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How Champagne Works


The Mighty Three Grapes
Pinot noir grapes are one of the three types of grapes that are used to make champagne.
Pinot noir grapes are one of the three types of grapes that are used to make champagne.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Of all the grapes that make up common wines, there are only three that are used to make champagne. Each one bears its own characteristics:

  • Pinot noir: strong body
  • Pinot Meunier: mildly spicy flavor
  • Chardonnay: delicate aroma, fruity flavor

Chardonnay is the only all-white grape of the three. If you're a champagne drinker, you may have noticed that most of them are white. That's because the pulp of dark or black grapes is actually white. These grapes are pressed gently to extract the juice before they've matured enough to produce darker juice. This gently pressed juice, coupled with the naturally white chardonnay, results in a white wine called Blanc de Blancs (white of whites).

Although most champagnes are white, there are also rosé or pink wines. Winemakers use more of the skin from the black grapes to give the wine a pinker hue. Depending on the producer, a fully matured red wine may also be added to the blend before the second fermentation to make rosé. Its colors range from pale pink to a rusty yellow.

Take any of these three grapes, mix them with other grapes, and you end up with some type of wine. However, the exact use of the grapes listed above is strictly enforced and governed by a federal organization. And that's what makes champagne more than just another sparkling wine.