Category Archives: France – Champagne

Palmer & Co, Champagne (France) Brut Réserve NV

($60, Quintessential Wines):  I was unaware of this Champagne house until recently.  After tasting this beautiful bubbly, I’m glad I’ve been introduced.  At the outset, it’s important to note, its name notwithstanding, it has no connection to either Château Palmer in Margaux or Palmer Vineyards on Long Island.  This Palmer, founded in 1947, is a relatively new (at least by local standards) Champagne house that focuses on vineyards in the Montagne de Reims, where all of their grapes come from villages classified as either Grand or Premier Cru.  Though the Montagne de Reims is best known for Pinot Noir, roughly half of Palmer’s non-vintage blend comes from Chardonnay.  Pinot Noir accounts for about a third, with Pinot Meunier filling out the rest.  An amazing third of the blend comes from reserve wines, which helps explain the grandeur of this, their calling card bottling.  It combines elegance with just the right amount of intensity, giving the wine a real presence without being boisterous.  A terrific stand-alone sipper, it’s elegance and depth make it an easy choice at the table with grilled fish.  Although the suggested retail price is $60, I have seen it widely available for about $45, which would make it an excellent buy.
93 Michael Apstein May 18, 2021

Palmer & Co, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs, Brut NV

($90, Quintessential Wines): The grapes for this 100 percent Chardonnay come from Villers-Marmery and Trepail, two 1er Cru villages in the Montagne de Reims, a region otherwise known for Pinot Noir, and the Côte de Sézanne, a sub-region of Champagne just south of the Côte des Blancs.  The soil of the Côte de Sézanne is less chalky than that of the Côte des Blancs, which accounts for the relative fullness in the wines from this area.  Penetrating acidity balances and supports the extra oomph, which likely comes from the origin of the grapes, this Blanc de Blancs displays.  Five years of lees-aging also helps explain its complexity.  A fuller style of Blanc de Blancs, Palmer’s is wonderfully engaging and another example of a Champagne equally well-suited for the dinner table.
94 Michael Apstein May 18, 2021

Piper-Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Brut Cuvée NV

($45, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Founded in 1785, this venerable Champagne firm passed into the hands of the Descours family about a decade ago.  Its non-vintage Brut has since taken a leap in quality.  I remember Piper-Heidsieck as an ordinary Champagne a decade ago, lean and angular.  Well, that’s changed.  A red-grape-predominant blend (about 50% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier) explains its power.  The Chardonnay, that fills out the blend, and the use of 20% reserve wine, likely accounts for a striking elegance, which is all the more welcome considering the wine’s power.  It’s an excellent buy, considering how Champagne prices have taken off.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Champagne Devaux, Champagne (France) “Augusta” Brut NV

($40, Seaview Imports):  The Augusta refers to Augusta-Maria Herbin, Devaux’s wife, another widow of Champagne, who led the firm from 1879 to 1895.  Family ownership ended in 1987, when, according to their website, it passed to the Union Auboise, now Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux, a co-operative.  There are 22 coops in Champagne, accounting for over a third of all the wine pressed there, according to the Comité Champagne, the trade group that represents all of the growers and producers.  Coops, unfairly in my view, have a poor reputation.  Indeed, they often are the place to find value, since they have the ability to produce many wines of differing quality.  Take this one, for example.  Champagne Devaux is the coop’s flagship wine.  Most of the wine comes from the 2016 vintage with 20 percent reserve wine (older vintages) rounding out the blend.  A blend of Pinot Noir (80 percent) and Chardonnay, it delivers both power and elegance. Its engaging roundness allows you to enjoy it on its own before dinner, but its intensity and length means it’s fine at the table with, say, grilled swordfish.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 29, 2020

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) “Réserve” Brut NV

($69, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  This is a fabulously complex and elegant Champagne. Yes, it’s pricey for a non-vintage Champagne, but I think it’s worth it.  The website says that their non-vintage wine is an equal blend of all three varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, that has been aged on the lees for three years.  The back label explains that reserve wines, the average age of which is 10 years, comprise 40 percent of the blend.  That fact alone helps explain why it is so grand a Champagne.  And, believe me, it is grand.  Both suave and powerful, it has an almost never-ending finish.  For all its intensity, it’s incredibly elegant.
95 Michael Apstein Dec 29, 2020

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs, Brut NV

($96, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Charles Heidsieck is really on their game with their current releases.  The back label informs that the grapes came mainly from the Grand and Premier Cru villages, respectively, of Oger and Vertus in the Côte des Blancs, the region’s premier locale for Chardonnay.  This bottling contains 25 percent reserve wines, that is, wines from previous vintages that allow the winemaker to maintain quality and consistency of the blend.  The remainder of the blend came from the 2012 vintage.  It spent four years aging on the lees, which increases its complexity.  All of that explains why this non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is so riveting.  Steely, yet expansive, it blossoms on the palate and in the finish.  It demonstrates the elegance of Chardonnay.
94 Michael Apstein Dec 1, 2020

