The home of traditional method sparkling wine. Wine labelled ‘Champagne’ can only come from this region. Champagne remains (for now) too cold to be a reliable high-quality still wine area. It sits, however, in a perfect climatic window for sparkling wine production, where complex interactions between soil types, regional microclimates and site variables create a level of depth and nuance that is difficult to replicate.

Key subregions: 

 

  • The Côte des Blancs runs South of Epernay on pure chalky slopes that often face East towards the morning sun. This is the home of some of the finest, most elegant and long-lived Chardonnay in Champagne.
  • The Montagne de Reims sits just south of the city of Reims. It is principally known for Pinot Noir, which varies hugely by the location of the village in which it is being grown. These villages almost run in a complete a ring around the montagne, offering an unusual variety of aspects that includes the North-facing vineyards of famous villages such as Verzy and Verzenay. There is also quite a lot of ripe, generously-styled Chardonnay to be found.
  • The Marne Valley runs out to the West of the region, where heavier clay soils and a slightly damper, cooler climate favour the Pinot Meunier grape variety. This region is fairly ill-defined, and the areas nearer Epernay and Reims feature a patchwork of interesting villages that grow all three varieties. 
  • The Côtes des Bar lies at the Southern tip of the Champagne region, separated entirely from the regions above. It is known for its Pinot Noir, which traditionally offered a ripe, sunny character that large Champagne houses found useful in their blends. Today it is also home to a thriving movement of grower-producers. 

Champagne producers often buy grapes from a large network of growers across the region, blending these together to create their wines. Many grow their own grapes, either exclusively or in addition to purchasing them. Large champagne houses will tend to use wines from all over the region, whilst wines from smaller houses are often tied closely to a specific village or sub-region.

Five top-quality, widely-available pan-regional Champagnes

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, Krug Grande Cuvée, Henriot Brut Souverain, Taittinger Brut Réserve

Five accessible champagnes showing sub-regional characters

Côte des Blancs Chardonnay – Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Premier Cru

Montagne de Reims Pinot Noir, north – Mailly Grand Cru Blanc de Pinot Noir

Montagne de Reims Pinot Noir, south – Eric Rodez Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru

Meunier dominance from the Marne – Moussé Fils Or d’Eugène Blanc de Noirs

Sunny Côte des Bar – Drappier Carte D’Or Brut

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The Rest of France

The prominence of France’s other traditional method wines tends to depend on how focused individual producers are on this specialist style. There are certainly other regions where fine fruit for sparkling wine can be grown, although few where Champagne’s unique balance can be attained. 

 

Alsace is warmer than Champagne, with a longer autumn which sees sparkling wine grapes arrive at ripeness with slightly lower acidity than in Champagne. Pinot Blanc and its fruity cousin Auxerrois are mainstays of the soft and friendly style. Further south, the crémants of Burgundy and the Jura also use Chardonnay and the Pinots, producing sparkling wines that often resemble bubbly versions of local entry-level still wines. Crémant from Bordeaux is rare to find outside of the region.

France’s other distinctive area for Traditional Method Sparkling Wine is the Loire Valley. Here, the Chenin Blanc grape gives wines that range from very neutral, basic fizz to complex, unique examples that display many of the flavours of the region’s still wines. 

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Italy

Maso Martis, TrentoDOC . Licensed under C.C. 2.0 Annabelle Orozco 

Franciacorta is Italy’s best-known Traditional Method Sparkling Wine region. The classic Champagne grapes, occasionally augmented by Pinot Bianco and the local Erbamat, enjoy plenty of sun and some cool refreshment from Lago d’Iseo. Pinot Meunier is rare. This part of Lombardia is one of the warmest regions in Europe for sparkling wine from classic varieties, and the wines correspondingly display ripe flavours and generosity of spirit.

TrentoDOC is the sparkling wine appellation of Trentino, nestled up to the Dolomite mountains north of Lago di Garda. Although geographically quite close to Franciacorta, the Trento style is very different. Cool mountain air descends into the vineyards at night, helping the wines maintain an invigorating acidity and breezy nature; with their high altitudes these are truly bollicine di montagna. 

Five Producers to Discover

Franciacorta; Bellavista, Ca’ Del Bosco, Guido Berlucchi

TrentoDOC; Ferrari, Rotari

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England 

 

Vineyards at Raimes, Hampshire

England is one of the world’s most marginal climates for vine growing, so sites must be as warm and sheltered as possible. At their best, English Sparkling Wines achieve fully developed, exciting fruit flavours whilst retaining formidable acidities. The most successful styles could be compared to particularly bright, buzzing examples of champagne.  

 

For an in-depth look at English Sparkling Wine, see the Six Atmospheres report English Sparkling Wine 2020. 

Five Producers to Discover English Sparkling Wine

Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Gusbourne Estate, Fox & Fox, Harrow & Hope

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Spain

Cava is Spain’s best-known Traditional Method fizz. The region of Penedés in Catalunya is its home, where native grapes Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parrelada create distinctive, dry and characterful sparkling wines.

Confusingly,  Cava can actually come from any one of eleven Provinces spread across the whole country. Dissatisfaction with the breadth of the appellation has caused a state of flux over the last decade, with some high-quality producers turning their backs on the Cava appellation. Today you will find some of these under the name ‘Corpinnat’, whilst those still calling their wines Cava can also apply for the ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado’ for certain exceptional vineyards. 

The finest producers are making wine of a completely different standard to generic Cava. The easiest way to explore these wines for now is to follow the producers themselves whilst the dust settles.

Five producers to follow: Gramona, Recaredo, Llopart, Raventós i Blanc, Alta Alella

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Germany

Germany’s quality Traditional Method Sparkling Wine production is starting to come out of the shadows of its enormous tank-method sekt industry. Acidity runs in the veins of German winemakers. Riesling, Germany’s great native grape, combines prodigious acidity with intense limey, floral and stone fruit flavours that can make for powerful, singular sparkling wines. They are often exciting wines to try in any setting where you might consider drinking a dry, still Riesling.

Many of the finest of these, not only from Riesling but also Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, come from estates in the ‘VDP’ association. Looking for the black eagle of the VDP logo is a good place to start when navigating the labyrinthine intricacies of German wine labelling. 

Five producers to discover

Barth, Ratzenberger, Reichsrat Von Buhl, Raumland, Sekthaus Solter

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The Rest of Europe

There are few Traditional Method wines from other nations that maintain large export presences. However it is likely that winemakers in any area where refreshing white wine styles are being made will be turning out a few cuvées, and these can be well worth discovering if you get the chance.

Apart from Franciacorta and TrentoDOC, Piedmont leads the way with Traditional Method wines of the Alta Langa appellation. Across the country, however, Italy’s winemakers display their customary flair and inquisitiveness by turning their local still wine varieties into fizz. 

Austria and Hungary have shown promise for sparkling wines both from local varieties and the classic Champagne grapes. As you might expect, their headline non-classic varieties – Grüner Veltliner and Furmint respectively – tend to render wines that are closer to local still wines in style, whereas those aiming to ape champagne stick to the classics. 

Portugal is home to a small cohort of producers creating sparkling wines from the full panoply of local varieties including Alvarinho, Malvasia Fina, Baga and even Touriga Nacional. Pinot Noir is also seen, although Chardonnay is a rarity. The strong aromatic character of some of these varieties often shines through. 

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