What Are the 7 Varieties of Grape Used in Champagne Production?

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Champagne has unique flavors and complexity. Well, you can thank the various grape varieties used in making the effervescent wine.

Each variety of grape used in champagne gives its personal touch to the wine. The Chardonnay grape offers a burst of freshness and floral notes. Pinot Noir adds structure and delightful aromas, while Pinot Meunier imparts a rich and full-bodied essence.

But, until the 1938 collective agreement among growers in the AOC terroirs to improve the quality of champagne, there used to be seven. So, what are the other grape varieties? And why are they not as widely used as the Champagne grape trinity now?

Below, we’ll talk about all that. We’ll also explore the different grape varieties grown in the Champagne region of France, how their berries look like, and what flavors and notes they impart in the wine.

List of Grapes Allowed in Champagne

For a wine to be called champagne, it should be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier. However, four other champagne grape varieties sometimes make it to the blend: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and/or Arbane grapes. Each grape variety brings its distinctive touch to the blend.


Chardonnay Grapes

Chardonnay is one of the main white grape varieties to make our favorite bubbly. And with many Champagne Houses crafting Blanc de Blancs, you’re probably thinking that Char gets the lion’s share of the entire Champagne region. But no.

It only makes up roughly 31% of the entire vineyards, covering little over 25,000 acres but dominates the Côte des Blancs. While Blanc de Blancs is made up of 100% Chardonnay, these champagnes only account for less than 5% of the champagne type.

This grape variety has a golden, greenish color, and it’s robust and ripens quickly. It thrives well in chalky outcrops of terroirs, which helps impart the minerality in champagne. Chardonnay grapes are the ideal grape variety for well-aging champagne wines.

If you adore extremely fine sparkling wine and vintages, you can thank Chardonnay.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Grapes

Pinot Noir has the lion’s share in the Champagne region, particularly in Montagne de Reims and Côte des Bar. It makes up 38% of the total land area, covering 32,000 acres. Now, that’s more than its ancestral home, Burgundy!

This red grape has purple or bluish skin and is also the oldest in France and has been cultivated since 1345. It grows in the cool, chalky soil that helps provide structure and a distinctive taste to champagnes.

Pinot Noir grows in large clusters, with small and oval fruits lying in compact bunches. It ripens early and is a staple grape for producing Blanc de Noirs.

Pinot Meunier

Pinot Meunier Grapes

The Pinot Meunier grape variety is one of the dark-skinned grapes used in wine production. This grape variety comprises 32% of the Champagne region’s vineyards, which account for 26,000 acres. It grows under the harsh climates of the Marne Valley, where the soil contains more clay.

What sets Pinot Meunier apart from the Chardonnay and Pinto Noir grape varieties is that it can withstand frost. Its bud burst happens later, making it suitable for planting in vineyards that get extremely low temps.

Just like the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier grapes grow in clusters with small fruits, because it’s a mutation of Pinot Noir. Except that this one has indented leaves and buds with powdery or white fine hair that looks like dust at the start of its vegetation. The red grape variety also makes up Blanc de Noirs—which are made of mostly red grapes.

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc Grapes

Pinot Blanc is closely related to Pinot Noir but is considered a wine grape variety. Its color is due to a mutation that makes the genes that produce the pigment inactive. If you look at Chardonnay, they have pretty much the same leaf shape, but their berries differ in size.

This grape variety is native to Alsace, covering 8,300 acres but they are also grown in Champagne and Burgundy. However, it’s prone to diseases caused by botrytis and requires a lot of care and pruning.

Pinot Blanc is typically used in the blends of fine, dry wines. It adds honey and green apple flavors and rich floral notes to the wine’s aroma. And to the palate, it leaves some sharp acidity due to its low sugar.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris Grapes

Also known as Fromenteau and what the Italians call Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris is another native to Burgundy. A pink to brownish-skinned grape variety whose color is also due to the color mutation of Pinot Noir. So, yes, it’s a white grape variety.

Pinot Gris makes up 14% of the vineyards in the Champagne region. This grape matures early and has a high sugar content. It’s typically used in still wines, lending a crisp, sweet, intense fruit, and honey flavors.

Petit Meslier

Petit Meslier Grapes

This white grape is one of the Champagne region’s rarest varieties. It makes up only a few acres across Marne Valley. Petit Meslier is a challenge to grow because it’s hard to prune and not as resistant to diseases as the other varieties, but it can withstand frost.

