Champagne Part 3: The Houses to Know
Now that we know all about the process of creating Champagne, and the land it hails from, it’s time to get into important names to know. This article will cover the some of most famous Champagne houses. We’ll talk about the different Champagne styles, which can range from lilting and light-bodied to full, robust and rich. This has to do with many factors—the blend of varieties, how long it has aged, and more. We will also discuss what the prestige cuvée, also known as the tête de cuvée, made by each house is. The prestige cuvée is essentially the best wine that each house makes.
We will begin with lightest in style, and fittingly, the first established Champagne house: Maison Ruinart. Ruinart makes a Blanc de Blancs and a rosé, but their prestige cuvées, Dom Ruinart and Dom Ruinart Rosé, you will not forget. The Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay, whereas the rosé is typically a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You’ll note the unique shape of the bottles, which pay homage to the style of bottle used in the 18th century when Ruinart was founded! The bottles are hand labeled and numbered, a final personal touch.
Taittinger is also on the lighter side, and Comtes de Champagne is their prestige cuvée. Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs Grand Cru Villages only. A small portion is aged in new French oak, adding a hint of toast. Adding a small portion of still red wine of Pinot Noir creates the rosé.
Moving into Champagnes somewhat fuller bodied in style, we look to Dom Pérignon. Conceived by Moet & Chandon, Dom Pérignon is unique in that it is always vintage Champagne. The house is named for one of the most historically inaccurately remembered figures. Dom Pérignon was NOT the inventor of Champagne, although he did contribute to many improvements in viticulture and vinification. Despite the nod to history, the house tilts at modernity: Lenny Kravitz is their Creative Director, creating bottle, box and table designs for the brand.
Louis Roederer Champagne is the house behind the legendary prestige cuvée Cristal. Uniquely sold in a clear bottle without a punt, the inversion you see on the dimple of most Champagne bottles. This came about because it was made in 1976 for Tsar Alexander II, who fears being killed and wanted to be sure nothing could be hidden in the bottle. Roederer is also unique in that they own all their vineyards, as opposed to sourcing grapes from growers.
Bollinger is known for their full, rich, Pinot Noir based Champagnes in an oxidative style borne of long aging. They store their reserve wines in magnums, and riddle by hand, a long process many have eschewed in favor of the mechanized gyropalettes. Their prestige cuvées, La Grande Année and La Grand Année Rosé are delectable, but for an even longer aged treat try the R.D. line, which stands for Recently Disgorged. These wines stay on their lees until a few months before release. This allows the development whilst retaining a certain freshness. All the Bollinger Champagnes manage generosity with elegance.
Veuve Cliquot is an iconic Champagne house to know which was named for the widow Cliquot. The house was taken charge of by Madame Cliquot in 1805 after losing her husband when she was only 27. The house is responsible for some of Champagne’s most important innovations. In 1810 they created the first recorded vintage Champagne. In 1816 Madame Cliquot created the first riddling table. Riddling is the process by which the lees are removed from the bottle, creating the pristine wine we now take for granted. Look for La Grand Dame for the house’s top bottling.
We will close out with Krug, the king of Champagnes! Krug makes vintage dated Champagnes, but in a twist different from most Champagne houses, their prestige cuvée, recreated every year, is their non-vintage Grande Cuvée numbered editions. They are made of more than 120 different wines from at least ten different vintages. The Grande Cuvée was born because Joseph Krug wanted to be able to craft the best Champagne possible every single year, regardless of the weather. If you are curious about your bottle, there is a six-digit code on the back you can enter to learn more about it, as well as get food pairings and—taking things a step further—a music pairing to boot.
Krug is powerful; once you’ve tried it you’ll never forget it.
Now that you know the history behind some of the bottles, pop a cork and take a taste! Knowing the story behind the wine will make it taste even better.