Best Bets for Champagne this Season

December 22 2011 - 7:32 AM

This is time of year when people who aren’t usually looking for bubbly break character and spring for a bottle for a party, a gift or simply as an excuse to celebrate. I’m happy enough to indulge my Champagne jones as well but I would do so just about any time… Here are a few options to consider!

Gramona – There are only a few exceptions for me when it comes to choosing any sparkling wine aside from Champagne. This is one of the few cavas that I’ve really relished. Where I tend to find Spanish cava on the side of pears and bubbles, Gramona has a palate that is wider open and inclusive of a creamy traditional Champagne-style that still has the hints of fruit that you expect from a cava but with an added toastiness and yeast that I find very welcome. Priced at or just under $20, it’s a great value.

At the $28-35 price point you start to get into French Champagne from larger houses. I do have to say of the different appellations, Champagne seems to control their quality very well and it’s hard to go wrong. Here are some readily available choices that will certainly do the trick.

Pommery has been around in one shape or another since the eighteen hundreds. While Veuve Cliquot is Chicago’s most purchased Champagne, what these houses both have in common is that both houses were run by widows… you might say, “Veuve Pommery”. Pommery’s Cuvee Louise is a wonderful prestige cuvee but their $35 Pommery Brut Royal has bursts of toast and extremely mild citrus that has more of a yeasty tartness. Pommery is also making news with their Pommery POP Earth wine which has a sustainable bent that even includes lighter bottles and less packaging.

Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top is another historically interesting Champagne house. They were founded in 1785 but split into 3 Heidsiecks: Heidsieck Monopole, Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck. They’re all now different companies and it’s interesting seeing the ways they are similar as well as different. The most obvious way to tell them apart is that Monopole has a blue label and Piper has a red label.  Monopole has a bit more forthright punch to it. The fruit is more pronounced than one might expect but it’s bookended by toast and a touch of sweet cream. It’s a great value at just over $30 bucks.

The Piper Heidsieck Brut Non-Vintage is a light and expected wine. At just under $30, it’s priced right considering that it’s meeting all your expectations. It’s got the cream, the hints of pear and apple, bit of toast… a nice fizz. It’s not pushing in any specific direction and for that reason, it’s a good party pick. It’s an obvious crowd-pleaser.

After a few years out of the market the 250+ year old Champagne house Lanson returns to the States. Lanson Black Label offers one of the few non-malolactic sparklers in the category. It starts out tart with plenty of green apple then develops into a full-bodied and complex wine. Especially given that it’s non-malo, it can be stored and should actually mellow over the next few years. You don’t usually think to age non-vintage Champagne but this may be an exception. But if bright fruit and big complementing toastiness is your thing, you may not want to wait.

Jumping up to the $60 point there are two bottles that stand out as pillars in defining my affection for Champagne. Bollinger & Dom Ruinart are very different and both fantastic. Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc NV is 100% chardonnay. It’s buttery biscuits and flashes of fruit and yeast. It’s complex and big and absolutely nothing like the even bigger and bolder Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee. Bollinger begs for a triple-cream cheese where Dom Ruinart would nicely blend in with Marcona almonds, chutneys and a variety of cheeses. At 60% chardonnay, the Bolli has all the butter and even more wood and bread and cream. It’s toastier. It’s addictive. The acid is hidden but entirely there. It’s one of the few bottles I can kill on my own and enjoy the last glass as much as the first.

–Josh Brusin