6 Champagnes to Celebrate

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Champagne’s Middle Class: $51–$100

The French often enjoy Champagne after the meal—an odd thought to most Americans, who tend to drink it as an apéritif.

Ironically, Champagne is one of the best food wines around. Champagne’s crisp acidity can cut through the fattiest foods, the richest meats and the fishiest fishes. 

These midpriced Champagnes in two styles pair equally well with food.


91 Ayala NV Brut Nature, $75

Ayala specializes in dry Champagnes, and this is the house’s extreme example.

It has just the right amount of bottle age to soften its intense acidity and develop some toastiness and fruit. It can be enjoyed now, but a few more months in bottle would make it even better.

Nature Champagnes are naked Champagnes. There is no dressing up with the dosage (added sugar) to soften the naturally high acidity. Nature wines stand and fall on their own, warts and all.

The fashion has split the Champagne world. Some believe that climate change has aided the production of very dry wines that pair with food, and others see the wines as too tight and tart to be pleasant.

This Ayala shows that with great care and selection, it’s possible to make very dry wines of remarkable quality. It’s essential to serve it with food, where its cutting acidity can handle even the richest fare.

93 Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Réserve, $60

It’s rare to find a nonvintage blend with such attractive bottle age. In most, the fruitiness dominates. This has an appealing toasty style, with an almond note and a ripe mouthfeel that balances its warm pear and yellow-fruit flavors. It’s a full, rich style of Champagne.

The house of Charles Heidsieck claims more than 60 wines go into the blend of its Brut Réserve. That makes it the epitome of nonvintage Champagne, showing the cellar master’s ability to juggle dozens of different young, acidic wines (only a few months old) into a blend with older wines held in storage that together will preserve the Champagne’s house style.

In the case of Charles Heidsieck, the style relies on a high proportion of reserve wines (up to 40 percent) to give its toasty, rich character. Traditionally made of one-third each Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, this is a classic nonvintage Champagne, one of the best around.

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6 Champagnes to Celebrate

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