Making Sense of RM Champagnes
Wine lovers always enjoy finding wines that they’ve never tried before and that’s especially true when we discover a wine from a small family-owned maker that we think is really fabulous. It sort of makes it a more personal experience as though we’re in on a secret that no one else knows about.
Well the same is true in Champagne where, believe it or not, there are nearly 5,000 different champagne makers, but with so many to choose from, how do you find the ones for you?
Some writers would tell you that all you have to do to discover the good ones amongst all those unknown champagnes is to look for the two letters ‘RM’ at the bottom of the champagne label.
What these letters tell you about the champagne maker is that he/she makes champagne using grapes from their own vineyards – in other words they don’t buy in grapes on the open market like the big brands do. RM producers are usually just the type of small, family-owned operations that we find somehow more ‘authentic‘ and appealing.
This is O.K. as far as it goes. The trouble is that it doesn’t take you very far because the majority of champagne makers fall into the RM category, so you’re still faced with what is potentially a bewildering choice.
What’s needed is some means of differentiating between all those RM champagnes and here’s a way that, whilst not foolproof, will definitely allow you to identify different styles of champagne so you can tell if it’s the type and taste you’re looking for.
You see RM champagne makers usually own vineyards in, or near, the village where they live and work. That means that their champagnes are very much a reflection of the soil and climate of that particular village. That in turn means that if you know the village and the type of champagnes that are typically made there, you’ll have a good idea of what any given RM champagne will taste like.
To find where the champagne was made look on the label right next to the RM producer code.
You just can’t do this with the big name champagnes because they buy grapes from villages all over the Champagne region and their champagnes are an amalgam of different grapes with different charactesistics. So the place name that appears on the big brand labels is just their head office or the place where the wine is made.
There may be some advantages to this approach, but one thing is for sure: big brand champagnes have no particular connection with any one location, or another.
Now you may be thinking that to understand RM champagnes you have to memorize the names of all the 300 + villages in Champagne, but don’t panic.
Sure, the more you know, the more different styles and champagnes you’ll be able to identify, but if you can keep 10 or so village names in your mind then you’ll already be well on the way to deciphering the world of RM champagnes, and then, when you’ve got 20 or more you’re really beginning to become an RM expert. So here are some tips to get you started.
If you like the crisp, dry style of Blanc de Blancs champagnes made only from Chardonnay grapes, then look out for these village names in the Côte des Blancs area
Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Oger, Oiry, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Vertus
These are great champagnes for during the day or to start a meal
If it’s bigger, bolder, more full-flavoured champagne that you prefer then look for champagnes that have a high proportion of Pinot Noir in them.
Here are some of the villages famed for their Pinot Noir vineyards
Ambonnay, Aÿ, Bouzy, Mailly, Verzy, Verzenay, Ludes, Chigny-Les-Roses, Rilly-La-Montagne.
This style of champagne is fabulous for drinking throughout the evening or with a meal.
Finally if you enjoy fresh, fruity champagnes for drinking at any time of day then you can venture down the Marne River valley to find villages that specialise in Pinot Meunier.
Here are some names to keep an eye out for
Charly-sur-Marne, Chatillon-sur-Marne, Cerseuil, Damery, Festigny, Oeuilly, Reuil, and Vincelles.
That’s 25 villages to get you started
How many can you remember?