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Rosé Réserve NV

($87, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Charles Heidsieck is a name to remember when buying Champagne.  For some bizarre reason, it seems to receive less buzz than many of the other major houses.  But that is changing under the Descours family ownership since 2011.  Four years on the lees (the back label notes it was laid down in 2013 and disgorged in 2017) and inclusion of 20 percent reserve wine that averages a decade of age helps explain the wow factor this rosé presents.  Both powerful and elegant, it displays wild strawberry-like flavors buttressed by a strong spine.  The long and graceful wine is perfect as an aperitif.  But it is also a show-stopper with the meal.
95 Michael Apstein Dec 1, 2020

Champagne Devaux, Champagne (France) “Augusta” Brut NV

($40, Seaview Imports):  The Augusta refers to Augusta-Maria Herbin, Devaux’s wife, another widow of Champagne, who led the firm from 1879 to 1895.  Family ownership ended in 1987, when, according to their website, it passed to the Union Auboise, now Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux, a co-operative.  There are 22 coops in Champagne, accounting for over a third of all the wine pressed there, according to the Comité Champagne, the trade group that represents all of the growers and producers.  Coops, unfairly in my view, have a poor reputation.  Indeed, they often are the place to find value, since they have the ability to produce many wines of differing quality.  Take this one, for example.  Champagne Devaux is the coop’s flagship wine.  Most of the wine comes from the 2016 vintage with 20 percent reserve wine (older vintages) rounding out the blend.  A blend of Pinot Noir (80 percent) and Chardonnay, it delivers both power and elegance. Its engaging roundness allows you to enjoy it on its own before dinner, but its intensity and length means it’s fine at the table with, say, grilled swordfish.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) “Réserve” Brut NV

($69, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  This is a fabulously complex and elegant Champagne. Yes, it’s pricey for a non-vintage Champagne, but I think it’s worth it.  The website says that their non-vintage wine is an equal blend of all three varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, that has been aged on the lees for three years.  The back label explains that reserve wines, the average age of which is 10 years, comprise 40 percent of the blend.  That fact alone helps explain why it is so grand a Champagne.  And, believe me, it is grand.  Both suave and powerful, it has an almost never-ending finish.  For all its intensity, it’s incredibly elegant.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2020

Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Champagne (France) 1er Cru, Brut, Blanc de Blancs “Cuvée Cuis” NV

($55, Terry Thiese Estate Selection):  Blanc de Blancs (literally, white from whites) has no legal meaning except in Champagne where it means that only Chardonnay, a white grape, can be used.  The expectation, which is fulfilled dramatically with this wine, is a Champagne of purity and elegance.  Gimonnet’s also has a creamy texture and impressive precision and length.  Though a perfect summertime Champagne because of its refreshing, light-on-the-palate style, I look forward to drinking it year-round, and acquired a case of it for my cellar for that very purpose.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Joseph Perrier, Champagne (France) “Cuvée Royale” Brut NV

($42):  The Champagne firm of Joseph Perrier, founded in 1825, has no relation to Perrier-Jouët or Laurent Perrier.  Joseph Perrier produces a graceful and precise non-vintage brut from roughly equal amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  It’s a joy to sip and drink, in part, I suspect because it typically includes 20 percent of reserve wines.  It’s an elegant and clean Champagne that grabs your attention with its finesse, not its power.  Graceful.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 4, 2019

Besserat de Bellefon, Champagne (France) “Cuvée des Moines” Rosé NV

($61):  Grace and power is what comes to mind while sipping this Rosé Champagne.  The power comes from the red grape-dominant (70 percent), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, blend.  Chardonnay provides the elegance.  Full-bodied, but not flamboyant, it delivers hints of strawberries and other red fruit flavors.  Sure, it’s an excellent way to start an evening, but it’s equally enjoyable at the table because of its weight and brilliant acidity, which imparts freshness.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 4, 2019

Nicolas Maillart, Champagne (France) Grand Cru Brut Rosé NV

($50):  There’s no doubt about the power emanating from this Champagne.  It just needs time to reveal it.  Initially, it’s hard, almost severe.  But give it time in the glass, or as I did, re-stopper it and try it again the next day.  Then this blend of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay blossomed with glorious red fruit aromas which followed on the palate.  The spine of acidity that seemed hard the day before gave perfect support and balance.  This impressive bottling needs a couple of years in the cellar — the back label notes it was disgorged in July 2018 — or haul out your Champagne stopper.  
93 Michael ApsteinFeb 12, 2019

