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GREAT CHAMPAGNES 2018 | Our Picks to Enjoy All Year Long

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New Year’s Eve will have come and gone in a flash, but that’s no reason to stop drinking Champagne.

 

The special occasion, French bubbly made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir grapes (and also, sometimes, Pinot Meunier) is the perfect drink of choice to ring out a year 2017 that was the most divisive in America’s history since we had to decide if we were Team Edward or Team Jacob. And 2018 definitely promises we will need more Champagne. Lots of it. 

Besides, Champagne is one of the most versatile wines out there when it comes to pairing with food. It pretty much goes with anything—e.g. seafood, salad, cheeses, steak, Thai, Indian, sushi, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try it. 

There are three kinds of Champagne: really fucking expensive, expensive as shit, and pretty darn expensive. Psychologically, most of us wait a long time to find that special reason to pop open a bottle of for-real Champagne (i.e, not Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cremant, Cava or just plain “sparkling wine”). It might be a celebration of a first child or a second marriage (the one that’s going to last); it might be that promotion you finally got after stepping over and stabbing in the back whoever you had to in order to get it. Perhaps you won that huge progressive jackpot playing slots while stumbling back to your room at Caesar’s Palace at six in the morning. 

Regardless, the Champagne industry has done a remarkable job marketing the wine as a wine for life’s special occasions, and it has a price tag to match those emotional heights. Champagne is a splurge, but it’s also a wine that gives you a happy high like no other. There’s a reason why Champagne isn’t served after funerals. 

We’ve run the gamut—big houses, smaller négociants and grower estates—blanc de blancs, Pinot Noir-dominant and rosés—vintage and non-vintage (denoted as “NV” below)—and picked out some of the best bottles out there. If money’s no issue, don’t miss the peerless Salon. But a bottle of Krug comes pretty close in precision and romantic ethos. For bang-for-the-buck, few compare to Gosset, Lanson or Drappier, all relatively small estates. Pol Roger consistently lives up to its solid reputation and pedigree of refinement. Household brand names like Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Cristal and Dom Perignon remind you why they are icons. And then, there are those many names which are unfamiliar and hard to remember. All of the wines reviewed below each have a very memorable quality and deserve a special place on our tables throughout the year ahead. 

When it comes to Champagne, the only way to enjoy them is extremely indulgently. And responsibly (whatever). 


 

[$150 and Over]

 

SALON Blanc de Blancs “Le Mesnil” Grand Cru 2006 [$495].  There is one and only Salon—made only in great vintages from 100% Chardonnay and considered one of the world’s greats. It sure is, with its amazing precision, awesome structure, luxurious finesse, tremendous purity and great cut like a fine, rare diamond.  99 pts   search

 

POL ROGER Sir Winston Churchill 2004 [$250].  Awesome structure and density, beautiful balance and freshness, pristine clarity, warmth, strength and class—this is top of the class. And what a nose!—a smorgasbord of mint, jasmine, peach, citrus, nuts, cinnamon and more. Regal and wallowing in sheer magnificence.  98 pts   search

 

CRISTAL 2006 [$225].  The wine is an invitation into a chamber of pleasures—permission to indulge in entirely hedonistic and self-indulgent desires. The Cristal brand has a way of promising you the best orgasm of your life, and 2006 pretty much delivers. An explosion of flavor and creamy, silky textures.  98 pts   search

 

CRISTAL 2009 [$195].  The legend continues… flashy, ebullient and the object of envy, the 2009 elevates the genre with excessive balance and finesse, discovering a whole new level of hip hop soul.  There’s an ambience of chill, and the sweetness at the heart of this Champagne is purifying in its goodness.  97 pts   search

 

BILLECART-SALMON Brut “Cuvée Nicolas Francois Billecart” 2002 [$180].  The ’02, while not the current vintage, is still the most widely available of this marvelous Champagne. It’s the height of elegance and composure—a beauty contestant one can’t help but ooh-and-aah over. Texture and structure are flawless, and its bouquet of apricots, jasmine and other white flowers piques the interest immediately.  97 pts   search

