To Champagne or Not To Champagne


If there is one time in the year when bubbly is a must, it is the holiday season. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or even just a few days off work, ’tis the season to pop a cork… or two or three.

That’s why every December, the Buying Guide focuses on sparkling wines from around the world, with reviews of more than 400 bubbly beauties in this issue. We cover the tried-and-true classics, but also some outside-the-box options—like Crémant d’Alsace, Austrian sparkling wine and Italian Vino Spumante—that will please without breaking the bank.

But you needn’t exclusively look to vintage Champagnes for high quality—of the 171 nonvintage Champagnes reviewed for this issue, more than half scored 90 points or more. And they’re reasonably priced, as well, with options starting at $30.

For Champagne, we take a look at the latest releases of both vintage and nonvintage selections. Krug earned a perfect score with its 2002 Brut, only the third Champagne to be awarded 100 points by Wine Enthusiast (Krug’s 1998 Clos du Mesnil was the first, and Salon’s 2002 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut was the second). But you needn’t exclusively look to vintage Champagnes for high quality—of the 171 nonvintage Champagnes reviewed for this issue, more than half scored 90 points or more. And they’re reasonably priced, as well, with options starting at $30.

Italian Editor Kerin O’Keefe assesses the latest metodo classico sparklers from Italy. From stunning Franciacortas to Trento bubblies, as well as a handful of special selections from Alta Langa and Lessini Durello, we’ve got you covered with a range of options.

Also from the Old World, we have reviews of dry white and red wines from Germany, Portugal and Spain. Turning to the New World, we review hundreds of selections from Australia, California and Oregon to round the issue out. And, as always, be sure to check out our complete database, with thousands more reviews—sparkling, still and everything in between—at


Krug 2002 Brut (Champagne); $259, 100 points. This is a fabulous wine from the greatest Champagne vintage so far this century. Still young, it blends almost equal amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fleshed out with Pinot Meunier. The minerality and the rich apple and green fruits are balanced, and acidity cuts into the wine with a pure, perfumed line of freshness. The wine could be drunk now, but it will age well into the the 2020s. Moët Hennessy USA. Cellar Selection. —Roger Voss

Salon 2004 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne); $520, 98 points. Salon’s releases are rare and signify a great vintage—the last release was the 2002. Coming from grand cru vineyards in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, this 2004 is complex and concentrated, capturing the essence of Chardonnay in Champagne. Intense minerality and ripe apple and citrus fruits accompany the purity and crisp texture that are part of its ability to age. The wine can continue for many years, certainly to 2025 and beyond. Vineyard Brands. Cellar Selection. —R.V.

Taittinger 2008 Millésimé Brut (Champagne); $95, 97 points. The balance between ripeness and acidity that is the hallmark of this fine vintage is expressed well in this impressive wine. Tangy, with a strong streak of minerality, it is crisp and rich at the same time. For its fruitiness, it is ready to drink; for more maturity, it will need to age until 2018. Kobrand. Cellar Selection. —R.V.

Pierre Gerbais NV L’Osmose Extra Brut (Champagne); $61, 94 points. Although not labeled as such, this is a blanc de blancs produced from two old-vine parcels of Chardonnay, one facing north, the other south. That in itself helps the balance of this dry wine. It is perfumed and crisp with a taut mineral texture that contrasts with the ripe apple and pink-grapefruit flavors. Drink now. Le Serbet. Editors’ Choice. —R.V.

Lombard et Cie NV Brut Nature Les Mesnil sur Oger Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Champagne); $80, 94 points. This family-owned Champagne house has sourced grapes from one of the finest villages in the Côte des Blancs. The zero dosage is balanced by the ripeness of the fruit and the rich texture. Mineral and flinty, this totally crisp Champagne deserves some bottle age. Drink this bottling disgorged in March 2016 from 2017. Fruit of the Vines Inc. —R.V.

Nicolas Feuillatte 2008 Brut Millésimé (Champagne); $42, 93 points. From the excellent 2008 vintage, this is a very complete, ripe wine. It is rich, packed with crisp white fruits that are developing into a structured, concentrated wine with a great future. The balance between acidity and dosage is just right. Drink ideally from 2018. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Editors’ Choice. —R.V.

