Champagnes are made of three types of grapes, two red (yes you are reading this right) and one white variety. The grapes are pressed so gently that the resulting juice is white.
Meanwhile it is established by law that Champagne can only be made from a mixture of the following Types of grapes:
• Chardonnay (white/greenish grape)
• Pinot Noir (blue/reddish grape)
• Pinot Meunier (blue/reddish grape)
The Pinot Noir gives Champagne wines strength, spiciness and finesse. The Chardonnay grapes give them elegance and lightness. The Pinot Meunier gives them character and ripeness (especially in the younger wines).
The Chardonnay is grown in the Côte des Blancs (just under Epernay), The Pinot Noir mainly comes from the Montagne de Reims (not surprisingly in the neighbourhood of Reims) and the Pinot Meunier comes mainly from the Valée de Marne (river flowing between Reims and Epernay. The majority of the Champagnes are made by mixing the three varieties of grapes. The usual mix consists of 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir and the rest Pinot Meunier.
Read more in “Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine“
The relatively cheap Pinot Meunier is mainly used in Champagnes that are sold when still young (3 or 4 years after the harvest). The PinotNoir and Chardonnay basic wines have not yet reached their ultimate ripeness. Aroma and taste that would be lacking are compensated a bit by the aroma and taste of the Pinot Meunier that has matured relatively quickly. The disadvantage of the speedy ripening of Pinot Meunier basic wines is that they also rather quickly reach their top. Champagnes containing a high percentage of Pinot Meunier don’t keep very long.
Champagnes that are meant to be opened only after a longer period of time will contain hardly, if any Pinot Meunier. These Champagnes are usually kept longer in the cellars before being shipped. A mix that is most in use still is 50% Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay. The combination of long-time storage (ergo loss of interest) and the price of more expensive Pinot – and Chardonnay grapes are the reasons that these Champagnes are more expensive.