by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Between now and the end of the year, many of us will be buying champagne or sparkling wine. In fact, most of these effervescent beverages are sold in the last few weeks of the month because consumers associate them with holiday celebrations. But any day should be a good day to drink champagne even if a birthday, promotion or wedding is not involved.
Champagne producers have much to cheer about as they close out what is expected to be a record year in sales. Champagne’s surge in sales is due largely to a pent-up demand for luxury among people who grew tired of being cooped up indoors for two years. There’s nothing like bubbles to put you in the mood to escape boredom.
The bubbles, as we’re sure you know, were initially considered a flaw by Benedictine monks who were frustrated when pressure from secondary fermentation burst the bottles. The Brits came to the rescue and invented a stronger bottle and actually perfected the process that the monks accidentally stumbled upon. The Brits experienced their own frustration: England’s cold wine-growing region was not suitable for champagne. Ironically, that’s not the case today – global warming has created a booming market for English sparkling wine.
Alas, supplies of French champagne have dwindled at the most critical time of the year. Like other imports, champagne has been held up by a congested supply chain and an increased demand. We’ve seen a scarcity of many popular brands, including the ubiquitous Veuve-Clicquot's yellow label. Many consumers were wise to scarf up their favorite champagnes early.
Not everyone can afford champagne – the French are entitled to its name because Champagne is a region unique to them. But those of you who turn to California and Oregon will be surprised to find prices that are often higher than champagne. If cost is a factor, look to Spanish cavas and Italian proseccos. Even South Africa makes sparkling wine – the Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc sells for $20-30 a bottle.
From California, we like J Vineyards, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa and Schramsberg. If prosecco is your pleasure, look for La Marca, Adami, Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Mionetta.
Probably the best bargain and the biggest surprise is Gruet Non-Vintage Brut ($15). New Mexico is hardly the place you expect to find great sparkling wine, but Gruet has been getting awards since it launched in 1984.
If champagne is your goal, look for Nicholas Feuillatte and Pommery, two reasonably priced wines. Otherwise, here are a few that will get your party started:
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Nicolas Francois 2007 ($160). We’ve been fans of this producer’s rosè for decades. It remains one of the most luxurious champagnes on the market. But this prestigious cuvee, made since 1964 in honor of its founder, takes luxury to another level. Nearly 80 percent comes from grands crus and it spends 10 years resting on the lees. Intense aromas and ripe apple flavors with hints of toast and mineral.
Champagne Louis Roederer Collection 242 ($60). This is the producer’s introduction to blends from multi-vintages. Roederer intends to release a new collection each year. Instead of seeking consistency year after year with its non-vintage brut, the new recipe takes the best from each vintage. In Collection 242, 56 percent comes from the 2017 vintage. All three grape varieties are used to make a round, floral and juicy champagne.
Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur NV ($55). A blend of 40 percent pinot noir, 40 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot meunier, this delicate but balanced champagne exudes luxury.
Champagne Lanson Le Black Label Brut NV ($50). From a well-respected producer, this champagne uses all three grapes to create a smooth mouthfeel with ripe cherry and citrus flavors and a toast aroma.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Multi-Vintage Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($80). Made entirely from first-pressed chardonnay grapes, this champagne has delicacy and finesse. It opens with grapefruit aromas and ends with citrus and apples.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec ($50). We add this slightly sweet champagne because it works perfectly at the end of the night by itself or with dessert. It’s a delicate but savory champagne with nutty flavors that will match well with pastries and similar desserts.
Villa Maria Earth Garden Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2020 ($17-20). Lemon and lime notes dominate with passion fruit elements that smooth out the citrus acidity. Smooth with a nice long finish.
Mouton Cadet White Bordeaux 2020 ($17). Mouton Cadet -- especially the white version -- consistently offers great value for consumers. Citrus and herbal notes dominate the palate. We also liked the rosé version as well with its beautiful color and ample fruit available at the same price point.
Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley 2017 ($17-20). A beautifully ripe pinot noir from Chile, this wine has strawberry and wild cherry fruit. An outstanding wine at a fair price.
Windracer Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Bloomfield Vineyard 2018 ($75). There is a lot going on in this premium priced pinot noir. Ripe cherry, tart cranberry, cola and spice contribute to this wonderful package. Very good now but should age well for several years at least.
Vietti Barbera d’Asti Barbera Tre Vigne DOCG 2019 ($18). One of the best buys in Piedmont, this barbera is loaded with bright red cherry flavors. Aged 14 months in French and Slavonia oak barrels, it has more complexity that most barberas. It’s a great wine to serve with tomato-based pasta sauces, pizza, burgers and more.
Cattleya Belly of the Whale Pinot Noir 2019 ($85). This Sonoma Coast pinot noir soared to the top in a small flight of California pinot noirs. We loved the bright and pure fruit character: tight black cherry and spice aromas with intense strawberry, plum and allspice flavors. The grapes are from a single, high-elevation vineyard.