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Champagne for the New Year
By Ed McCarthy
Dec 28, 2021
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The custom throughout much of the world, particularly in Europe and in the Western Hemisphere countries, is to greet the New Year with bubbly wine, especially Champagne.  Of course, some people call any wine with bubbles “champagne,” but for me, only true Champagne, made in the Champagne region of northeastern France will do.  It is true that some very good sparkling wine is now being produced in southern England, but it is made in relatively small quantities, and very little makes its way to the U.S.  Plus, it’s in the same price range as Champagne—not available at “bargain prices.”

And so, Voila!  I am sticking to Champagne with a capital “C.”  I have been lining up some of my best Champagnes for the New Year’s season, which often extends a week or two into the year itself.  This is the time to bring out the well-known names, such as Dom Pérignon and Roederer Cristal—although I save the best Vintage Champagnes (such as 1988, 1996 and 2002), for friends who appreciate such things as “good” vintages, and for my wife and myself.

When it comes to Champagne, I buy only wines with established reputations; I splurge on Champagne more than other wines because, for me, Champagne—which I always pour first during get-togethers—leaves that important first impression.

Let me share with you a few rules that I follow when I serve Champagne:

1) Always serve Champagne at a cold temperature—not ice cold, but cold.  The bottle should feel cold to the touch, about 45 to 50 degrees F.  Champagne is at its best in this range.

2) Put the bottle into an ice bucket (or back into the fridge) after pouring; it can warm up very quickly, especially in over-heated apartments or houses, and warm Champagne is not very appealing.

3) Don’t serve Champagne with strongly flavored foods that can interfere with the delicate taste of your Champagne.  I recommend mixed nuts, simple crackers, or other simply-flavored hors d’oeuvres—definitely not strong-flavored cheeses!

4) Discuss the Champagne with your companions; sometimes people get carried away with talking and drink their Champagne without being aware of what they are drinking.  I always make sure to ask, “What do you think of this Champagne?”

Below I list some of my favorite Champagnes that I recommend for the occasion. 

In general, about 85 to 90 percent of all Champagnes are Non-Vintage (NV).  This means that they are blends of two or more vintages.  Vintage Champagnes are composed of wines from just one, typically good vintage year.  Vintage Champagnes are generally more expensive, although a few costly NV Champagnes also exist.

Rosé Champagnes have become very popular over the last couple of decades; they can be as dry as white Champagnes, and tend to be slightly higher-priced.  Another popular type of Champagne is Blanc de Blancs; as the name suggests, only white grapes, often 100% Chardonnay, are used to make Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.  Most Rosé Champagnes, in comparison, are composed of two dark grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) plus Chardonnay.

People often ask me what my favorite Champagne is.  I really have many favorites, depending upon the occasion.  But my one “go to” Champagne, when it is available, is Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Réserve; it is moderate to full-bodied, very flavorful, and always reliable.  Historically, this Champagne played an important role in making Champagne popular in the U.S.; its founder, “Champagne Charlie” Heidsieck, a very colorful character, came to the U.S.  in the 19th century and publicized his Champagne.  Apparently, he was a great salesman!  Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Réserve is generally available throughout the U.S.; its retail price range is $45 to $55.

NV Brut Champagnes that I Recommend:

Louis Roederer Brut Collection 242 (formerly “Brut Premier”)…$48 to $55

Jacquesson Cuvée 744 Extra Brut (premium; worth the price) $65 to $80

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut (full-bodied; drink with dinner)…...$55 to $65

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée (light/medium body; scarce) $48 to $60

Pol Roger Brut Resérve (very reliable; medium-bodied)………$43 to $49

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial (largest Chmpagne house; solid) $40 to $50

Deutz Brut Classic (a personal favorite; elegant; complex)…$39 to $50

Georges Laval Cumiéres Premier Cru Brut Nature (Grower; dry)..$80 to $89

Paul Bara Reserve Grand Cru Brut (Grower; highly regarded)…$49-$55

Georges Laval and Paul Bara, mentioned above, are two of the many “Grower” Champagnes being made today, and two of the best.  Champagne production had been dominated by the large negociant” houses, such as Moët & Chandon and G.H. Mumm, who purchase most of their grapes from farmers.  After World War II, many growers began to market their grapes under their own name.  Paul Bara was one of the first; founded in 1860, Bara was way ahead of the curve, already well-established as a Grower-Producer by the 1920s.


Vintage Champagnes that I Recommend:

When kept in a cool place, Vintage Champagnes can last for decades.  However, I do not recommend your seeking out older Champagnes unless you are certain that the bottles have been kept in cool storage.  55 to 56°F (or lower) is ideal.  The oldest really good vintage you might be able to find retail is the 2012, but not much is around today.  Try to buy 2015 Vintage Champagnes; they are now becoming available, and should last for decades, if kept in a cool, dark place.  The next great Champagne vintage is 2018, but the 2018s are not yet in the U.S.  Look for them when they arrive.  Some Champagne Houses specialize in producing long-lived Vintage Champagnes; I recommend the following producers:  Bollinger, Louis Roederer, Charles Heidsieck, Henriot, Gosset, Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger, Taittinger, Ruinart, and Lanson.  A few other producers are listed in my “Premium Champagnes” section below.     


Rosé Champagnes that I Recommend:

Most Houses produce a rosé Champagne, a type which is extremely popular today.  A few houses, such as Billecart-Salmon and Laurent-Perrier, specialize in Rosé Champagnes.  In addition to these two, Some of my favorite Rosé Champagne producers include the following: Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne Rosé, Pommery Louise Rosé, Ruinart Dom Ruinart Rosé, and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé.  Plus a couple of others that I mention in my Premium Champagne section below.


