If you’re planning to invest in Champagne for the big night, here's a tip: Make sure it’s a really, really good one. There's plenty of inferior stuff on the market that is a waste your money—and frankly, you'd be much better off with a less-famous sparkling wine that will make a huge, well-deserved impression. But if your night calls for the fancy stuff, here are a few pointers so you can make sure you're not throwing your cash away (plus five excellent Champagnes to pick up so you won't go wrong).
A few guidelines first: When choosing a Champagne, the best approach is to avoid the big, Grandes Marques houses, which mostly buy their grapes from growers around the Champagne region of France, blending them to create their house style. Basically, the bigger the brand, the more of your money is destined for ad campaigns and product placement rather than straight to a killer bottle of bubbly. Instead, seek out small-production, “grower” Champagnes; that is, Champagnes produced by winemakers who also own their vineyards. The A to Z focus on production means you’re getting a singular focus and expression of one of the world’s most unique and incredible growing regions. If that expression comes from a truly skilled producer, there’s no better reason to spend a little (or a lot) extra. As a bonus, most grower producers also farm their vineyards organically/biodynamically. What’s not to love?
Here are five favorites to make your celebration extra special:
Raphael Bérèche is a rising star in Champagne, though not a newcomer: The 34-year-old is carrying on his family’s multi-generation legacy in the region. While he produces several cuvées at higher prices, “Beaux Regards” is a beautiful introduction to his style; lean, focused, and nuanced, with lemon blossom and saline minerality. Sourced primarily from a vineyard of Chardonnay planted by his grandfather in 1902, “Beaux Regards” connects past with present in a phenomenally delicate expression. If you must consume bivalves with your bubbles, this is the way to go.
Photo courtesy of Chambers Street Wines.
Think Champagne can’t age? Jacques Beaufort is here to prove you wrong. This nearly 30-year-old wine is a testament to the power and longevity of wines from a region most people knock back on December 31 and forget about for the next 364 days. Beaufort is a darling among those in the know, and for good reason: These wines are built for performance, and it’s quite a show. Ripe stone fruits? Check. Wild ginger spice? Orange blossom? Check. Check. Something savory you can’t quite put your finger on but you like (a lot)? Check. Save this one for your love interest—it’s a pure aphrodisiac.
About an hour-and-a-half drive south from “downtown” Champagne is a little subzone called the Aube. Still technically part of the Champagne region, this unique little enclave is home to some of Champagne’s most unique and interesting producers. Among them is Cedric Bouchard, whose single-vineyard, single-variety wines have made him a cult favorite among wine pros. “Les Creux d’Enfer” is one of his most limited wines, a dry rosé Champagne made from just three rows of Pinot Noir grapes, hand-harvested and crushed by foot. Bottled unfiltered, it’s a rustic, heady rosé with bramble berry and wild herb notes, fit for a full meal.
The Laval family has history in Champagne dating as far back as the 1600s, so it’s no surprise that current steward Vincent Laval seems to have an innate knack for dealing with the tricky growing conditions the region presents. If ever there was a hard-line traditionalist, Vincent is it, eschewing nearly all modern production trappings in favor of old-school methods. His “Les Hautes Chèvres” is a blanc de noirs — white wine made from red grapes — from a single parcel of old vines of Pinot Meunier, a grape you’re unlikely to find outside Champagne. The result is a deeply complex, spice-laden wine with incredible power and density.
Photo courtesy of K&L Wine Merchants.
Selosse is the darling of the avant-garde where Champagne is concerned. To keep it short, Anselme Selosse’s unique vision of Champagne’s potential is slowly changing the course of the region (which was dangerously close to resting on its laurels) for the better. In effect, his wines are now bottled catalysts; lucky for us, catalysts are delicious. Part of his vision involves a solera system of maturing his base wines, a rotating barreling system most common in sherry production. As with sherry, this method lends an oxidative expression to Selosse’s Champagnes, leading to rich honey and umami notes under a fine layer of lean mineral structure. The results are pretty mind-blowing, so it’s no wonder that Selosse Champagnes are among the most sought-after in the world.
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