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Brian St. Pierre

Professional Wine Expert

Best Champagne & Expensive Champagne

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  • WineInstitute
Champagne is the best-known wine in the world; you could also say it’s the most celebrated, except that the idea always becomes self-referential - we celebrate everything with Champagne, which makes it a sort of Zen equation: It’s both journey and destination, a means to an end and an end in itself. Luckily, it’s also so delightful that serious thoughts float away with the bubbles. Charles Dickens called it “one of the elegant extras of life,” while Napoleon took it into battle with him (his motto: “In victory, you deserve it, in defeat you need it.”) For those of us who can’t watch a championship game without regretting how much first-rate bubbly is going to be sprayed over a bunch of sweaty athletes at the end, it’s just a delicious affirmation, more of a necessity than an extra.

Technically, it’s amazing that Champagne tastes so good. Although it’s made from fine-wine grapes, especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Champagne region is so cool that the grapes don’t quite ripen, and because most Champagne is made as a white, the wine is drained away from the flavorful and colorful skins of the red Pinot grapes as soon as it’s fermented. Then, after a few months, wines from different parts of the region, and often different grapes as well, are blended together, with some older wine from previous vintages added. If any other wines were made that way, they’d be lucky to fetch five bucks a bottle.

Instead, Champagne is not only consistently expensive, it’s also continually successful: Sales have been increasing for decades, and the governing body in France just responded to the increased demand by passing a law expanding the vineyard area - by a mere 3 percent, which is major news not only because it’s the first change allowed in 80 years, but because the upgrade will increase the value of the lucky vineyards by more than $750,000 an acre.

The question of value comes up often with regard to Champagne. With most wine, you get what you pay for most of the time, but in this case, there’s that celebratory image, that luxurious mystique, the sheer glamorous aura of the stuff, that can make it difficult to judge. Is Cristal, copiously swilled by rappers and rock stars, worth $300-500 a bottle? Dom Perignon, named for the alleged inventor of the wine, costs almost as much. Value? I don’t think so, but as Duke Ellington once said, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it.”

Most Champagne - more than 90 percent - is non-vintage. Luxury blends and vintage versions can be marvelous, as well they should, but the best of the non-vintage Champagnes are really fine wines, quite marvelous too. One thing that makes them so is the amount of older wine, known as “reserve wine,” that is blended in, to give the wine complexity and depth of flavor; this is the advantage the best-known, well-established older brands have. Each aims for a specific “house style” in their skillful blends, so if you find one you like, you’ll probably enjoy it again and again over the years.

The Best Non-Vintage Champagnes:
The new releases are coming out right now - Spring 2008 - and these notes are based on extensive tasting of those newest versions. Some blends may be slightly different from earlier in the decade, because of poor harvests in 2001 and 2003, which meant more reserve wine had to be used to bring the wines up to par and some wineries are still re-building their stocks.

With the best champagne, celebrate the perfect moments in your life. We recommend expensive champagne and cheap champagne that offers superior quality at the best price.

Best Champagnes by Brian St. Pierre

The Best You Can Get

  • Gosset, Brut Excellence

    Brian says: This is the oldest established Champagne house, founded in 1584, not just long-standing, but with a real pedigree - their own vineyards are among the most highly rated in the region, and the grapes they buy are similarly blessed. Some of the wine is aged in oak casks, for even more complexity and depth of flavor. Most Champagne is ready to drink when you buy it, and this one certainly is, but it will also age well for a few more years, mellowing into nutty, toasty roundness.

    • From the oldest established Champagne house, founded in 1584
    • More complexity and depth of flavor
  • Krug, Grande Cuvée

    Brian says: For many people, this is the best Champagne of all; it is certainly the most distinctive. The wine is first fermented in oak casks, then blended (often from as many as 40 wines from eight different vintages), and then aged in bottles for several years. The results are wines that are notably bigger, richer, and more sensual then most, but still possess considerable elegance. They can, and probably should, be aged even further, but I can never resist for that long.

