Hyde Park Fine Wines photo of six champagne bottles

Champagne Basics | Part 1, Grapes

Everyone loves a crisp, bubbly Champagne, especially around the holidays. But what precisely is the definition of Champagne? It’s more than just sparkling wine. With all the complexities of French wine laws, there are all sorts of requirements to meet before a wine can be labeled Champagne. This series of articles will break down the specifics of what makes a Champagne…well, Champagne. To start, let’s examine the different grape varieties that make up Champagne. There are a total of seven different grapes that can be included!

In Champagne, laws identify three main varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. These grapes were deemed most suitable due to their yields, ease of growing, and overall quality. Together, they make up approximately 99% of all grapes planted in the Champagne region.

Champagne law also permits the planting of four other, lesser-known varieties. They are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane. Though they account for less than 1% of plantings in the region, they can play an important role in balancing the wine or creating a particular flavor profile. Due to their high acidity, they may become more important as the area continues to experience warmer summers.


Chardonnay – Often blended with other varieties, Chardonnay is also used on its own in Blanc de Blancs. The grape adds acid, structure, and freshness to the wine.

Pinot Noir – This grape is a standard for champagne blends. It adds body and structure, as well as pleasing aromatics. When not blended, it may appear as Blanc de Noirs Champagne (white wine made from black-skinned grapes).

Pinot Meunier – Though primarily used for blending, a few houses are beginning to make 100% Meunier Champagnes. This red wine grape has red berry flavors and balances the wine.

Pinot Blanc – This white grape is related to Pinot Noir; its pigment producing gene is not active, thus creating no color. Pinot Blanc grows in other parts of France, Europe, as well as the United States. It brings floral aromas and acidity to the wine.

Pinot Gris – This is another genetic mutation of Pinot Noir and adds white fruit flavors and richness. Also known as Fromenteau (its historic French name).

Petit Meslier – This rare white grape has herbaceous flavors that are reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc (though it is likely related to Chardonnay). It is highly resistant to frost.

Arbane – Only a few acres of this grape remain in Champagne. It is a late-ripening variety, full of green flavors and high acidity. Its origin in a mystery; genetic studies failed to identify parent grapes.

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