 

KRUG Brut “Grand Cuvée” 164th Edition [$160].  Supreme elegance and absolutely pristine structure are the qualities that make lovers of Krug swoon. The latest bottling is very young and tightly wound—displaying a shiny crispness that will refuse to die—and there will be epic romance to uncover for those who are patient.  96-97 pts   search

 

DOM PERIGNON 2009 [$158].  The king of svelte and polished elegance shows its warm and fuzzy side. Great mouthfeel, wide open and dense on the palate, with regal touches of the floral and the mineral. Mellow and inviting, the wine exudes harmoniousness over elitism—it’s a sign of the times.  96 pts   search

 

DOM PERIGNON 2006 [$158].  Brilliant and exquisitely tight and linear in structure yet lush and ripe, the 2006 relishes in its contradictions and complexities. A voluptuously aromatic nose of candied almond, light toast and tropical fruits heralds in a gorgeously seamless and powerful experience.  97 pts   search

 

[$100–149.99]

 

TAITTINGER “Comtes de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs 2006 [$135].  With a signature, sexy bouquet of white peaches and white flowers, this is a coquettish Champagne with a sweet side and pitch-perfect tone. Mouthwatering citrus and excellent balance, on top of it all, make for a very pretty blonde.  96 pts   search

 

VEUVE CLICQUOT La Grande Dame 2006 [$145].  Sexy mousse that caresses the palate, this wine enchants with subtle, soft-whispering beauties from within. So very balanced and in possession of both great finesse and structure. White floral character—so pretty.  96 pts   search

 

VEUVE CLICQUOT La Grande Dame 2004 [$145].  Round and full on the palate, with lively mousse, and just the appropriate amount of dosage to delight even those who don’t have a sweet tooth—it’s all about layers of flavor and pampering the senses. Grand and fashionably feminine, indeed.  96 pts   search

 

PERRIER-JOUET Brut “Belle Epoque” 2008 [$140].  Crisp and alive—just shining with personality—this is as spirited and filled with the joy of life as Champagne gets. No way you can be depressed drinking this. Lithe, sleek and fanciful—and enchantingly floral upfront—you’ve got style, baby.  95 pts   search

 

POL ROGER Brut Rosé Vintage 2008 [$110].  Exquisitely balanced rosé  Champagne nonpareil—a cat sauntering calmy across a ledge of precarious heights—the wine elicits excitement and palpitations. Prominent, beautifully fresh notes of rose and red berries all the way through a bright, taut, lively finish. Gorgeous, and thrilling.  95-96 pts   search

 

[$70–99.99]

 

POL ROGER Brut Vintage 2006 [$90].  60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, there’s stately richness and weight aplenty here. It’s deeply expressive with flavors of peach, apple, brown sugar and hints of red fruit. The kind of Champagne you want in your hand when dressed up for a black tie, formal affair.  95 pts   search

 

LOUIS ROEDERER Brut Nature 2009 [$85].  Take the “nature” part seriously—this is one of the purest expressions of Champagne out there (there’s no sugar added and grapes are biodynamically farmed). So fresh and so clean—also stylish and overflowing with terroir-driven character.  95 pts   search

 

LOUIS ROEDERER Brut Nature 2006 [$85].  A sunny, lively and gorgeous wine is achieved without any sugar—must be the meticulous curation of grapes that grow on the south-facing slopes of the Roederer estate. The sun reflects off the river alongside the vineyards, and a sumptuous, artfully abstract wine is born.  95 pts   search

 

BILLECART-SALMON Brut Rosé NV [$80].  A bubbly rosé of such old-fashioned romance and polish—so clean and precise. Soft, fine, ethereal mousse introduces lovely textures and lovely fruit quality striking notes of strawberry, young cherry and blood orange and aroma of rose petal. Pair with Casablanca or Doctor Zhivago.  95 pts   search

 