Lanson, Champagne (France) Brut “Black Label” NV

 ($45):  In my opinion, Lanson does not receive the credit it’s due.  Their non-vintage Brut combines a welcome steeliness and vibrancy with richness.  Geek alert — the vibrancy is, in part, due to their blocking the malolactic fermentation, action of bacteria that normally changes firm green apple-like (malic) acidity to softer (creamy) lactic acidity.  Few Champagne houses employ this winemaking technique because most probably feel that there is plenty of acidity in Champagne without it.  But Lanson pulls it off — at least for those of us who embrace that style of Champagne.  Its cutting style serves it well as a stand-along celebratory drink and well as an excellent foil for sushi.  
93 Michael ApsteinJan 15, 2019

Laherte Frères, Champagne (France) “Ultradition” Rosé NV

($50, Polaner Selections):  Made entirely from Pinot Meunier, this powerful yet graceful Champagne, shows how that grape, in the right hands, can excel.  The Pinot Meunier comes from old vines, which likely explains the wine’s elegance because that grape is more often used to bring fruitiness, not finesse, to the blend.  There’s certainly powerful fruitiness — wild strawberry-like flavors — framed beautifully by a straight spine.  Barrel-fermentation and aging along with a hefty dose of reserve wines helps explain the power.  But it’s the wine’s elegance and finish that makes you pause.  Great as an aperitif, it’s a wonderful choice for the entire meal.
95 Michael Apstein Sep 11, 2018

Champagne Gardet, Champagne (France) Brut Premier Cru Blanc de Noirs NV

($50):  This is a gorgeous Blanc de Noirs made entirely from Pinot Noir (60%) and Pinot Meunier grown in the Premier Cru village of Hautvillers.  Aromatic, with a prominent display of red fruits, it has the power of red grapes offset by a spine of acidity.  This nicely balanced wine easily stands alone, but has enough oomph and breeding to accompany grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein May 15, 2018

Diebolt-Vallois, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Prestige NV

($46, Petit Pois):  Diebolt-Vallois, a family domaine, is located in Cramant, a village in the heart of the Côte de Blancs, the part of the Champagne region that is best suited for Chardonnay.  Indeed, the grapes for this wine come from three villages in the Côte de Blancs that are rated Grand Cru:  Cramant, Chouilly and Le Mesnil sur Oger.  The wine, austere and elegant, is very edgy and long, showing the finesse of Chardonnay.  A lovely way to start an evening, it is also perfect with oysters. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Vazart-Coquart et Fils, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

($52):  Not many producers make a non-vintage Blanc de Blanc Champagne.  Fortunately, this small grower does.  Made entirely from Chardonnay grown in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly, it’s enticingly creamy and elegant.  A delicate toasty, yeasty element just adds to its allure.  A brilliant bead of acidity balances the richness.  It’s a Champagne that stops you in your tracks.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 3, 2017

Guyot Choppin, Champagne (France) NV

($30): Real Champagne at 30 bucks a bottle these days makes you stop and look. One taste makes you buy a case.  Fresh and delicately fruity, this lighter styled Champagne has the elegance and length you’d expect.  Those looking for a toasty bigger style of Champagne will be disappointed, but others who favor the more delicate style will embrace this bargain-priced bubbly. An excellent choice as an aperitif, its vivacity will enhance simply prepared fish dishes. 88 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Pommery, Champagne (France) “Apanage” Rosé Brut NV

($72): This is a show-stopper of a Rosé.  With eyes closed, it has the power and a hint of tannin — like the texture of peach-skin — that would make you think you’re drinking red wine.  Full-bodied, but elegant and suave, it’s a great as an aperitif, but also marvelous with food.  The spine of acidity will cut through a rich creamy sauce and enliven the palate simultaneously.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2017

Pommery, Champagne (France) “Cuvée Louise” Brut 2004

($100): Cuvée Louise is Pommery’s top of the line Champagne.  Made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from three Grand Cru villages, the 2004 is stunning, combining power and elegance.  The elegance comes from the Chardonnay and persists throughout the extraordinary finish.  The power, from the Pinot Noir, sneaks up on you in a very pleasant way.  It’s a long and refined wine, which is hard to put down.  And, as prices go for “tête de cuvee” Champagne, as these super-premium bottlings are known, it’s a bargain.
94 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2017

