
Sur Latte—The storing of bottles stacked on their sides, which is the most space-efficient method of storing champagne in the cellar. This is the way that champagnes are stored during the second fermentation and aging in the bottle, before they are put into riddling racks to prepare them for disgorgement.
Sur Pointe—The storing of bottles upside down, on their necks. Bottles are held this way after riddling, while waiting to be disgorged, and are usually put into crates or cages to hold them in place. This method may also be used for the long-term storage of undisgorged bottles that still contain sediment, to concentrate the sediment in the neck so that the lees have a minimal continuing effect on the wine. Some say that wine keeps better when left undisgorged and stored this way, staying fresher for a longer period of time. Others prefer to disgorge wines normally before long-term storage. In order to drink a bottle that is stored sur pointe, it must first be manually disgorged, in a process called disgorgement à la volée.
Taille—In the vineyard, the word taille refers to the pruning of the vines. In a Champagne cellar, however, taille also refers to the second pressing of the grapes, composed of 500 liters of juice directly after the initial pressing of 2,050 liters, called the cuvée. The taille is generally considered to be inferior to the cuvée, but some producers choose to use a small quantity of taille for its fruitiness and its lower acidity.
Tartrate Crystals—A precipitation of tartaric acid that occurs at low temperatures. Tartrate crystals look similar to sugar crystals and are completely harmless, with no detrimental effect to either the wine or the wine drinker. However, in an effort to spare the consumer the sight of such things, most champagnes undergo a process of cold-stabilization, which forces the crystals to precipitate before bottling.
TCA—The common abbreviation of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, the chemical compound that is the primary cause of cork taint. See Corked.
Terroir—Famously untranslatable, the French concept of terroir refers to the identity and character of a particular place, taking into account the influence of all possible factors, from soil to slope to climate and anything else that could possibly have an effect on the plant in that particular place. It’s well-known, and easily observable, that two adjacent vineyards cultivated by the same grower can produce remarkably different wines, and the cause of this can be attributed to the differences in terroir between each of them. Terroir is often talked about in terms of soil, but it is not a concept restricted to soil, and soil is only one component among many that make up the overall picture of a terroir. Similarly, terroir is often talked about in very narrowly site-specific terms: the terroir of a particular vineyard, or even a particular parcel within a vineyard. However, the concept of terroir can be thought about both microscopically and macroscopically, and while the idea of two individual vineyards having different terroirs is certainly valid, one can also talk about the general terroir of the region of Champagne, for example, as having unique characteristics and properties that are expressed in its wines, making them different and distinguishable from sparkling wines made in other regions.
Tête de Cuvée—See Prestige Cuvée.
Tirage—The act of bottling. In Champagne, it’s often customary to refer to non-vintage wines by the year of bottling rather than the year of harvest. For example, “tirage 2005″ means that the wine was bottled in 2005, and the base vintage is most likely 2004.
Transversage—The decanting of wine from one bottle into another, used to make champagne in very small bottles (187ml) or very large ones (greater than three liters). This is because the second fermentation in bottle is less regular in these sizes.
Ungrafted Vines—Vines on their original rootstocks, which are very rare in Champagne due to widespread phylloxera (the vast majority of European vines are grafted onto American rootstocks). Also known in French as franc de pied.
Vigneron—Literally a vineyard worker, but also often informally used to refer to a grower-producer (récoltant-manipulant).
Vignoble—Vineyard area. You can talk about the vignoble of a particular producer covering 12 hectares, for example, or you can also discuss the vignoble of Champagne, meaning the total vineyard area of Champagne. When speaking about specific vineyards (in the Burgundian sense), the words parcelle or lieu-dit are often used.
Vin Clair—A still wine resulting from the first fermentation in tank or barrel, before it is bottled and transformed into champagne. See Base Wine.
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 non-vintage 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 non-vintage 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.