Historically, Champagne has been characterized by the fact that is blended in every sense: a blend of grapes, a blend of vintages and a blend of regions. While this is now not always the case, it is true that each of the three major grapes of Champagne contributes its own attributes to a wine; thus, by combining all three, a complete Champagne is created. The “big three” are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and while all three grapes are grown throughout Champagne, each sub-region has a grape that it tends towards, generally.
As the only major white grape in Champagne, Chardonnay has quite the category to represent, and represent it does. It contributes elegance, ageability and bright citrus flavors to Champagne blends. While 100 percent Chardonnay, or blanc de blancs, Champagnes can be austere and acid-driven in youth, they are some of the most long-lived, evolving with layers upon layers of complexity.
Shy in youth Pinot Noir is not! Because Champagne is such a cold region, Pinot Noir needs to be planted in areas that allow it to ripen fully, but regardless, it holds the most vineyard area in Champagne. Structure, richness and body come from Pinot Noir, so Champagnes with a lot of Pinot Noir can be fairly broad and in your face.
Pinot Meunier (also simply known as Meunier) used to be the “red-headed stepchild” grape of Champagne, but thanks to hipster wine geeks, that reputation isn’t quite as true anymore. Pinot Meunier is known for its aromatics and approachable fruit, acting as a bit of flavor-packed seasoning in Champagne blends. While formerly a rarity, some producers now specialize in 100 percent Pinot Meunier Champagnes, bringing us to the new, easiest way to spot a somm in the wild: just look for the person buying the all-Meunier bottle.