Boizel, Champagne (France) Brut Blanc de Blancs NV

($66, Palm Bay Imports): Blanc de Blancs on a Champagne label, unlike on the label of a still wine, actually means something very specific — the wine was made using only Chardonnay.  All Blanc de Blancs are expensive because Chardonnay is in great demand in the Champagne region and most are vintage dated, which adds to the price.  So it’s great to find a Blanc de Blancs non-vintage bottling and this one is luxurious. Its creamy elegant texture is striking perhaps because all the grapes came from villages ranked Premier or Grand Cru.  Long, balanced and light on the palate, you drink it effortlessly, and seemingly forever.  This is a wine for special occasions, or a regular Thursday night.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 29, 2017

Bérêche & Fils, Champagne (France) Brut Réserve NV

($46): So-called grower Champagnes, those made from one person’s or family’s vineyards, are all the rage.  I recommend this one, not because it is a grower Champagne, which it is, but because of its suave complexity.  Making Champagne from a limited number of family vineyards is a two-edged sword.  A plus is the wine’s potential to express a sense of place, or terroir.  A minus is the inability to even out the blend should localized weather problems affect the vineyards. Bérêche & Fils has the best of both worlds.  This, their standard Brut, contains about one-third reserve wine (the remainder is from the current vintage) and is a blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Importantly, their roughly 23 acres of vineyards are located in several areas of the Champagne appellation: different parts of the Montagne de Reims and the western part of Vallée de la Marne, which allows them to achieve complexity that comes, in part, from blending wines from different terroirs.  Creamy and silky with the perfect balancing backbone, it is an excellent choice as an aperitif.  But it has sufficient oomph to stand up to grilled swordfish or even a roast chicken. It’s important to remember that Champagne is a wine that goes beautifully with food.
92 Michael Apstein May 2, 2017

Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, Champagne (France) Rosé NV

($50): The blend — 90 percent Pinot Noir and the remainder Chardonnay — explains the power of this Champagne.  But its appeal is not just its power.  It has depth and most important, impeccable balance.  Nothing seems out of place.  Yes, drink it as an aperitif, but it’s sturdy enough to stand up to a salad Niçoise ladened with grilled rare tuna.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Drappier, Champagne (France) Brut Rosé NV

($55): Drappier, a small family-run house, has been making Champagne since the early 19th century.  They are one of the few houses that make a rosé Champagne entirely from Pinot Noir by the saignée method.  That is, they press the Pinot Noir grapes, let the juice and skins remain in contact for a few days, just enough time to extract a touch of color, and then perform the secondary fermentation on the resulting pink-colored wine.  (Most houses produce rosé Champagne by adding about 15 percent still red wine to the blend.) This gorgeous rosé Champagne combines power and elegant with a refreshing cutting edge. Refreshing as an aperitif, it’s a pleasure to take it to the table to accompany grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

A Champagne Article After the Holidays? What is He Thinking?

To some it will seem odd to read a column about Champagne after New Year’s and the holiday season.  (My editor will say it’s because I’ve missed yet another deadline.)  After all, the vast bulk of Champagne and sparkling wines are purchased and consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  Bob Harkey of Harkey’s Fine Wines, a top fine-wine shop in suburban Boston, notes that over 80 percent of his sales of fizz occur during that period of time.  Other retailers from around the country echo that statistic.

Non-holiday consumption is usually reserved for special occasions.  In restaurants, sommeliers report that two-thirds of bubbly sales are because of celebrations, according to a Guild of Sommeliers 2014 survey.  By comparison, only a trivial amount of Champagne is consumed at other times.

And that’s a shame!

First and foremost, what my friend Paul Wagner (one of the country’s top wine marketing experts) once said about Prosecco, “It’s a party in a bottle,” is true about Champagne or any sparkling wine.  Nothing enlivens an upscale dinner party, or even a simple pizza, as well as the pop of a Champagne cork.  Nothing says “welcome” to friends who stop over unexpectedly as that distinctive sound.  My advice: always–always–keep a bottle of bubbly in the refrigerator.

Second, what is most underrated about Champagne is its versatility with food. When you can’t immediately answer the question of what wine to serve with what food, open Champagne. You’ll be surprised how it enhances a meal. It goes perfectly with a remarkably wide range of dishes, from sushi or other crudo to a meaty steak.  The bubbles and acidity refresh and invigorate the palate.  I’ve consumed Champagne with pleasure throughout meals featuring everything from the trendy (and I hope soon to disappear) small plates presentation to tasting menus featuring so-called “fusion” cuisine to more traditional three-course meals.

Thirdly, for the quality and enjoyment it delivers, Champagne or sparkling wine is not expensive.  Sure, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon and Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne have three-digit price tags, but many superb non-vintage Champagnes can be found for $40 or less, and many superb sparkling wines weigh in at under $20 a bottle.  With white Burgundy and many California Chardonnays ringing up at twice the price, Champagne’s sticker does not shock.