VILMART & CIE “Cuvée Rubis” Brut Rosé NV [$80].  For those of us who prefer our rosé Champagne on the quiet side and are more impressed by the confident stature of a Jean Renoir film as opposed to the flashy stylings of Jean-Luc Godard, there’s Vilmart. Lovely textures of subtle pomegranate, young cherry and strawberry notes, finishing vibrant and refreshing.  94 pts   search

 

RUINART Brut Rosé NV [$75].  Like an emperor—stately, grand and austere pink Champagne. It’s all about character and stature and maintaining a commanding presence. A cerebral wine too, demanding attention to its layers of complexity. Behold, the emperor has clothes.  94 pts   search

 

GOSSET Grand Rosé NV [$75].  Starting with a rich, buttery nose, this is a sumptuous, creamy styled pink bubbly that finishes on a refreshing, scintillating note. Silky tannins, striking finesse, and layers of ebullient fruit flavors (cherry, cassis, orange peel) are all in exceptional balance for a wine of vibrant femininity. Quintessential rosé.  95 pts   search

 

VEUVE CLICQUOT Brut Vintage 2008 [$70].  Packed with that unique Veuve quality that hooks you emotionally. It’s a combination of refinement, unbridled romanticism, effervescence and warmth. Lovely floral quality, with exceptional balance of citrus and stone fruit flavors and attractively herbaceous notes.  94 pts   search

 

[$50–69.99]

 

LOUIS ROEDERER Brut Vintage 2009 [$65].  This is a big boy, with broad shoulders and serious heft—the weight of 70% Pinot Noir shaping the character of this wine. A nose of honeysuckle, acacia and jasmine, and notes of orange and golden apple tell you he’s a gentle giant.  94 pts   search

 

BOIZEL Brut Rosé NV [$60].  From a multi-generational family-run house of Champagne established in the early 19th century comes a delicate yet structured and graciously expressive pink bubbly. The floral nose is a potpourri of light, red berries and flowers, and it’s pure, clean and bright all the way through the enchanting finish.  94 pts   search

 

CAMILLE SAVES Brut Rosé Grand Cru NV [$60].  Fruit-driven and aromatic—red berries, mandarin orange and red potpourri notes stand out—there’s an engaging balance of warmth, softness and delicacy alongside flavor richness and bright acidity. Distinctive wine from a proudly independent, family-owned Grand Cru domaine.  93 pts   search

 

HENRIOT Brut Rosé NV [$60].  A perfumed nose like walking through Bloomingdale’s, this is highly fashionable rosé. Great style and elegance to the piquant notes of raspberry, red cherry and spice. Considering the reasonable price for this pristine level of quality, it’s always sale day at Bloomie’s.  94 pts   search

 

DEMIERE-ANSIOT Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV [$55].  It may be a Grand Cru, but the aesthetic choice is to be quietly sophisticated, not show-offy. Grower Champagnes have a chance to show more individualistic character, and this one doesn’t miss a beat. Lovely, expressive depth.  93 pts   search

 

DRAPPIER Blanc de Blancs Signature NV [$55].  Killer Champagne. 100% Chardonnay and crisp, bright, fresh, alluring, vibrant. Mousse is captivating. Exquisitely balanced and, truly, what artisanal Blanc de Blancs is all about. Appeals to the inner sommelier in all of us.  93 pts   search

 

MARION-BOSSER Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs NV [$53].  A mom-and-daughter team of growers creates this distinctively dry, crisp and clean, structured Champagne that’s offset by charmingly creamy mousse. Only a hint of sweetness, with overlying notes of lemon and brioche. Authentic and very memorable.  92 pts   search

 

DRAPPIER Brut Nature NV [$52].  100% Pinot Noir and 0% added sugar, this is Champagne that’s austere with crystal-clear precision. Its structure is so lean and amazingly dry, resulting in great cut. Not for everyone, but neither is modern art. Far from stark, this manages to be shining and bright.  92 pts   search

 

