Decoding Champagne

A glossary of terms to help you bring out your inner Champagne expert.

GRAND CRU, PREMIER CRU, DEUXIÈME CRU

The cru system indicates the quality of particular vineyards in the five regions. Grand Cru is the highest rating in the system, then Premier Cru, then Deuxième Cru.

DISGORGEMENT

Disgorgement is a critical point in the life of Champagne: after months and sometimes years of aging, the sediment, or lees, are removed— disgorged—from the bottle, essentially filtering the wine. At this point, dosage may be added.

DOSAGE

Refers to the amount of sugar added to a bottle after disgorgement. The driest wines, with no added sugar, are known as “zero dosage.”

BRUT, EXTRA BRUT, BRUT NATURE

These terms are used to classify a style and refer to the amount of dosage. Style is indicated by the sweetness of the wine, based on the amount of sugar (or dosage) in each bottle. In Champagne, they range from “Brut nature” (the driest), to “Extra Brut,” to “Brut.” “Doux” is the sweetest.

VINTAGE OR MILLÉSIME

The vintage, or “millésime” in French, is the year that the grapes were grown and harvested. Wines blended from several vintages are marked “NV,” for non-vintage. On a label, “millésime” often refers to a particularly prized single vintage from which a wine was made.

CUVÉE

Derived from "cuve", meaning vat or tank, this term refers to a particular type, blend or batch of wine. 

TÊTE DE CUVÉE

Tête de cuvée translates to “head cuvée” and is considered to be the very best Champagne that the grower makes—a cuvée that expresses unique characteristics and exceptional quality based on aging, blending techniques, stellar vintages, etc. We at fatcork sometimes even consider a tête cuvée one that each vigneron is the utmost proud of. 

ROSÉ VS ROSÉ SAIGNÉE

In Champagne, there are two processes for making rosé: rosé d’assemblage—a blend of white and red juice—and rosé de saignée. Saignée, French for “bled,” is made when red-skinned grapes are pressed and undergo brief skin-contact with the juice to impart color and flavor.

TERROIR

A French term used to describe the effects a particular region's climate, terrain and soil has on the wine. Wine that speaks of where it is from through it's aromas and flavors.