Blanc de Blancs Champagnes that I Recommend:

Blanc de Blancs Champagnes are one of my favorite types of Champagnes—especially the ones that I recommend here: Vintage Delamotte, Deutz, Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires, Jacquesson, Mumm de Cramant, Philipponnat Grand Blanc Brut, Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs, Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs, Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs.  Plus, a couple of others that I mention in my Premium Champagne section below.


Premium Champagnes that I Recommend:

The Champagnes in this section are undoubtedly regarded as the best (and they are the most expensive) Champagnes made today.  Two producers make only Premium Champagnes: Krug and Salon—both legendary Champagne Houses.  

Salon is a small House making only one Champagne, its Le Mesnil.  It is an amazing Blanc de Blancs, made from its home village in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, considered the best village in the Côte des Blancs area in Champagne.  Salon’s longevity is amazing; I have seldom consumed a Salon Champagne that was at its peak moment; Salon is best when it’s at least 20 years old, I believe.

For many Champagne lovers, Krug is at the top of the Champagne pyramid.  Nobody considers its signature Champagne, Grande Cuvée, as just another non-vintage Champagne; it is in a class by itself.  It is produced every year from a blend of more than 120 wines, from ten or more vintages, some up to 15 years old, from a blend of the standard three Champagne grape varieties—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier—and is re-created every vintage.  Krug’s Vintage Champagne is sought after; it lasts forever, it seems.  I would not drink Vintage Krug until it’s at least 10 years old, but better yet,15 years old or more.  Krug also makes a firm Rosé, for some critics the best Rosé around, if you like this style.  But its best Champagne of all is its single-vineyard Blanc de Blancs, Clos du Mesnil.  Its price puts it out of reach of most consumers: $1,400 and up, depending on the vintage.  I bought a 1988 Clos du Mesnil when it was first released, at a reasonable price.  It now sells for $3200.  Dare I drink it?  For me, Clos du Mesnil is the greatest Champagne of all.  Krug also produces a single-vineyard Pinot Noir Champagne, Clos d’Ambonnay Brut, which retails for more than twice the price of the Clos du Mesnil (average price, $3172) because so very little is made.  But for me, Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is superior to the Clos d’Ambonnay.

Other premium Champagnes have somewhat larger productions than Krug and Salon, and—except for the Bollinger listed below—are more available.  Among my favorites are the following:

Louis Roederer Cristal—For many Champagne aficionados, Cristal is the greatest Champagne of all.  It needs time, ten years or more, to be at its peak.  Its even rarer Cristal Rosé is in a class by itself for Rosé Champagne lovers (and that includes almost everybody!).

Bollinger Blanc de Noirs Vielles Vignes—A rare Champagne made entirely of Pinot Noir from two very old vineyards.  A memorable Champagne that you should try at least once in your lifetime.  It has a miraculous finish.

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses—One of my very favorite Champagnes, made from the very old single-vineyard, Clos des Goisses, undoubtedly one of the great vineyards in Champagne.

Dom Perignon—Owned by Moët & Chandon, but separately run.  Dom Perignon is probably the most well-known Champagne of all.  Despite its large production, It is always a great Champagne, always reliable.

Charles Heidsieck Vintage Blanc des Millenaires—A great Blanc de Blancs    with an extremely long finish.  It can age for decades.

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elizabeth Salmon Rosé—This, for me, is Billecart-Salmon’s best Champagne.  This House specializes in Rosés, and this premium Rosé is clearly its best.  It has the weight of a great Rosé.

Gosset—A very old House, Gosset is making several premium Champagnes—Célébris, Célébris Rosé, and my favorite, Célébris Blanc de Blancs.

Henriot—Henriot is now producing two great premium Champagnes, Cuvée Hemera, made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Grand Cru vineyards, and  Cuvée 38, a Blanc de Blancs from four Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, made in magnums only (1,000 bottles per year).  

Piper-Heidsieck—Although Piper-Heidsieck’s other Champagnes are of average quality, this House reaches its zenith in its prestige cuvée, “Rare,” made from a blend of eight crus, mainly Grand Crus, 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir.

Deutz—Deutz’s premium Champagnes are its Amour de Deutz, a classic Blanc de Blancs, and Amour de Deutz Rosé.

Alfred Gratien—Cuvée Paradis and Cuvée Paradis Rosé are Gratien’s excellent prestige cuvées.

Laurent-Perrier—Cuvée Grand Siècle and Cuvée Alexandra Rosé are the two famous Laurent-Perrier prestige cuvées.

Perrier-Jouet—Fleur de Champagne and Fleur de Champagne Rosé are the two very popular Perrier-Jouet prestige cuvées—especially in the U.S.

Pol Roger—Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is Pol Roger’s great prestige cuvée.

Pommery—Champagnes Louise and Louise Rosé are Pommery’s prestige cuvées.

Ruinart—Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs  and Dom Ruinart Rosé are its two prestige cuvées.

Taittinger—Comtes de Champagne, both its Blanc de Blancs and its Rosé, are Taittinger’s two prestige cuvées.

Veuve Clicquot—La Grande Dame and La Grande Dame Rosé are the widow’s two prestige cuvées.  

The Champagnes in this column are ones that I recommend that you enjoy, on New Year’s Eve and throughout the coming year, 2022.
  



More wine columns:     Ed McCarthy