Flag & Shield… Telling A Story
The label on a bottle of Champagne is too often taken for granted. It is a way to communicate and attract the attention of the buyer – a true vehicle of promotion and marketing, unique to Champagne.
But it was not until the middle of the 18th century that embryonic labels appeared in the region, and elsewhere for that matter. They began as small bits of paper pasted on bottles with a few handwritten comments.
The first true etiquettes, similar to our familiar modern labels, started to be issued by Champagne houses around 1820. Soon producers vied to outdo one another in originality and imagination. As they developed labels for special events and remarkable personalities, the Champagne labels became mirrors of history and culture.
Today, the label is a consumer informant: it is a guide and a protection against fraudulent imitations. For Champagne producers, it is a flag: it tells the identity and origin of the wine.
The following must appear on all Champagne labels:
- Appellation of Controlled Origin: Champagne – prominently displayed
- Brand, marque – differentiates the wines of different producers.
- Degree of sweetness – extra-brut, driest wines; brut, very dry (most wines are brut); extra-dry, slightly sweet; sec, sweet; demi-sec, very sweet.
- Town where the wine was made.
- Country of origin – True Champagne only comes from the region of Champagne, in France.
- Alcohol content – varies between 10.5% and 13%; 11% is the minimum for vintage dated wines.
- Volume of bottle – in milliliters.
- Trade registration and regulations – The Champagne apellation is one of the most tightly controlled in France. The vineyards are classified, the type of grapes grown are limited, the amount of grape juice from each pressing is controlled, and the age that the wine can be sold at is regulated. Each producer is given a registration number by CIVC (the Trade Organization for Champagne Producers). When the producer owns the brand, the following initials will be found:
Every bottle of Champagne must be labeled with the name of its source. This is done in the form of a code of two letters and a series of numbers. The two letters denote the type of producer, whether a grower, a co-operative, a house. The numbers refer to the actual name and address of the licensee, who may be completely different from the brand name on the label. In fact the second biggest Champagne producer, Marne et Champagne, produces no wines under its own name! The numbers after the brackets are the number of Marques registered.
- N.M. (Négociant Manipulant): Most of the well known brands fall into this category. They are Champagne houses or shipper, who buy grapes in bulk to make their own Champagne.
- R.M. (Récoltant Manipulant): This a grower who grows his own grapes to make his own Champagne. He may also sell grapes to others, and also buy in a proportion of grapes to augment his own production.
- C.M. (Coopérative de Manipulation): A group or cooperative of growers who produce Champagne under their own brand name(s).
- R.C. (Récoltant Co-opérateur): A co-operative member who sells a co-operative produced Champagne under his own brand name with the help of a cooperative.
- S.R. (Société Récoltantes): An association of a number of growers who pool their resources, but who are not a co-operative.
- N.D. (Négocant Distributeur): A merchant that sells wine from other producers under his own brand.
- M.A. (Marque d’Acheteur): Buyer’s own brand. This is an “own label” name owned by a third party, supermarket or wine merchant, and the Champagne will be made for them by one of the above.
- Winemaker (elaborateur): Champagne house, grower or cooperative responsible for making the wine. This indication is either spelled out or coded.
Other indications on the label are optinal. They include:
- Name of the U.S. importer
- Vintage year, millesime – if the wine is exclusively made from the grapes of one vintage.
- Reference to the grape variety used: Blanc de Blancs for Champagne wines from 100% Chardonnay grapes; Blanc de noirs from 100% Pinot noir and/or Meunier grapes.
- Reference to the cru: Grand Cru or Premier Cru refer to the best-rated villages of Champagne. There are 17 Grands Crus, including Ambonnay, Avize, Aye, Bouzy, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Tours-sur-Marne, and 41 Premiers Crus, including Chouilly, Hautvillers, Mareuil-sur-Ay.
A vos sabres!