It’s been a rough year, so splurging on a proper champagne might be some needed decadence to wrap up this turbulent year.When life demands consistency and quality, I always know where to turn-- the prestige labels of the historic Champagne houses in France.
People have a tendency to call ALL sparkling wines Champagne, and this is simply wrong. Champagne must be grown in the Champagne region of France, and are a blend of any of the three following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Most of the highest-quality Champagnes are just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Champange can come in all sorts of varieties. Blanc de blanc Champagne is made of JUST Chardonnay grapes. Blanc de Noir is made from either JUST Pinot Noir or a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Now, Champange also comes in various sweetnesses, measuring what’s called the “residual sugar” in the wine. This is how much sugar is left in the bubbly after fermentation has stopped. Most of the wines we’re discussing today are “BRUT”, which means there’s less than 12 grams of residual sugar. Other common terms discussing sweetness are “extra dry” meaning the bottle has 12-17 grams of sugar, “sec” meaning there’s 17-32 grams of sugar, “demi-sec” having 32-50 grams, and “doux” or “sweet” meaning there are more than 50 grams of sugar. It’s a confusing system, especially if you’re relying on the literal translations of each term. It’s better just to memorize the scale, or err on the side of purchasing Bruts.
The best wines of each champagne house are called Prestige Cuvées. Dom Perignon is the Prestige wine of Moet & Chandon. Veuve Cliquot has a top quality line called La Grand Dame. Roederer’s prestige label is the oft-mentioned is Cristal. Piper-Heidsieck top-of-the-line bottling is Rare. Taittinger Prestige Cuvée is called Comtes de Champagne – the Count of Champagne-- which really gives you an idea of how highly regarded these bottles truly are.
These wines are the finest sparkling wines in the world. Naturally they are expensive; actually-- they are very expensive. Figure to spend well over $100 usually closer to $200 a bottle. Some even top $300.
Champagne bottles hold 25 ounces of bubbly, and a pour of fine Champagne should be around 3 ounces. So, for your $200 investment, you’ll get about 8 glasses of Champagne. Don’t do the math to figure out how much that is per glass-- just understand that this is the time of year to enjoy the smaller luxuries in life, and this is a relatively minor splurge.
My philosophy is: it’s been such a lousy year, I deserve to treat myself and my friends. What can I say, a little indulgence is a good idea sometimes.
Some of the best champagne comes with a vintage date on the bottle. Most Champagnes that are available are labeled as “non-vintage” meaning that what’s in the bottle is a blend of juice from several years of harvests-- generally, non-vintage champages are predominantly made from the past season’s fruit, blended with a bit of “reserve” champagnes. 90% of all champange is non-vintage.
Vintage champagnes are made in much smaller quantities than the usual non-vintage Bruts and they tend to be a bit pricier-- sometimes around $70 a bottle, or a bit more. Vintage prestige Champagne-- say, a vintage Dom Perignon, will be some of the priciest bottles on the market.
In order for the Champagne houses of France to declare a vintage year, the wine must be of absolutely outstanding quality. This demands the higher price tag.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite premier champagnes-- some of them vintage, some non-vintage. Some of them are even rose champagnes-- if you want some added festivity with the pale pink color.
2003 Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose, “Cuvee Palmes d’Or”. $200. Bright ruby/pink; raspberry nose; round and rich with crisp acidity and lively raspberry fruit; clean, smooth and balanced; mellow and long.
The 1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc (which is made entirely out of Chardonnay grapes) Extra Cuvee de Reserve is $120. Fresh and refined with beautiful pure fruit and subtle yeasty nuances; elegant and complex with an exquisitely long finish; brilliant. 95 points.
Lanson Non-Vintage Brut Rose “Noble Cuvee” $150. Pale and clear; bright fruit nose; juicy and pure with lively citrus and tangy acidity; fresh and racy, elegant and lifted; lovely, complete and showing great aging potential. 97 points.
Non-vintage Gosset Brut Rose “Grand Rose” is a bargain at just $80 a bottle. Pale salmon pink; floral nose; smooth and juicy with raspberry, strawberry and lovely depth; juicy, elegant and pure with balance, length and great style; pure and refined, classic. 95 points. 1998 Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame is $150. Juicy and lively, fresh and clean; monolithic and long; raspberry and vanilla. 91 points.
If you’re ready to impress, here are my top 2 picks:
If this is an all-out event, you cannot go wrong with the $500 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Rose. Pale pink; aromas of raspberry and vanilla; lush, dense and racy with graceful flavors and much finesse; fresh and juicy with style, depth and great length; lovely with excellent aging potential. I gave it 98 points.
Or plunk down $300 for Perrier Jouet’s Fleur de Champagne’s 2002 vintage. I gave it 97 points-- it’s darn near perfect. Pale and bright; fruity nose; crisp, tangy and supremely elegant; pure, juicy and classic with hints of raspberry and citrus; fine bubbles; smooth, very long and graceful; wonderful.