It is the holidays and Champagne come to mind. In this blog I will discuss Champagne, not sparkling wine. Sparkling wine comes from many parts of the world but Champagne resonates from mostly Reims, France. The vintners have upgraded growing techniques over the last decade resulting in overall better Champagne than ever before. What has changed is vintners have for centuries blended grapes from various vintages and locations to create a single bottling but today wine makers are creating single vineyard bottling.
The Making of Champagne:
Crafting good champagne is no small feat as it goes well beyond crushing, blending and aging of the fruit. Typically champagne is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Champagne could contain all of the grapes mentioned in a blend or be sole sourced. After the wine maker blends the grapes they go through a second fermentation by adding yeast and sugar. The amount of sugar will change the classification of the champagne, and I will discuss this in greater depth shortly.
After the crushing and fermentation the wine is aged. Non-vintage champagne is aged 15 months and a vintage bottling is aged at least three years before being released. The final stage of production is disgorgement. Disgorgement, means the neck of the bottle is frozen and any frozen sediment “shots from the bottle”. The wine is quickly topped off and a small quantity of sugar, known as dosage, is added to balance the finished wine.
The amount of sugar added during the dosage process will determine what type of Champagne is produced from extra Brut to Doux. Most people buy a Brut champagne which contains up to 15 grams of sugar, extra dry contains 12 – 20 grams, and Dry contains 17 – 35 grams of sugar making a slightly sweet Champagne.
From a style point of view the name will help you determine the grapes in the champagne. Blanc de blancs are made from entirely Chardonnay. Blanc de noirs is made entirely from Pinot Noir. This will be a white sparkling wine as no skins are used in the process. A rose champagne uses all three grapes in the production process with a little still red wine added just before the second fermentation process. This gives it the color.
Suggested Champagne based upon WineSpectator scores and price.
Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV rated 97 $169
This is all about balance and the integration of power and finesse, with finely honed acidity supporting the range of flavors.
Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon 2004 Brut Champagne 95 $159
There’s a sense of tension paired with grace in this deftly balanced version, with a rich and smoky vein of minerality.
Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon 2003 Brut Rosé Champagne 95 $299
A delicate bead caresses the mouth in this harmonious version, while the flavors expand on the palate. Subtly floral.
Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 2006 95 $249
This elegant version shows beautiful texture and finesse despite the underlying power of vibrant acidity and smoky minerality.
There are many others but most are produced in small quantities.
Champagne under $100
Henriot Brut Rosé Champagne NV 94 $70
A rich and toasty version, featuring roasted almond, brioche, honey and graphite notes. Stays mouthwatering and light-footed.
Louis Roederer Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2006 94 $90
Shows fine balance and grace, with expressive flavors. Well-honed acidity and a vein of smoky minerality give this power.
Duval-Leroy Brut Rosé Champagne Prestige NV rated 93 suggested retail of $69
Lacy in texture and elegant, this is framed by delicate acidity that focuses the subtle flavors of dried apricot, cherry and graphite-tinged mineral, with hints of honey, ground anise and walnut. Harmonious. Drink now through 2020. 6,000 cases made. –AN
Cheurlin-Panfilo Brut Champagne Le Medaillon NV 92 $50
Refined and well-balanced, with a creamy palate of crowd-pleasing poached apple, meringue, cassis, grated coconut and roasted hazelnut notes. Mouthwatering through the spiced finish. Drink now through 2018. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 30,000 cases made. –AN
Pierre Paillard Brut Champagne NV 92 $48
Shows lovely balance, with a satiny quality to the refined mousse and mouthwatering acidity meshing with pure notes of poached quince, lemon mousse, white cherry and fresh ginger. Offers a lightly chalky finish. Disgorged January 2012. Drink now through 2020. 6,000 cases made. –AN
Taittinger Brut Rosé Champagne Prestige NV 92 $65
A firm, toasty rosé, with roasted hazelnut and smoke notes underscoring kirsch, dried strawberry, piecrust and fresh ginger flavors. This is lip-smacking, softened and balanced by a fine, creamy texture. Drink now through 2023. 3,000 cases imported.
Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne Premier Cru NV 91 $64
A lightly toasty version, with hints of brioche and nut, appealing for the fine balance and accessibility. Flavors of plum skin, apricot, crystallized honey and kumquat ride the fine and creamy mousse. Drink now through 2018. 20,000 cases made. –AN
Philipponnat Brut Champagne Royale Réserve NV 91 $44
Black currant and blackberry fruit flavors mix with floral, crystallized honey, whole-grain toast and candied ginger notes in this well-cut version, endowed with a refined texture and a mouthwatering finish. Disgorged March 2012. Drink now through 2018. 37,500 cases made.
Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Premier NV 91 $49
A smoky note of minerality complements the flavors of dried cherry and black currant, almond financier and gumdrop in this refined, creamy version. The delicate yet persistent acidity is well-integrated, leading to a mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2018. 50,000 cases imported. –AN
Louis de Sacy Brut Champagne NV 91 $40
A firm, mineral-driven version, with a lightly chalky mouthfeel. This finds fine balance between the bold structure, racy acidity and well-meshed flavors of green plum, star fruit, green pear, smoke and pastry dough. Drink now through 2021. 8,000 cases made. –AN
Baron Albert Brut Champagne Tradition NV 90 $48
The lively bead carries flavors of poached apple, white cherry, anise and almond biscotti, backed by juicy acidity and a hint of orchard blossom on the finish. Drink now. 15,000 cases made. –AN
Monthuys Brut Champagne Réserve NV 90 $29
A streak of smoky mineral drives this sleek version, offering lively acidity and flavors of poached apple, whole-grain toast and black currant, with hints of toasted almond and lemon zest. Drink now through 2018. 20,000 cases made. –AN
Heidsieck Monopole Brut Champagne Blue Top NV 90 $35
A rich, smoky base of roasted walnut and toasted coconut underscores this subtle version. Lightly creamy in texture and well-balanced, with juicy acidity backing hints of glazed apricot, crème de cassis and grated ginger. Drink now through 2018. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 8,000 cases imported. –AN
G.H. Mumm Brut Champagne Cordon Rouge NV 90 $40
Though subtle, this is fresh and focused, with a fine mousse and tightly knit notes of white peach, blanched almond, smoke and grainy pear