A common misconception is that Champagne and sparkling wines go flat immediately after being opened.  Not true, especially if you use a simple Champagne stopper, which will keep the bubbles intact for at least a few days.

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Champagne, like all top French wine, takes its name from a place, in this case the eponymous region about 100 miles east of Paris.  By law Champagne must be made from two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, alone or in combination, that were grown in the region.  (A few other varieties are allowed, but rarely used.)  If made entirely from Chardonnay, the Champagne will be labeled, Blanc de Blancs.  If made entirely from the red grapes, it will be labeled Blanc de Noirs and be clear, not rosé, since the juice of these grape is clear.  Rosé Champagne comes from pressing red grapes gently to extract a hint of color, or by blending in a bit of still red wine.

Again, by law, the secondary fermentation, which creates the bubbles, must be performed in the bottle, not in a tank under pressure, as is the tradition for Prosecco, for example.  None of the other sparkling wines from Europe (Franciacorta from Italy, Crémant d’Alsace or Crémant from other parts of France, Sekt from Germany, fizz from anywhere in the European Union, for example) can be labeled Champagne even if made by the same method.  Since we in the U.S. do not subscribe to European regulations, California sparkling wines can still be labeled “Champagne,” though those produced by Schramsberg, California’s top producer, and the subsidiaries of French Champagne firms opt not to use the term.

Producers consider their non-vintage Champagne, despite being the least expensive of the line, to be their flagship because it reflects the house style consistently, year to year.   To make non-vintage Champagne, the winemaker blends still wine from the current vintage with still wines from previous vintages (reserve wines), which have been saved in hermetically sealed tanks, to achieve the house style.  The blended still wine is put into the Champagne bottle along with a little sugar and more yeast, and the bottled is capped.  The yeasts convert all the added sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide (the secondary fermentation).

Unlike the primary fermentation, this time the carbon dioxide becomes trapped because the bottle has been capped–hence the bubbles. The resulting Champagne rests on the yeast for months, or occasionally years, before the dead yeasts are removed, a process known as dégorgement (disgorging). To disgorge a bottle, it’s turned upside down so the yeasts collect in the neck of the bottle, under the cork.  The neck of the bottle is then frozen, entrapping the yeasts in a plug of Champagne.  The bottle is rapidly turned upright, uncorked–the plug shoots out because it is under pressure–and the bottle “topped up” with wine and a touch of sugar, known as the dosage, depending on whether the Champagne is Brut (the driest), Extra Dry or Doux (the sweetest). Some producers bottle a Champagne labeled Zero Dosage, Brut Zero or Natur, by adding no sugar at this stage.  These Champagnes are not for everyone.  Many consumers, myself included, find these types of Champagne to be very cutting, bordering on aggressive.

When the climate produces particularly noteworthy grapes, producers use only those grapes (and no reserve wine) to produce a vintage Champagne.  Though the vintage Champagne continues to reflect the style of the house (Bollinger’s will still be big and bold, whereas Moët’s will be more delicate) it also transmits the character of the vintage.  Ed McCarthy, author of “Champagne for Dummies” and one of America’s top Champagne experts, considers 2008 (which is just coming onto the retail market), 2002, 1996 and 1985 as exceptional years in Champagne.  Like other great wines, vintage Champagne develops beautifully in the bottle with age, as exemplified by the 1996 Pol Roger I enjoyed with a dinner recently.

What about those Champagnes with three-digit price tags?  Most houses produce a Super Premium Champagne referred to as a Cuvée de Prestige or Tête de Cuvée.  In addition to the aforementioned Dom Pérignon and Comtes de Champagne, Louis Roederer produces “Cristal,” Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin makes “La Grande Dame,” and Pol Roger crafts “Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.”  These wines are made only in “vintage years,” and only from the very best grapes (most, if not all, of which will have come from the company’s own vineyards).  Though these Tête de Cuvée Champagnes vary in style (Cristal is bolder whereas Dom Pérignon lighter), all are exceptional wines that benefit from prolonged bottle aging–the 1990 Comtes de Champagne is simply gorgeous, robust yet elegant, even now.

Though the so-called “grower” Champagnes have been around for decades, their popularity has soared recently as consumers seek “artisanal” production in all aspects of food and wine.  In contrast to the big name producers who buy a significant amount of grapes to make their Champagne, these growers produce Champagne solely from their own vineyards.  The big houses blend wines from many areas to achieve consistency of style.  In contrast, grower Champagnes reflect the specific area in which the grapes are grown, much like in Burgundy, because far less blending is involved.

