Everything You Need to Know to Buy Champagne

A much-needed explainer on everyone's favorite form of fizz.

You may know a little bit about Champagne. Perhaps you've enjoyed a Champagne cocktail on New Year's. You might even know how to open a bottle of it. But chances are, at some point, you've been intimidated about buying it.

After all, there are so many varieties of sparkling wine. What's the difference between Brut and Demi-Sec, Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir, or Prosecco and Cava? We asked the expert sommelier Christopher Hoel, founder of Harper's Club and wine curator for Wine Insiders and Martha Stewart Wine Co, to give us the basic facts about the various types of this effervescent wine.

Consider this your Champagne explainer—one that'll help you select and serve the right bubbles for your guests, no matter what is on the menu.

The Origin of Champagne

In order to be designated as Champagne, the sparkling wine must be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and follow very specific Appellation d'Origine Controlée (AOC) production regulations. Without this naming, you're likely drinking sparkling wines known as Cava (from Spain), Prosecco (from Italy), Crémant (made in the same style as Champagne but produced from French grapes in different regions), or sparkling wines that come from growing regions all over the world.

"Those regions could include the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, just to name a few," explains Hoel. "That said, I am not a sparkling wine purist! While I love a good Champagne, many people are intimidated by its cost and prestige. Luckily, you can get fantastic Cava, Prosecco, and other sparkling wines for well under $20."

Champagne's Range of Sweetness

Sugar plays a key role in giving Champagne its bubbles, alcohol, and sweetness. Perhaps the biggest differentiator among Champagnes is the range of sweetness you'll taste. Wine drinkers tend to have strong preferences about how sweet they like their bubbles, and it all comes down to how the wine is produced.

Most Champagne winemakers favor a method of winemaking referred to as the Methode Champenoise, relying on secondary fermentation in the bottle rather than a tank. This method also involves a process of remuage (or periodic shaking) that involves removing dead yeast (called lees) and re-corking the wine.

The secondary fermentation also involves the addition of sugar (a process known as "dosage") to counteract the high acidity of Champagne. Words like "Brut" or "Sec" provide an estimate of how much sugar was added and, therefore, how sweet the wine will taste. These descriptions apply to other sparkling wines as well.

Champagne Types and Food Pairings

For each of the following types of bubbly, different amounts of sugar have been added in the fermenting process. Champagne ranges from dry to sweet, and that sweetness dictates which foods to pair it with. If you know what food you'll be serving, you can use the guide below to select the right bubbly to buy.

Brut Nature (Brut Zero)

  • Completely dry
  • Zero sugar
  • Pairs well with your favorite fried dishes such as Calamari or French fries

Extra Brut

  • Dry
  • Minimal sugar and high acidity
  • Pairs well with washed rind cheeses, jam, and crackers


  • One of the drier options
  • Crisp
  • Pairs well with a rotisserie chicken or grilled fish

Extra Dry (Extra-Sec)

  • Medium dry
  • Hint of sweetness
  • Pairs well with a dessert cheese platter featuring double-cream brie, almonds, and honey

Dry (Sec)

  • Noticeably sweet
  • Pairs well with savory bites like buttered popcorn or salami


  • Medium sweetness
  • Marks the beginning of the dessert wine classification
  • Serve slightly chilled to counteract the sweetness and preserve the more delicate flavors in each sip


  • Very sweet
  • Officially considered a dessert wine
  • Considered a sipping wine and is seen as an accompaniment rather than the main event
  • Avoid over-pouring

Champagne by Grape Type

Understanding which types of grapes were used to make your bottle of bubbly will help you find the best style (and price point) for your palette. Thankfully, it's all on the label.

Blanc de Blanc

This literally translates to "white from whites" and means the wine was produced exclusively with white grapes. Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. In rare cases, this process can also involve using Pinot Blanc grapes.

While initially used to refer to still wines, "blanc de blanc" now almost exclusively refers to sparkling wines and is the epitome of Champagne. The resulting wine strongly resembles a Chardonnay and has minerality and chalkiness. Think of yellow-hued foods here, like butter, lemons, and tart apples for pairing inspiration.

Blanc de Noir

Similarly, Blanc de Noir, or "white from reds" are made from red grapes, most often Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Interestingly, despite the inclusion of red grapes, Champagne maintains its light coloring because it spends almost zero amount of time in contact with the skins during the winemaking process. These bottles tend to be fruitier and a bit more full-bodied due to the inclusion of red grapes. Red fruits, like raspberries and strawberries, tend to best complement a Blanc de Noir.

Brut Rosé

Another style is a brut rosé like the Toro Loco Cava Rose Brut ($19, wineinsiders.com), which, as the name suggests, has a pink hue to it thanks to either the inclusion of red grape skins or the addition of still red wine to the sparkling white wine (depending on the winemaker's preferred process). While the lovely pink bottle may infer sweetness, it's actually a rather dry, acidic wine.

Whether staying in or dining out, you cannot go wrong with a brut rosé. It pairs well with Chinese takeout while enhancing the flavor of fancier seafood dishes like sauteed salmon or roasted pork.

Fast Facts About Champagne

The Meaning of Vintage

Vintage doesn't mean the Champagne is old—it means that the grapes came from one single year. You may also notice a label designation of "Vintage" or "NV" on the bottle, which refers to whether or not the grapes fermented in one year (vintage) or over multiple years (non-vintage). Vintage champagnes tend to be pricier, whereas non-vintage selections are commonly found at lower price points and are more widely available.

The Best Glasses to Serve Champagne

Without question, the effervescence of Champagne is aesthetically pleasing when served inside a thin, elongated flute. But sommeliers, wine professionals, and sparkling wine producers all agree that the narrow design of a flute "mutes" the aroma, flavor, and complexity of your bubbly.

"A Champagne flute may feel celebratory, but it restricts airflow to the wine, dampening its aroma and flavors," says Maximilian Riedel, CEO and President of wine glass company Riedel. "It actually makes Champagne smell yeasty, and the tall shape allows bubbles to escape directly out of the top of the glass," he adds.

A smarter way to serve sparkling wines is in white wine glasses: Their rounder, more open shape is better at helping your bubbly express its unique flavor profile and characteristics. There's also more space for your nose and taste buds to experience what you're sipping.

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