NV Champagne - What Does It Actually Mean

NV Champagne – I’ve heard the term, but what does it actually mean?

Wine is a wonderful thing, but it can be confusing at times and champagne is no different.

One of the things that makes anything difficult is when people use words and expressions that they assume everyone else understands when in fact they don’t. So let’s look at a term that you’ve seen loads of times, but perhaps it’s never been explained to you and that’s
‘NV champagne’

Well at the basic level it means non-vintage, but there’s more to it than that.

Most of the bottles of wine you buy have a year printed on the label. That indicates the year in which the grapes were harvested so the date also gives you a clear idea of the age of the wine. The date is called the ‘vintage’ date and it just tells you the year the wine was made.

That’s really useful for a few reasons:

1) some wines you need to keep for a few years before they reach their best, and without the date on the bottle you wouldn’t know how old the wine was.

2) some wines are designed to be drunk whilst there’re fairly young, so again the date is essential information.

3) The quality of the harvest varies each year and in each wine making region so here again knowing the date of the harvest gives you a great indication of the quality of the wine.

So far so good – sure, you need some more information to complete the picture, like which wines can I keep and which should I drink now, and was the harvest in region XYZ a good one this year or not, but you’re off to a good start.

With champagne it’s different...

About 90% of the bottles of champagne you see in the shops have no date on them.

 “What?” you might say. “How can I tell when it was made and whether that year was any good or not?”

Well, you’re right – you can’t tell whether the content of the bottle is any good or not - but that’s the whole point. You don’t need to; that’s been taken care of.

You see, Champagne is a region in the northern part of France and here the weather isn’t reliable enough, or warm enough, to produce a great harvest every year and champagne makers quickly realised that if they made champagne using the grapes harvested in one single year they’d get some very up and down results: one year great, the next year awful – no consistency at all and what does a wine drinker want? Yes, consistent reliable quality every year, in every bottle.

So what did the chamapgne makers do?

Well they figured out that if they put aside some wine every year and keep it in reserve, to age and improve a bit, they can bring it out in subsequent years, when the harvest is perhaps not so good, and by blending the older wine with the more recent wine they can always get the same consistently high quality.

So that’s what they do; they blend together wines from several different years’ harvest and because they do this they can’t possibly put one single date on the label and they can’t say that the champagne is  from one particular vintage.

To get round this they came up with the term non-vintage ( nv for short ) to describe what’s in the bottle.

This way you don’t need to worry about the date, the champagne will always taste pretty much the same from one year to the next. So when you find a champagne that you like, you can stick with it year-in, year-out knowing that the quality and taste will not vary significantly.
Of course you may want to try other brands of NV -  I know I do -or perhaps try vintage champagne.

Yep, you do get vintage champagne too and this IS made using the grapes from just one year’s harvest, but that’s a topic for another time.