Consumers often ask whether grower Champagnes are “better” than the ones produced by the big houses.  I don’t think you can generalize.  Grower Champagne will be less uniform–which is either a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.  They are certainly a welcome addition because they add another dimension to the category.

For 2017, put bubbles in you life.  First, buy a Champagne stopper.  If you still subscribe to the notion that you need “an event” to drink Champagne, celebrate Wednesday (or Thursday).  Try Champagne from a producer you’ve never heard of, perhaps André Jacquart ($55).  Or try Pierre Sparr’s Crémant d’Alsace Rosé ($20) or maybe Simonnet-Febrve’s Crémant de Bourgogne ($20).  Buy a bottle of Ca’ de Bosco’s Franciacorta ($35) or Ferrari’s Brut from Trentino ($23). Or why not Roederer Estate’s Anderson Valley Brut ($25)?

For more in-depth knowledge about Champagne, pick up a copy of Ed McCarthy’s “Champagne for Dummies.”  (Full disclosure, he’s a friend and a colleague here at WRO, but I assure you the book is not just for dummies.)

Nor is Champagne just for the holidays anymore.  And if you still can’t get your arms around that concept–then make every day a holiday!

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Email me your thoughts about Champagne and sparkling wines at and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 4, 2017

Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée Brut

Krug’s Grande Cuvée is like no other non-vintage Champagne, having more in common with other houses prestige bottlings, both in price and quality. Most Champagne aficionados know that Krug ferments all of its still wines in small oak casks, the only Champagne house to do so. Maggie Henriquez, Krug’s President and CEO, explains that the real benefit of this technique is to keep the wines separate to see how they develop before including them in the blend. Krug’s founder, Joseph Krug, felt that this “parcelization” was essential, lest a distinctive wine was lost when combined with more mediocre ones. One third to one half of the final blend of Grand Cuvée comes from their stock of 150 reserve wines, which date back 15 years. Since a typical vintage produces about 250 different wines that makes about 400 wines to taste just to get the blending started. No wonder Grande Cuvée is truly grand.

Vivino 2017 Wine Style Awards
November 30, 2016

Bollinger Champagne La Grande Année Brut 1996

Bollinger produces a bold style of Champagne that combines power and elegance. The power in this well-aged—but at 20-years of age, still very much alive—Champagne comes from the blends that emphasizes Pinot Noir (about 2/3rds) with Chardonnay filling out the rest, and the primary fermentation that occurs in oak casks. The elegance comes from talents of the winemaking team and their selection of only the best grapes for their vintage bottling. 1996 was a year that produced structured wines that were high in acidity, which in the case of Bollinger, is a perfect complement to their robust style.

Vivino 2017 Wine Style Awards
November 30, 2016

Gardet, Champagne (France) Blanc de Noirs Brut Premier Cru NV

($45): Those who prefer powerful Champagnes should search for Gardet’s Blanc de Noirs.  Made from a blend of red grapes — Pinot Noir (60%) and Pinot Meunier — grown in the premier cru village of Hautvillers, this is a powerhouse coupled with uncommon elegance.  The combination is captivating.  Four to five years aging on the lees (spent yeast) explains a warm toasty feeling this Champagne delivers.  One sip makes you stand up and take notice.  Yes, it’s fine as an aperitif, but it’s even more enjoyable with a meal.  I’d happily drink it with a roast chicken or even a steak.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 9, 2016

Besserat de Bellefon, Champagne (France) “Cuvée de Moines” Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

($62): There are only a hand full of Champagne houses that produce a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, that revered category of Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay.  I, for one, am glad that Besserat de Bellefon makes one — it is stunning.  Creamy and elegant with a hint of toastiness and straight spine of vibrancy makes this wine a great choice for celebrating.  Or, indeed, drinking with broiled swordfish.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 2, 2016

André Jacquart, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs “Brut Experience” NV

($55, Esprit du Vin): It’s unusual to find a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne.  This one is stunning and not to be missed.  The creamy elegance and precision for which Chardonnay-based Champagne is renown is immediately apparent.  Of course is doesn’t hurt that all the grapes come from their vineyards located in either Premier or Grand Cru villages on the Côte des Blancs, the best area in Champagne for Chardonnay.  The seemingly endless finish reinforces this wine’s appeal.  It dazzles you with its subtlety and finesse, rather than brute force. This wine is a bargain for what it delivers.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2015

