SR, RC, MA, NM, CM, RM…FML that’s a lot of letters!
Luckily I have a trick for you which is dead easy to learn and will make you look like a wine pro. Use it to impress your friends and intimidate your enemies!
We’ll get on to what the codes mean in a minute, but first…
Thanks to the hard-bureaucrating folks at INAO in France, there are a whole pile of regulations surrounding agriculture. Many of them relate to Champagne and dictate what grapes can be grown, how much volume can be produced, which areas count as part of the Champagne AOC and many many more. We only care about the one on serial numbers so grab a bottle of Champagne and start really looking at it.
Every bottle of Champagne has to have a serial number. The positioning will differ from bottle to bottle but serial number must start with 2 letter and yes you’ve guessed it, they’re the ones we are looking for!
These first two are rare as hen’s teeth.
RC: récoltant-coopérateur. Single producer grows the grapes and owns the brand, but the wine is made by a cooperative.
SR: société de récoltants. Multiple growers share one winemaking facility, but produce under their own brands.
These guys are like the Empire in Star Wars:
MA: marque d’acheteur or “the buyer’s brand”. This is a brand that a “buyer” (think Supermarket, celebrity or even Steve from accounting) has created and has a producer make Champagne for it exclusively. While some may be really quite good (bravo Waitrose!), most are piled high and sold cheap. Research well to avoid the traps and if someone brings a bottle to your party, be a good host and ensure their glass is always topped up first!
NM: négociant-manipulant, aka the “Grand Marques”. These giants are almost all of the well-known brands and they spend billions every year to keep it that way. They have quarterly financial reports, boards of directors and celebrity ambassadors. Sometimes they also make wine, and when they do they will buy most of the grapes or wine juice from Growers and “assemble” it themselves. They take pride in their “house taste”, which has remained largely unchanged for longer than most people have been alive. Don’t get me wrong, there are some terrific ones out there and they have done a lot to protect and grow the Champagne brand, but there’s something about a wine producer with an investor relations department that make we wonder whether product quality is top of their agenda.
And these next two are like the Rebel Alliance
RM: récoltant-manipulant. The real rebels. Independent, largely family owned and operated producers who both grow (récoltant) and produce (manipulant) their Champagne. Very geographically focussed, their terroir plays a huge role in the taste. Hard to find in the UK, even if you know where to look. Of 27.8 million bottles imported in to the UK in 2017, only 1.5% are from RMs. For the US it’s more like 5.1% of the 23.1 million bottles. Yes the UK imports more volume than the US, but the US imports more in Euros, think of that what you will.
Many RMs used to sell to the Grand Marques, some still sell a portion. Of the ones I have spoken to, they all prefer to be independent.
CM: cooperative de manipulation. The cooperatives. Sometimes a group of RMs will combine their plots to create Champagne under one or more collective banners. Their combined resources give them the ability to invest in better equipment, better distribution and nicer looking labels.
So there we have it dear friends. The next time you see a bottle of Champagne, you can pick it up, look it up and down, nod sagely and amaze the surrounding crowd with your knowledge of who made it and how. Just don’t do this to a group of strangers in a club. People are VERY possessive of their bottles. Go figure….