This year during the holiday season we think it is more important than ever to do some celebrating. The holidays are traditionally about celebrating. For 2020, most of us will not be able to celebrate with all the people we would like to celebrate with, due to the travel and gathering restrictions made necessary by the spread of COVID 19. The size of the celebration must be smaller, but it is still possible to celebrate. Just making it to the end of 2020 is a reason to celebrate!
Of course, the world’s most celebratory drink is Champagne, the wonderful sparkling wine made only in the eponymous region in northern France.
In this article we want to tell you about the different types of Champagne that might suit how you will be celebrating this holiday season. Depending if you will be dining with your Champagne or just enjoying it as an aperitif, or whether you want to splurge or keep things within the budget or look for something interesting or stick in the main stream, there is a Champagne especially for you this holiday season. We will give you several of our recommendations.
As we discussed in this article, Champagne is all about blending. Different grapes, different regions and often different vintages can all be blended together for great effect.
The most common Champagne that you will see on the shelves is Non-Vintage Brut.
NV Brut is a blend of several different harvests (multi-vintage might be a better term) and Brut is the dry style of Champagne. This is the work-horse Champagne, usually the biggest seller within the Champagne House’s range. Plan to spend CAD $50 to $80 per 750 ml bottle for this category. All of the big houses produce an NV Brut and you will readily find some made by Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, Charles Heidsieck, Bollinger, Taittinger and others. Our recommendation from the big producers would be the Roederer NV Brut. Priced right in the middle of the pack, Roederer delivers complexity with great texture and feels much more luxurious than its fair price point would suggest.
If you want to step outside of the mainstream, try a Grower Champagne. The big houses mentioned above typically get less than half of their grapes from their own vineyards. The balance they buy from other growers, vineyard owners in Champagne who sell most of their crop to other larger Houses.
Some of those growers hold back part of their crop and vinify small amounts themselves. Whereas the NV Bruts from the big Houses tend to express the entirety of the Champagne region, the growers will represent a much smaller, more focused part of Champagne, sometimes just a single vineyard.Grower Champagne has been an expanding category getting lots of love from sommeliers and the wine press. Growers we recommend include Paul Bara, José Dhondt, Agrapart and Larmandier Bernier, among others. A great Grower Champagne to try, and one that is fairly accessible is Delamotte, sister winery to the ultra-expensive and ultra-recherché Salon Champagne.
Another detour off the main path is to try a Champagne made from just one of the three main grapes grown in the region.
Those grapes are two black grapes: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and one white grape: Chardonnay. Wines made solely from Chardonnay are called Blanc de Blancs and those made from just a Pinot are called Blanc de Noirs. Blanc de Blancs are lean and racy, usually very dry. Blanc de Noirs are fuller rounder and more textured and can be terrific at the dinner table, though Blanc de Noirs are generally difficult to find. One of our favourites is Paul Bara Special Club. A great Blanc de Blanc to try is grower Larmandier Bernier’s L’Attitude.
And don’t forget Rosé! This is the lovely pink Champagne that somehow takes the celebratory nature of Champagne and elevates it. Rosé Champagnes are usually made by adding still Pinot Noir to the clear or white sparkling blend. The amount of still wine added is usually between 10% and 15% of the total; just enough to give it that lovely salmon pink colour. We find that rosé Champagnes will often have red fruit characteristics in the flavours: hints of strawberries or apple skins. The reference point for good NV Brut Rosé in our opinion (and many others) is Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé.
Moving up the quality ladder are the Prestige Cuvées that many houses produce.
These can be considered the “reserve” category of NV Brut. Expect to pay $70 to $100 for these wines. These wines will take grapes from the better vineyards as well as usually have more back-vintages in their blend. One we wrote about recently is Veuve Clicquot’s recent entry to the category, Extra Brut Extra Old. Extra Brut is drier than regular brut, having half or less of the residual sugar permitted to be used in Brut. Whereas a regular NV Brut may go back 5 or 6 vintages, Veuve Clicquot blends 8 vintages going back as far as 1999. This brings out great complexity and some of the mature notes that only come with long ageing. Other Prestige Cuvées worth checking out are Bollinger Special Cuvée and Billecart Salmon Cuvée Reserve.
Next up on the quality scale is Vintage Champagne. These are Champagne’s made from a single year’s harvest, as opposed to the more traditional blending of several vintages.
These wines are generally made only in very high-quality years, perhaps 3 to 5 times a decade. Great recent vintages have been 1990, 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2008. Most of those vintages have been gobbled up by consumers and you are not likely to find many around. 2009 was a good vintage but stay away from 2010 and 2011, both very difficult vintages. Best wait for the terrific 2012s that are starting to hit the shelves this year. The critics are raving about the vintage, the best since the incredible 2008. 2013 also is getting great reviews but we have not seen it in stores yet. One of our very favourite vintage Champagnes is Pol Roger Millésime. Only made in top vintages, the 2012 is currently on the shelves and well-worth seeking out. Expect to spend $100 to $150 a bottle for vintage Champagne.
At the top of the Champagne pyramid are the Tête de Cuvées. These are limited bottlings of the House’s very best efforts, splurge Champagnes that will cost you $150 or more, and will thrill you with the quality of what is in your glass! Almost all Tête de Cuvées are vintage Champagnes.
A few notable exceptions to the rule include Andre Clouet’s Une Jour de 1911 and Laurent Perrier’s Grande Siècle. Both wines choose a base year and blend it with smaller amounts from a preceding and a following vintage. Easily the most recognizable name among the Tête de Cuvées would be Dom Perignon, the crowning achievement of Moët & Chandon. A recent Dom Perignon dinner we attended had several vintages of Dom, including one of their very exclusive Rosé. Each of the wines was extraordinary and a testament to how good the finest Champagnes can be. Other Tête de Cuvées that are well worth seeking out are Pol Roger’s Pinot Noir-dominant Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill and Taittinger’s Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne.
This has been a perfectly horrendous year, one that we cannot say goodbye to soon enough. So, at some point during the holidays we will open a Tête de Cuvée to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020 and say it in style. We hope that you will find some room in your holiday to make it special by opening a bottle of Champagne of any type and make your special time just that more special.