GOSSET Grande Reserve Brut NV [$52].  Has the seriousness and weight of a Reserve but still manages to be vivacious. Classic walnut and yeasty character, enchanting mousse, expansive texture on the palate, layers of fruit flavor and bright acidity— altogether one of the most desirable mid-level, non-vintage blends.  92 pts   search

 

BILLECART-SALMON Brut Reserve NV [$50].  A crowd-pleaser, for sure. With fine bubbles and quite sexy in the mouth, this is lovely and expressive stuff—fruit-forward in pear, peach and orange blossom notes. Scintillating and very vibrant.  92 pts   search

 

HURÉ FRÈRES “Insouciance” Brut Rosé NV [$50].  Step into the contemporary, and try this Rosé Champagne of 50% Pinot Meunier from a family-owned winery established just over 50 years ago. Very light pink, very bright acidity of red grapefruit, very dry—memorably so—and very stylish. Your shellfish partner.  92 pts   search

 

JOSE DHONDT Blanc de Blancs NV [$50].  A perfume of white fruits and flowers and citrus established on the nose carries through to the finish. With 8 grams of sugar, this is no reserved blanc de blancs. Instead, unabashedly pretty and fruity to the core. A Champagne of instant appeal.  92 pts   search

 

[$49.99 and Under]

 

LOUIS ROEDERER Brut Premier NV [$48].  This Champagne represents 85% of this venerable house’s production, and it’s a solid bet on its impeccable reputation. If you want fundamentals flawlessly executed and artisanal qualities that glow with authenticity for a reasonable price—look no further.  92 pts   search

 

POL ROGER Reserve Brut NV [$48].  With notes of melon, Asian pear and brown spices, plus lively mousse and substantial weight to its body, this is bubbly that’s both enjoyable and bourgeois. Considering its reasonable price and wide availability, one is hard-pressed to think of a more refined Champagne for non-snobs.  92 pts   search

 

PHILIPPONNAT Royal Reserve Brut NV [$46].  Everyone’s idea of what Champagne should be: on the sweeter side, soft mousse, broad on the palate, fresh and relatively fruity (peach and orange marmalade notes). Add fundamentally solid on every level and not too serious, and you have a winner.  91 pts   search

 

CHARTOGNE-TAILLET Brut “Cuvée Sainte-Anne” NV  [$44].  When in the mood for creamy, luscious and decadent, turn to this exemplary, organic grower Champagne.  The expression of terroir is pushed to the limit, and the purity is undeniable. Lovely, well-integrated notes of pear, green apple and grapefruit.  92 pts   search

 

LANSON Sec “White Label” NV [$43].  With 18 grams of sugar added, the “Sec” style here is very sweet—with lovely, redolent flavors of apricot, yellow peach and mandarin orange. The acid balance is key in determining how pleasant this luscious bubbly is ultimately. A great stimulant for delightful after-dinner conversations.  91 pts   search

 

DRAPPIER Brut “Carte d’Or” NV [$40].  Holy shit, what a value. Shockingly great bubbly from one of the premier boutique Champagne houses. Extraordinarily well-crafted, especially in structure and balance—possessing a great combination of superb fruit quality + reserved in character + brilliance in style. Yellow-gold in hue and a nose of stone fruit and white flowers that’ll get your attention.  92 pts   search

 

GOSSET Brut Excellence NV [$40].  A very fine place to start. Unintimidating soft texture due to malolactic, toasty character, and an even-keeled balance of all three classic Champagne grapes makes for a bubbly that plays it very successfully straight down the middle. Great entry-level wine from a revered house within pedigreed circles.  91 pts   search

 

LANSON Brut “Black Label” NV [$38].  With broad, pleasing mouthfeel and just the right amount of sweetness and fruit-forwardness of pear, apple and  white peach to suit contemporary palates, it’s hard to find an argument against this as the go-to choice for the everyday consumer. Fundamentally solid and an all-around performer.  90 pts   search

 


December 26, 2017

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