Billecart-Salmon, Champagne (France) Brut Rosé NV

($88): Rosé Champagnes are versatile.  They are a luxurious treat as a welcome drink or aperitif for guests — or just for you and a spouse or significant other.  All too often, people forget that Champagne is a wine, and that rosé Champagne especially has enough power and intensity to be an excellent choice with lots of different — and often hard to match — foods.  Enter the Billecart-Salmon NV Rosé.  It’s long and luxurious with a firm backbone of acidity that keeps it lively.  A study in power and refinement, it’s a fine choice for either smoked or grilled salmon or even roast pork.  It’s also fabulous on its own.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2015

André Clouet, Champagne (France) Grande Réserve Brut NV

($47): André Clouet, a small grower located in Bouzy, a village prized for its Pinot Noir, makes this extraordinary non-vintage Champagne exclusively from that grape.  Combine six years of aging on the lees with that grape produces this wonderfully powerful Champagne.  Despite its muscle, there’s startling finesse and refinement that balances the nutty yeasty flavors.  A fine thread of acidity pulls it all together.  Sure, you can celebrate with it, but you could also serve it with poached salmon at brunch.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 28, 2015

Drappier, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs NV

($51, Dreyfus Ashby): Few houses make a non-vintage blanc de blancs because Chardonnay, the only grape allowed for that moniker, is not widely planted in Champagne and most producers need it to balance their blends.  Fortunately, Drappier does.  Creamy with a firm backbone, it delivers a paradoxical combination of richness and austerity that’s hard to explain.  Lovely as a stand-alone aperitif because of its length, its edginess makes it a brilliant choice to accompany sautéed shrimp, scallops or similarly rich seafood.
92 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Taittinger, Champagne (France) “Comtes des Champagne” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2005

($135, Kobrand Wine And Spirits): Taittinger’s top Champagne, Comtes des Champagne is a Blanc de Blancs made from Chardonnay grown exclusively in Grand Cru villages.   While the Comtes des Champagne is always one of the great prestige bottlings from the region, the 2005 is particularly noteworthy because it retains incredible vivacity despite the ripeness of that vintage.  Toasty and deep, it has the concentration and fullness expected from the warm 2005 growing season, but a verve reminiscent of the electricity of the 2004s.  In that regard, it’s the best of both worlds.  Its length reinforces its stature as a great wine.
95 Michael Apstein Dec 23, 2014

Pascal Doquet, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru 2002

($90, Robert Katcher Selections): Blanc de Blancs Champagne is rare, comprising only about five percent of all Champagne, and expensive since Chardonnay is planted only in the best sites — on the chalky soils of the small (8,000 acres) of the Côte des Blancs.  The Grand Cru moniker means the grapes for this wine came from only the best villages in the Côte des Blancs.  The 2002 vintage was a great one for Champagne and it’s rare to see one from that year still available on the retail market.  Pascal Doquet’s conveys the impressive combination of intensity and finesse.  A subtle creaminess, characteristic of Blanc de Blancs, adds to its suave texture.  A firm spine balances the intensity without being aggressive.  A persistent and fine, laser-like finish reinforces its grandeur.
95 Michael Apstein Dec 23, 2014

Marion-Bosser, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV

($55, Loubaton Imports): This producer’s Champagne was previously unknown to me.  That’s my loss and I now will try to make up for lost time.  Extra Brut Champagne is an extremely tough and expensive category to produce.  There can be no compromise on the quality of the grapes because the extremely low dosage means that there’s little sugar to cover up whatever flaws are present.  There’s no compromise with this gorgeous example.  Unusually full-bodied for a Blanc de Blancs, the elegance of Chardonnay is still clear and compelling.  A touch of yeastiness adds complexity without dominating.  Long and refined, this is a great way to celebrate the holidays or, frankly, to enhance broiled swordfish.  It delivers more than the price suggests.
95 Michael Apstein Dec 23, 2014

Pol Roger, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004

($120, Frederick Wildman): Pol Roger is one my favorite Champagne producers.  Their non-vintage bottling is consistently appealing and always well priced.  They are a small producer among the Grande Marque (big name) Champagne houses with only about 1.2 million bottles annually (Moët and Chandon, the largest house produces 20+ million bottles annually).  Pol Roger is also one of the few major houses to produce a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.  Don’t miss their 2004, a thrilling bottle of wine.  Sure, you can enjoy this extraordinary Champagne by itself because of its impeccable balance, but its depth and freshness, not to mention its extraordinary length, makes it a fabulous choice for a chicken and cream sauce.  It’s the epitome of power and elegance.  If you’re splurging this holiday season, here’s the wine for you.
96 Michael Apstein Dec 23, 2014

