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Blanc de noirs vs blanc de blancs: What’s the difference?

Wine labels always offer clues about the liquid inside, so what does ‘blanc de noirs’ tell you on a bottle of Champagne or fizz in general, and how is that different from 'blanc de blancs'?

Bollinger has this month added a second ‘blanc de noirs’ Champagne to its core range, marking the first new ‘permanent’ wine in the house’s portfolio since 2008, when Bollinger Rosé made its debut.

The so-called ‘Bollinger PN’ will commence with ‘VZ15’, which is largely drawn from Pinot Noir in the Verzenay commune and uses 2015 as the base vintage in the blend, as well as wines from the house’s ‘reserve’ going back to the 2009 vintage. Future releases will focus on the terroir of other vineyard sites.

This launch suggests a rising profile in general for blanc de noirs sparkling wines, which are only made from dark-skinned grapes.

In Champagne that means Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, although it’s relatively common to find 100% Pinot Noir wines, as is the case with Bollinger above.

The blanc de noirs style has also become notably popular among producers across the English Channel, in the UK.

Don’t expect the liquid to be red in colour, or even carry a rosé hue, because it’s the clear juice of the grapes that is used; see this earlier article on wine colour.

At the other end of the spectrum, ‘blanc de blancs’ is produced from white grapes, with 100% Chardonnay the most common style in Champagne and beyond.

Of the 89 blanc de blancs sparkling wines from the around world that were part of a Decanter panel tasting in 2019, 53 were made entirely from Chardonnay.

But, tasters also noted ‘a superb Furmint from Slovenia, a poised Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch and a revelatory Pinot Gris from England’.

Do blanc de noirs wines have a particular taste?

Some wine critics have noted that blanc de noirs Champagnes and sparkling wines lend themselves to more red fruit flavours, as you might expect given that Pinot Noir, in particular, produces some of the finest red wines in the world.

Decanter’s James Button recently said that this Waitrose ‘Blanc de Noirs’ Champagne, made from 100% Pinot Noir and based on the 2015 vintage, ‘has a delicious black cherry aroma which accompanies the brioche, apple and sweet spice flavours’.

Simon Field MW reviewed this Blanc de Noirs ‘A3’ Champagne from Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades range, and said in his note for Decanter Premium subscribers, ‘This gem boasts a rich burnished gold colour then an immediately seductive nose of tobacco, fig, crème brûlée and cassis; classic Blanc de Noirs red fruit is bolstered by incredible layers of complexity.’

However, two blanc de noirs Champagnes or sparkling wines might taste very different, even if made from the same grape variety.

This variation could be the result of myriad factors, including vintage, vineyard location, harvest strategy, fermentation methods and lees ageing, among others.

Decanter’s Sylvia Wu found that this English sparkling blanc de noirs from Roebuck Estates, also made from 100% Pinot Noir, ‘has yeasty bruised apple and lime on the nose, with honeyed marmalade’.

While grape variety is important, an often-complex cocktail of decisions in the vineyard and in the cellar can influence the aromas and key characteristics of the wine in your glass.

The recent Bollinger PN launch, for example, partially reflects growing interest in showcasing the personality of individual sites and terroirs within the Champagne region.

Top blanc de noirs Champagnes

There are several prestigious names, including Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay, which comes from a walled plot of Pinot Noir vines covering just 0.68 hectares.

The first vintage released was 1995 and, according to Wine-Searcher figures, Clos d’Ambonnay is easily the most expensive blanc de noirs Champagne label on the market. Only 5,100 bottles of the highly rated 2000 vintage were produced.

Bollinger’s ‘Vieilles Vignes Françaises’ is another highly regarded, upmarket label, also produced in very small quantities.

It is ‘the legendary product of two tiny plots of ungrafted, untrellised Pinot Noir in Aÿ’, as expert Tyson Stelzer noted in his review of the 2006 vintage for Decanter.

Another bottling is Billecart-Salmon’s ‘Le Clos St-Hillaire’, which is 100% Pinot Noir and drawn from a one-hectare vineyard plot in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. Releases are relatively rare; the 2002 vintage was launched last year, while Decanter’s Tina Gellie gave 97 points to the 1999 vintage.

There are plenty of other options across all price tiers, and in other sparkling wine regions, although grower-producer Jacques Selosse is another vaunted name to know in Champagne.

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Global blanc de blancs sparkling wine: Panel tasting results

Best Champagnes of 2019 tasted by our experts

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