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All About Champagne Grapes

Whether you’re celebrating, treating yourself, or simply want to kick back and relax with a glass of something bubbly, champagne is a treat that comes attached to a certain air of finery. Whether you splurged on something fancy or grabbed a bottle at the grocery store, champagne never fails to make any occasion feel elegant. But have you ever thought about where champagne comes from?

Flutes of champagne.

In this article, we’ll explore the vineyard origins of sparkling wines. Let’s talk about champagne grape varieties!

Kinds of Grapes Used to Make Champagne

1. Chardonnay

Flavor

Chardonnay grapes are used to make white wine, and you can expect to encounter a classically dry and pleasantly biting flavor, though some varieties can lean sweeter.

Characteristics

Chardonnay is a green grape, and while their flavor makes for some fabulous wine and champagne, they’re not really meant to be eaten, nor are most wine grapes. They contain seeds behind skin that tends to be tougher than snack-approved grapes, so steer clear of these the next time you’re looking to put together a fruit bowl! Chardonnay is one of three grapes allowed in the making of most champagne, and perhaps the most well-known of the three.

Chardonnay wine grapes on the vine, popular champagne grapes.
Chardonnay champagne grapes.

History

There is some debate over the origins of the Chardonnay grape, with people claiming they come from France, Cyprus, or the Middle East, but most agree that Chardonnay grapes were originally grown in France. Since then, this grape variety has migrated all around the world.

How Chardonnay Champagne Grapes are Grown

Chardonnay isn’t a fussy grape to grow, which makes it a favorite of vineyards all over! They do come into season earlier than most grapes, which makes them vulnerable to a late-spring frost, but otherwise are fairly easy to cultivate.

Where to Find Chardonnay Champagne Grapes

As mentioned above, you can find Chardonnay grapes all over the world, including the majority of the continental United States!

2. Pinot Noir

Flavor

Pinot noir grapes normally result in a red wine with fruity and earthy flavor profiles that stands solidly on the dry side of the spectrum; however, when used for a champagne blend, you’ll find that “red” characteristic vanishes. You won’t find any classic champagne that can be classified as “red.” However, the flavor profiles are generally the same between Pinot Noir wine and the Pinot noir contributions to champagne blends.

Characteristics

As mentioned, Pinot noir is a red wine grape. The name Pinot means pine in French, and it’s assumed that it was given that name due to the way the grapes cluster up in a way that resembles pine cones. Noir is a reference to the grapes’ darker coloring.

Closeup of bunches of Pinot Noir grapes on the vine, also popular champagne grapes.
Pinot Noir champagne grapes.

History

Pinot noir grapes have their roots in France, so long ago that it wasn’t even called France at the time; they originated in what used to be called Gaul. They’ve also become so popular and wide-spread in part by their use in religious ceremonies—Pinot Noir wine is used even today for Sacramental wine in the Catholic church.

How Pinot Noir Champagne Grapes are Grown

Unlike Chardonnay, Pinot Noir grapes are quite difficult to coax into adulthood. Growing Pinot Noir is not a task for the faint of heart. While they are similar to Chardonnay inasmuch as their season (they too are vulnerable to frost damage, as they come into season early), they’re more difficult to grow because of their aversion to too much sunlight. Too much sun can damage the thin outer skin of Pinot Noir grapes—it can even go as far as burning them!

Of course, this thin outer skin can also be damaged in cooler, wetter weather. Hail is a common culprit to damaging these delicate grapes, and if exposed to too much humidity, these grapes are also susceptible to mildew that appears like a pale, dusty coating over the fruit. Therein lies the difficulty—these grapes require a happy medium in their climate that can be problematic to achieve!

Where to Find Pinot Noir Champagne Grapes

Pinot Noir grapes, just like Chardonnay, can be found all over the world, though they’re mostly grown in climes on the colder side to avoid too much heat.

3. Pinot Meunier

Flavor

Though similar in flavor to Pinot Noir and following the trend of leaning dry rather than sweet, you’ll find that Pinot Meunier dips deeper into fruit flavors rather than earthy ones, though it still carries a hint of mushroom or mineral tastes. Sometimes it even carries a hint of smoke buried deep in its flavor profile.

Characteristics

Pinot Meunier, just like Pinot Noir—a wine grape “cousin” of sorts—is a red wine grape commonly used to make champagne blends. It’s often added to champagnes to round out the earthier flavors of Pinot Noir with deeper fruit and flower notes.

Closeup of blue wine grapes on the vine.

History

Like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier has its origins in France, though it’s also quite popular in Germany.

How Pinot Meunier Champagne Grapes are Grown

Pinot Meunier, unlike Pinot Noir, is much easier to grow—it comes into season later than both varieties, allowing it to skirt the risk of frost, and it’s less fussy about its growing conditions than its Pinot Noir cousin.

Where to Find Pinot Meunier Champagne Grapes

You can find Pinot Meunier in most of the same places you would find Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but you can also find it in the Aube area of France—a region you won’t find the other two champagne grapes growing in. Pinot Meunier is the only one of the three that can ripen fully in this region.

Difference between “Champagne Grapes” and Grapes Used for Champagne

Now, here’s where this whole subject can get confusing: grapes used for making champagne and the actual variety of grape called “champagne grapes” are not the same. Champagne grapes are also known as Corinth grapes, and they’re not used for making champagne at all; they’re only used for eating, not drinking!

Closeup of Black Corinth grapes, also known as champagne grapes.
Black Corinth grapes, also known as “Champagne grapes.”

Recipes

Of course, one of the most popular uses for champagne is in the making of mimosas. These beverages are a great way to put the finishing touch on a celebratory brunch, ringing in the New Year, or to treat yourself first thing in the morning by upgrading your morning juice! Though mimosas are usually made with orange juice (we recommend trying out the Tangelo orange!), there’s an entire spectrum of fruit flavors you can add to your mimosa, from strawberry to raspberry to cranberry! You can even try out pineapple for a tropical twist to this refreshing breakfast beverage. There’s no end to the possibilities!

Final thoughts on Champagne Grapes

No matter what occasion you choose to christen with a bottle of bubbly, you can’t go wrong with a glass of champagne made with these beautiful champagne grapes. From weddings and engagements to holidays and family reunions, this crisp, delicious beverage is the perfect cherry on top of your next get-together.

Closeup of flutes of champagne.

What’s your favorite kind of champagne? Which of these three grapes make your favorite wine? Let us know in the comments below! To learn more about grapes, click here for our other grapes blog posts.