Taittinger, Champagne (France) “Les Folies de la Marquetterie” Brut NV

($100, Kobrand): Les Folies de la Marquetterie bottle is not meant to replace or compete with Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, which remains their Tête du Cuvée, or super-premium, Champagne.  Indeed, the blend of grapes in Les Folies de la Marquetterie leans heavily on Pinot Noir, whereas their Comtes de Champagne is made entirely from Chardonnay.  The grapes for it come from a single vineyard 10-acre parcel around the original château.  Taittinger ages a portion of it in oak barrels, then for five years on its lees, which along with the reliance on Pinot Noir, makes this a bigger, richer and rounder Champagne, almost giving the allusion of sweetness though the dosage is low, 9 grams, similar to the more steely Comtes de Champagne.  A great aperitif, its richness makes it a good choice at the table as well.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 4, 2014

Henriot, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

($59, Henriot, Inc): Henriot is one of the few producers to make a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne.  I, for one, am glad they do because it’s a real treat that doesn’t break the bank, like the super premium bottlings do.  Henriot’s has all of the glorious elegance and creaminess you’d expect from a Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay buttressed by a firm, but not an angular, backbone.  Long and fine, it’s a wonderful way to start — or end — an evening.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 4, 2014

Suenen, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs, Extra Brut NV

($63): Suenen is a small family run “grower” Champagne producer based in Cramant, one of the top villages in the Champagne region for Chardonnay.  The so-called “grower” Champagnes are produced from the family’s own vineyards without relying on purchased grapes as most of the big name houses do.  I don’t think you can generalize whether “grower” Champagne is better or not than those bubblies from the big houses.  It all depends on the individual producer.  Judging from this wine, Suenen is a top producer.  Suenen limits the amount of added sugar — hence Extra Brut — so the inherent quality of the wine shines.  And does it ever shine.  Its creamy luxurious texture caresses the palate while beautifully balancing acidity provides verve and freshness. You’re sad when the bottle’s empty.
95 Michael Apstein Jun 3, 2014

Georges Laval, Champagne (France) “Brut Nature” NV

($85, Transatlantic Bubbles): Georges Laval makes, what’s known in the industry, as “grower” Champagne.  That is, he makes Champagne from grapes grown in his own vineyards.  That’s in contrast to the big houses that own relatively little land and buy grapes from growers throughout the Champagne region.  Laval, based in Cumières, a village granted premier cru status, uses equally proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from his 10 acres of vineyards there for this Brut Nature Champagne.  In the Brut Nature bottling, he uses very little dosage, which allows the purity of flavors of grapes and the land to shine.  This is both a powerful (Pinot Noir speaking) and refined (Chardonnay speaking) Champagne that seemingly goes on forever.  Sure, you can drink it to celebrate, but don’t forget it you can bring it to the table and drink it throughout a meal.
93 Michael Apstein May 13, 2014

Jacquart, Champagne (France) “Cuvée Mosaïque” Brut NV

($36, JAD Imports): Jacquart, a small Champagne house, makes a stylish array of Champagne.  This, their non-vintage Brut, dubbed Cuvée Mosaïque, delivers a lush creaminess and a hint of baked apple. A firm backbone keeps this polished bubbly in balance.  Of course, it’s ideal as a stand-alone drink–and a very fine one at that — but it also reminds us that Champagne is great with a variety of dishes.  Try this one with sushi or turn a take-out roast chicken into a celebration.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Deutz, Champagne (France) Brut NV

($44, Adrian Chalk Selections): Deutz, an under-recognized house, makes consistently lovely Champagne that are pleasantly powerful — a substantial amount of Pinot Noir speaking — while retaining elegance.  This one, their non-vintage Brut, has an appealing roundness and mouth-filling quality. Their mid-weight style makes it easy to sip as an aperitif or to pair with a simply grilled white fish, such as sea bass. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Laurent-Perrier, Champagne (France) Brut 2004

($70, Laurent-Perrier USA): Relying on a substantial amount of Chardonnay in their blends, Laurent-Perrier consistently makes elegant and suave Champagne. The 2004, a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, continues that tradition. Creamy and delicate, it caresses the palate. There’s just the right amount of acidity in its very fine bubbles to keep it fresh and lively. Although it’s a wonderful way to start an evening, it would also be an excellent choice at the table to accompany scallops in a cream sauce or similar fare.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2013

Ruinart, Champagne (France) NV

($82, Moët Hennessey): Founded in 1729, Ruinart is Champagne’s oldest house.  They focus on Chardonnay, which explains why their stylish and elegant rosé contains such a large proportion of it in the blend, typically 45%.  The remainder of the blend is Pinot Noir, which contributes bright red berry fruit notes.  The Chardonnay imparts crispness and freshness and balances Pinot Noir’s more powerful contribution. Creamy and seductive, it is incredibly easy to drink.  It’s also one of the few top-notch rosés that come in half bottles.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 9, 2013