Click here for part 1. December is a perfect time to indulge in Champagne because prices are lower. According to the Office of Champagne, they drop in December due to high demand and competition for sales. This is very advantageous since Champagne can be quite expensive. Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the season.
- The flute is still a favorite Champagne glass because it dramatically displays the wine’s bubbles, but connoisseurs prefer a white wine glass or wide-mouthed Burgundy stem because they accentuate the aromas. When the Chef de Cave, Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon, visited Grape Radio studios a few years ago, the crew drank Dom Perignon Rosé from Riedel Vinum Burgundy glasses. Never use a tulip-shaped glass or a coupe because the bubbles will dissipate quickly.
- Champagne should be served ice cold. Put it in an ice bath for 30 minutes before serving so as to enhance the bubbles and lessen the acidic impact on the palate.
- Champagne not only ages better in magnums (which equals two bottles), double magnums (four bottles) or methuselahs (eight bottles), but tastes better, too. Champagne is a celebratory beverage, so the larger the bottle, the better!
- To open a bottle of Champagne properly, remove the tin capsule, wire cage, grasp the cork with a kitchen towel covering the top and neck of the bottle, turn your head to the side, and slowly turn the cork until it pops out.
- Those with expertise can safely and dramatically open a bottle of Champagne with a saber, but don’t try this at home.
- A common myth is that Champagne should be consumed shortly after purchase. There is no crime in this, but many types of Champagne, like great red Burgundy, become significantly better with bottle age. Richard Forbes said, “Old Champagnes are one of the very few wines to which the word “nectar” can justly be applied.
- With age, Champagne takes on more body and lusciousness, the mousse (bubbles) softens and becomes more delicate, leading to a creamier mouth feel. Secondary aromas and flavors emerge that are notably intense and complex, and the finishes are extended.
- Not all Champagne is made to age, but blanc de blancs with robust acidity will evolve beautifully in the cellar. Examples are Salon, Krug, and Bollinger. Blanc de blancs from these producers can easily age 20 to 25 years. Non-vintage Champagnes can improve with two to three years in the cellar, but vintage Champagnes, especially the prestige cuvées, are the long-term aging champions.
My relatively affordable and generally available favorites of premium French Champagne include the following. Prices are often discounted from those listed.
- Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($75)
- Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne ($100)
- Fleury Extra Brut Champagne ($100)
- Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV ($169)
- Möet-Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon ($159)… (2003 vintage is $118 at Costco and $122 at Total Wine!)
- Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne ($75)
- Louis Roederer Brut Blancs de Blanc Champagne ($90)
- Ruinart Brut Rosé Champagne NV ($75)
- Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV ($65)
- Tattinger Brut Rosé Champagne Prestige NV ($65)
- Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne ($90)
- Vilmart Brut Champagne Grand Cellier ($77)
A knowledgeable wine retailer can be invaluable in guiding your Champagne purchases. I highly recommend Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa (hitimewine.net) for its large selection of marque and grower Champagnes (over 250 selections) and highly informed staff. They are currently featuring their favorites, the “12 Champagnes of Christmas,” which includes many insider, smaller production labels ranging in price from $41.98 to $149.98. Hi-Time Wine Cellars also carries a selection of Champagne in hard-to-find magnum, double magnum and methuselah formats.
When you’re in the market for less-expensive options, here are some Champagnes that scored over 90 points and are highly recommended by local retailers.
- Gosset Brut Excellence (their entry level Champagne); Wine Exchange Orange, $29.99 or $35.98 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars
- Ellner Cuvée de Reserve Brut; Wine Exchange Orange, $32.99 (stylistically like Cliquot)
- Pommery Brut Wine; Wine Exchange Orange, $27.99 (a crazy value)
- Lenoble Brut Nature (very dry, non-dosed); Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $37.98
- Aubry Brut 1er Cru; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $34.99
- Ayala Brut “Majeur” (#77 Wine Spectator 2011 Top 100); Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $33.99
- Charles De Cazanove Brut Tradition; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $32.95
- Duc De Romet Brut Prestige; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $29.99
- Duval Leroy Brut; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $33.98
- Piper-Heidsieck Brut; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, $31.98