Petit Meslier is very closely related to Chardonnay. If you’ve had Sauvignon Blanc, you’ve probably noticed the vegetal flavors and racy acidity of the wine. That’s from the small amounts of Petit Meslier added to it.


Arbane Champagne Grapes

This is the rarest champagne grape. The Arbane grape variety also makes up only a few acres, mostly in Côte de Bars. Its berries are light yellow but it has low yields and is highly prone to downy mildew. The champagne grapes ripen late, with acidity that’s overpowering.

Arbane typically joins other grape varieties in champagne including Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir. It imparts a mild, punchy flavor to wine and brings a light, nutty, herbal note.

What Are the Most Common Grapes in Champagne Making?

The most common grapes used for champagne production in the Champagne region are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Chardonnay is the only white grape variety of the three. This grape variety dominates blanc de blanc champagne, expressing the quintessence of the fruit with its bright acidity, freshness, and citrusy undertones. It’s also what imparts the delicate floral notes.

Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties are the dominating champagne grape varieties in Blanc de Noirs.

Pinot Noir is a delicate black grape varietal that offers delicare aroma and flavors of red berries and the body and backbone of the final blend. This grape variety also adds a mouthfeel and structure to the wine. It’s a versatile grape that is used in both white and red wines.

Pinot Meunier, on the other hand, is historically used as a blending grape. However, many Champagne producers now craft sparkling wines that are made from 100%. This red grape variant imparts a rich and full-bodied structure to the wine.

It also adds red berry flavors and creates subtle fruity wines with distinct aromas of yellow fruits that age faster than the other two grape varieties.

Along with the main grape varieties, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane were used in the blends until 1938. The other four grape varietals are not as common in French winemaking in Champagne because of their rarity. 

These grape varieties had low yields and were less resistant to plant diseases, so they could no longer be planted in the Champagne vineyards after that year. In fact, as of now, there are only about 222 acres left in the entire Champagne, and are expected to cease over time as they naturally dry out.

But thanks to “grandfather’s rights”, you could still find the four grape varieties in some champagnes.

Terroir and Champagne-Making Production

To achieve the ideal balance of flavors, several Champagne Houses use a blend of different grapes from various vineyards and even vintage years. Each grape has its own unique characteristics that are expressed differently depending on the terroir.

So, to make the best base wines, the grapes are carefully picked to meet the suitability of the climate and taste requirements based on the winemaking designations. The Champagne region covers over 84,500 acres of vineyards which are all AOC (Appellations d’origine contrôlée).

But until the late 19th century, the traditional growing techniques of grapes favored various kinds of vines. Then, it took a drastic turn to improve the quality of Champagne. But it could only be done if only the premium-quality cultivars were picked.

Since then, only the three grape varieties made the cut. They offer a nice balance of sugar and natural acidity that goes well with fizz and the rich, delicate flavor of champagne.

Impact of Climate Change on Grapes

As the temperature rises due to climate change, the grapevine gets excessive sun and heat exposure. As a result, many growers tend to harvest the fruits early. When this happens, there is a reduction of acidity in grapes.

The natural acidity of grapes is crucial in making quality wines as it can either make your drink flat or too sharp.

Because of this, Champagne growers are adapting new techniques to tackle climate change. It is in their best interest to help preserve the Champagne’s history and flavor.

Bollinger, for example, plants more of the lesser-known four grape varieties due to their naturally high acidity. And to help balance sweeter fruit, some Champagne Houses reduce the dosage, while others eliminate sugar. 

What Is Rosé Champagne Made Of?

Rosé Champagne is made from a blend of the same grape varieties as the other wines, but mainly red or black grapes such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Some winemakers also use Pinot Blanc in the blend.

During champagne production, the black-skinned grapes are macerated to obtain the red, baby, or copper salmon color of the wine. However, rosé champagnes can also be white.

They are also generally less sweet and fruitier than regular champagne. But not as light because the black grapes account for 50% or more of the base wine.

What Grape Is Brut Champagne?

Brut is typically made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir. But depending on the blend, it can also contain small amounts of other grape varieties including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane. This champagne style can be made in white and rosé. It can also be produced as vintage or non-vintage.

Wrap Up

Despite the many varieties of grape used in champagne production, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier will always dominate the blends. The other four rarer varieties also deserve some recognition, though. They all impart unique flavors to wines that we all have come to love.

We hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have more questions, let us know and we’d love to help. Cheers!