    • For many people, this is the best Champagne of all
    • Most distinctive
  • Louis Roederer, Brut Premier

    Brian says: It’s easy to remember the founding date of this great house - 1776. They own more land than most, and the vineyards are rated at a quality level of 100 percent. Many of the reserve wines (and they have a lot of them) are stored in large oak casks, giving the family cellarmaster plenty of delicious options for blending. This version gets a lot of its richness from Pinot Noir, which dominates the blend, and also contributes persistent, long-lasting flavor.

    • Persistent, long-lasting flavor
    • Vineyards are rated at a quality level of 100%
    • Pinot Noir dominates the blend
  • Taittinger, Brut Réserve

    Brian says: Taittinger is the youngest of the great Champagnes, having been founded in 1930 (although the vineyards had been in production for centuries). This wine depends more on Chardonnay in the blend, and it shows in the way the wine is well-rounded yet lively. It’s versatile - fine on its own but will also go nicely with food, such as smoked sturgeon or fish mousse.

    • Youngest of the great Champagnes
    • Depends more on Chardonnay in the blend
    • Well-rounded yet lively
  • Veuve Cliquot, Yellow Label

    Brian says: The bright yellow label is unmissable, and the house style is quite distinctive, too. This is one of the grand old houses in Champagne, but the winemaking is thoroughly up-to-date, aiming for technical perfection that does right by their top-rated vineyards and ancient history. The wine is light and fresh at the start, but then you notice the depth of flavor and the persistence of its freshness. If this wine can’t make you smile, and keep smiling, there’s no hope for you.

    • Quite distinctive
    • Light and fresh at the start
    • Depth of flavor
    • Bright yellow label

You will be happy with any of these

  • Deutz, Brut Classic

    Brian says: Though they are certainly quite dry, Deutz Champagnes always tend to be notably fruity, and a little light; they’re enormously charming. They’re also known as the wine that winemakers in other parts of France like to serve - a good enough testimonial.

    • Quite dry
    • Tend to be notably fruity, and a little light
  • Charles Heidsieck, Brut Réserve

    Brian says: The founder of this house was known, in the mid-19th Century, as “Champagne Charlie,” not only for his free-wheeling style, but also for helping Americans develop a taste for bubbly. The house style is for moderately serious wine, tending toward roundness and fullness.

    • Moderately serious wine, tending toward roundness and fullness
  • Laurent-Perrier, Rosé Brut

    Brian says: If you wonder whether pink wine can be serious, just try this perennial favorite, always popular, always reliable - it delivers considerable flavor. The Pinot Noir in the blend is held on the skins while it ferments, making it naturally pink and creating a light, almost raspberry aspect to its delightful taste.

    • Naturally pink
    • Light, almost raspberry aspect to its taste
    • Always popular, always reliable
    • Considerable flavor
  • Phillipponat, Royal Réserve Brut

    Brian says: This one’s the sleeper in the pack, not well known, but one of those discoveries that’s quietly talked up by connoisseurs. It offers absolutely straight-ahead, classic Champagne character, with an aroma of fresh brioche and a hint of wild flowers, and a clear, fresh, lightly citrus aftertaste.

    • Quietly talked up by connoisseurs
    • Absolutely straight-ahead, classic Champagne character
    • Clear, fresh, lightly citrus aftertaste
  • Pol Roger, Brut Réserve

    Brian says: This is always known as Winston Churchill’s favorite wine (a luxury version is named for him), but there’s more to it than that - it’s elegant, with a lot of finesse, really charming, and this newest version is stylish and perfectly balanced.

    • Winston Churchill’s favorite wine
    • Elegant with a lot of finesse
    • Stylish and perfectly balanced

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The best champagne can be very expensive. We recommend these expensive champagne selections as well as cheap champagne that has superior quality at the best price on the Web. This good champagne is perfect for any celebration, from a big job promotion to getting engaged to the love of your life to a special birthday party.