It’s time to have a serious talk about Champagne. For years I avoided this category after being let down by too many lackluster pours at weddings and celebrations. I honestly didn’t understand the appeal, as my mouth would fill with bubbles (sometimes overwhelmingly so), and the nose would give me nothing more than a whiff of bready minerals.
However, as has often been the case on my road to better understanding wine, it took something of a paradigm shift, provided by a generous friend and a bottle which opened my eyes. And what a world they were opened to. A good Champagne is like no other wine. As a pairing with food, Champagne is one of the most diverse wines you can have on the table. What’s more, Champagne has an instant effect on people, as their eyes light up when a glass is handed to them. It’s also a great way to start a meal, as its palate-cleansing bubbles and acidity provide the perfect canvas for the wine or meal to follow. Yet great Champagne deserves its own spotlight, providing so much character in its bouquet, along with a perfectly soothing journey across the palate, and long, almost haunting flavors on the finish.
- The average Champagne that we are poured at a wedding or party is usually the most affordable option the host could manage. The reality is that most guests don’t pay much attention to the quality, because what’s in the glass means a lot less to them than it does to wine-lovers like us.
- Champagne doesn’t perform best in a champagne flute. I know this may come as a surprise to most, but the fact is that the flute was designed to help the development of bubbles—not flavor or bouquet. Try using a white wine glass with a small tulip shape instead, and you’ll find much more satisfaction in the glass.
- Most Champagne is served too cold. Any wine will shed its attractive qualities as it chills below 44 degrees. First the body falls out, then the flavors, and before you know it, even the nose.
- A Champagne glass shouldn’t be “topped off.” It’s much better to simply pour a new glass once the first is completed because Champagne is an experience from the first sip to the last. It goes through a number of phases in the glass, and each one is as enjoyable as the next. However, if you top it off, you’ve interrupted its natural progression.
Armed with these easy tips, you’re already on your way to a much more enjoyable experience. Yet there’s one more point to keep in mind, and it’s that there are a number of styles of Champagne, and knowing which you prefer is paramount. Each Champagne house has a style, and it’s usually in their NV champagne offering that you’ll find the best prices and also the most dependable experience from bottle to bottle. This is why Champagne houses blend, sometimes over a hundred lots of still wine before bottling and secondary fermentation. Their goal is to create a wine representative of the house style. What’s more, they understand that the Non-Vintage wine is the one which will communicate the quality of the brand to consumers, as it’s the Champagne that most people will buy.
What this means for you is that you can count on reputable brands to regularly deliver a great experience. Below is a quick list of dependable producers and their styles listed from light (finessed, crystalline, and pure) to full (rich, intense with tons of character).
Light-to-Medium; Jacquesson, Billecart-Salmon, Nicholas Feuillatte, and Taittinger
Medium; Charles Heidsieck, Deutz, Jacquart, Moet Chandon, Pol Roger and Salon
Medium-to-Full; Henriot, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Krug
Beyond this, you have vintage Champagne, which will follow the house style yet is usually aged further and adds the unique qualities of the specific vintage. This is when Champagne can really get fun—but also expensive. These wines are only made in the best vintages. As with any category of wine, you will notice a step up in quality, yet this is the range that I save for my close friends, as it’s a celebration wine of the highest caliber.
It pays to mention that Champagne can also age beautifully in a cold cellar. One of my favorite bottles, the 2002 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, is many years away from its pinnacle, and I eagerly await the day it emerges from its shell.
Below, you will find a large selection of my favorites from this year. I’ve organized them from Non-Vintage – to Rose – to Vintage bottles. Prices range from $40 – $150+, yet there is something here for everyone.
Ruinart Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV – The nose was remarkably fresh with spring florals, stone fruits and a hint of fresh cut grass. On the palate, it was fruity with green apple and a hint of exotic spice, yet refined with soothing. Notes of grapefruit lingered long on the finish along with pretty inner floral notes. (91 points)
Moët & Chandon Champagne Brut Impérial NV – The nose was everything I want from a non-vintage Champagne, as hints of yellow flowers, stone fruit and straw rose up from the glass. Bright and fruity on the palate with piercing acidity, which worked wonders here as the mouth watered, leaving hints of green apple on the senses. (89 points)
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV – A beautiful nose of unripe peach, apricot, hints of caramel and fresh toast rose up from the glass. On the palate, it showed tart apple with fine bubbles and a lasting note of minerals and spring florals. (90 points)
Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée NV – A unique and magnificent Champagne which will thrill your guests is the Krug Grande Cuvee, showing a mélange of orange rind, spice tangerine and minerals on the nose. It was smooth and seamless on the palate with notes of ripe apple, almond and hints of minerals carrying through the finish. This is a bottle that will find its way to my holiday parties for its unique profile and gorgeous feel on the palate. (95 points)
Ruinart Champagne Brut Rosé NV – The nose was highly expressive, showing white cherry and apple with sweet floral tones. On the palate, its bubbles soothed the senses, while tart berry played a sweet and sour act on the tongue. It was staying and firm on the finish with tart apple and citrus rind. A beautiful Champagne Rose. (92 points)
Krug Champagne Rose NV – A beautiful expression with Pinot fruit in front, showing minerals at first with hints of cherry and masses of floral notes. On the palate, it was slightly angular yet smoothed out quickly as its brisk acidity made the mouth water. White cherry, inner floral tones and minerals stayed present throughout, yet it was on the finish where I was truly impressed, as the most beautiful expression of cherry skin seemed to last for well over a minute. (93 points)
Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Cuvée No. 737 – The nose showed leesy floral tones, roasted almond, saline minerals and a hint of copper penny. On the palate, it showed green apple fruit and minerals with clenched textures, which fleshed out nicely the longer I held it. Long with mineral-laden stone fruits on the finish. (90 points)
2002 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs – The nose was rich with springtime aromas of wild grasses, hay, flower petals and a hint of honey. On the palate, it was a textural synergy of aggressive bubbles turning to smooth, palate-soothing flavors of apple, tart citrus and inner floral tones that last throughout the long finish. With time in the bottle, it gained momentum and became more luxurious on the palate. This was a truly wonderful experience, and I can’t wait to see what it may become with some time in the cellar. (94 points)
2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Vintage Reserve (Gold Label) – The nose was nutty with notes of pear and moist minerals wafting up through its effervescence. It entered the palate tight and firm yet fleshed out quickly as the mouth watered, adding notes of dried apple and minerals which carried on through the finish. (92 points)
2004 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – A spellbinding Champagne from the second it was poured into the glass. The expressive nose showed stone fruits and minerals with a hint of smoke, which seemed to draw me in closer. On the palate, it touched on all the senses, as a wave of smooth bubbles flowed effortlessly and then released rich flavors of ripe pear and tart citrus. The finish was elegant with hints of citrus and roasted nuts. (96 points)
2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame – The highly expressive nose showed young peach, pastry dough, hints of white cherry and minerals. On the palate, it was rich yet vibrant with stone fruits and mineral laden stone. It slowly faded to a close yet left my mouth watering. It was absolutely stunning. (93 points)
2006 Moët & Chandon Champagne Grand Vintage Brut – A beautiful wine whose bouquet jumped from the glass with intense fruit, as a mix of apricot and lemon peel were met by floral notes, field grass and a hint of smoke. On the palate, it was rich, smooth, and soothing to the senses with a finale of sour apple and inner floral sweetness. (93 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by; Eric Guido