Few wine preferences are as personal as Champagne, and with good reason. Most major producers have a distinct house style that runs through their product line. Some makers will emphasize either Chardonnay or black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), while others will be light or heavy on dosage (sweetness), but that individual style will cause consumers to consistently reach for a particular make of bubbly.
The following recommendations are based on tastings done in the past year, with a few personal favorites thrown in. Your palate may differ, but remember, if you’re drinking Champagne, life is good.
These Champagnes offer the best introduction to a house style and are the easiest bottles to find on a retail shelf. Most contain reserve wine from a number of older vintages, and sometimes have more complexity than their vintage counterparts.
Top Picks: Laurent-Perrier Brut ($45) contains nearly 50 percent Chardonnay. Crisp and focused with vanilla accents and lilting lemon flavors enhanced by mouthwatering acidity, it pairs well with a variety of fish and shellfish dishes. At the other end of the scale, Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut ($45) weighs in with 45 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide a rich, creamy texture along with considerable ripeness and depth, making it a good match with more substantial entrées.
If we compare NV to a choral arrangement, vintage Champagne is an aria sung by a soprano—there is no room for error, and both the potential pitfalls and rewards are significant.
Top Pick: Champagne production in 2005 had all the requirements for a vintage year—a hot summer, moderate rainfall, and an early harvest. Charles Heidsieck Brut 2005 ($95) is full-bodied, tart yet generous, with a faint suggestion of red fruits paired with flavors of honey, vanilla, and citrus. The wine cries out for Dover sole.
Blanc de Blancs
When properly made from exceptional grapes, Champagnes composed exclusively of Chardonnay can fairly be described as voluptuous. They stand out in a blind tasting for their opulence, generosity, and richness of fruit.
Top Pick: Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 ($160) is the flagship of the Taittinger range and it is nothing short of luscious. The creamy flavors of citrus and melon coat the tongue, giving way to a complex and layered mid palate that entices you to take another sip.
Rosé Champagne has traditionally been a rarity, and not by accident. Most houses have kept production intentionally low, resulting in short supply and higher prices.
Top Picks: Nonvintage Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé ($75) is dry and well-balanced with a haunting flavor of wild raspberry. The finish is long and succulent, with good acidity highlighting the red berry flavors. For a special experience, try Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2008 ($90); it is rich, ripe, and meaty with a range of earthy red fruits, a perfect match for salmon, tuna, poultry, and game.
The tête de cuvée is the ultimate expression of house’s style, and is a wine to be savored on special occasions.
Top Picks: Forego the familiar names in favor of a pair of sleepers from the 2002 vintage still widely available: Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or ($105) and Pommery Cuvée Louise ($140). Palmes D’Or, a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is rich and full enough to stand up to a wide range of foods. The Pommery is refined and elegant, with just a touch of tropical fruit to separate it from the pack.