Bertrand-Delespierre 2008 Millésimé Premier Cru Brut (Champagne); $55, 91 points. Equal proportions of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier make this a well-balanced wine. It is initially soft with a creamy mousse followed by a good tang of acidity to keep it crisp. The apple fruitiness shows a wine from a fine vintage that is still young. Ideally drink from 2018. Hand Picked Selections. —R.V.

A.R. Lenoble  NV Dosage Zéro Brut Nature (Champagne); $49, 90 points. With zero grams of residual sugar, this is wine is as dry as it gets, relying on the ripe fruit to balance the intense acidity. Crisp apple and tight acidity dominate. Like many zero-dosage Champagnes it needs to age, so hold this bottle for two years. Cognac One LLC. —R.V.

Sparkling Wine

Domaine Fernand Engel 2010 Trilogie Dosage Zero (Crémant d’Alsace); $40, 93 points. A golden color and a nose of honeyed evolution, reminiscent of fresh field mushrooms and chalk already hint at a vintage wine. The palate surprises with the most gentle, generous and balmy fruit, like an essence of peach, without resorting to any sweetness added by dosage. Its fruity freshness is truly astonishing. This is an evolved, gloriously fresh testament to what Crémant d’Alsace can be. This might work better alongside food than as an apéritif. In any case: let it speak to you and savor the long finish. Grape Expectations (CA). Editors’ Choice. —Anne Krebiehl MW

Domaine Charles Baur NV Brut (Crémant d’Alsace); $25, 92 points. Scented notes of Golden Pearmain apple fill the nose. The palate follows in the same mellow vein while the creamy mousse accents the richness with pure lemon freshness. Shortcrust and biscuit flavours act as an aromatic backdrop. What a rounded, fresh and superbly balanced Crémant! Savor it long after the last sip has gone. Connoisseur Wines. —A.K.

Vignoble des 2 Lunes 2012 Comète Brut (Crémant d’Alsace); $27, 92 points. Soft notes of Golden Delicious on the nose really unfold on the palate. The body is slender but the fruit notes have a honeyed quality, as befits a vintage Crémant. Its biscuity shortcrust flavours are accentuated by soft mousse and are a great counterpoint to the very refreshing, pleasantly light-weight body. The finish is creamy and full of yeasty roundness, yet beautifully dry. Langdon Shiverick. —A.K.

Nino Franco 2015 Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano Brut (Valdobbiadene Prosecco Super­iore); $29, 92 points. Enticing scents of ripe orchard fruit, aromatic herb and fragrant white spring flower take center stage on this elegant sparkler. The generous palate doles out juicy white peach, ripe Granny Smith apple and tangerine zest. Fresh acidity brightens the creamy flavors while an elegant mousse imparts finesse. Terlato Wines International. —Kerin O’Keefe

Dubl NV Brut Metodo Classico (Vino Spu­mante); $39, 92 points. Lovely scents of ripe pear, white flower, Mediterranean herb, freshly baked bread and a hint of honey come together on this. The elegantly sparkling palate delivers white peach, green apple, lemon and nectarine zest. Fresh acidity brightens the creamy flavors while a soft perlage adds elegance. Terlato Wines International. —K.O.

Moser 2012 Rosé Extra Brut (Trento); $40, 92 points. Scents of small woodland berry, orchard fruit and Alpine herb waft out of the glass. On the creamy palate, notes of baking spice and energizing mineral accent fresh strawberry, crushed raspberry and tangerine zest. It’s fresh and balanced, with lively acidity and an elegant perlage. Casa Bruno. —K.O.

Loimer 2013 Brut Rosé (Niederösterreich); $32, 91 points. The nose signals crunchy, crisp red apple, which also follows through on the sprightly, wonderfully foamy and fresh palate of exquisitely small bubbles. This is light but full-fruited, brimming with all the crunch of Red Delicious and Braeburn apples supported by just a little shortbread richness from the yeast. There is concentration and poise, utter freshness and quite a bit of length. Craft + Estate–The Winebow Group. —A.K.

Steininger 2014 Brut Grüner Veltliner (Österreichischer Sekt); $30, 90 points. Green pear and moss play on the nose. The palate underlines these varietal Grüner notes with the creamy, biscuity notes of autolysis and very appetizing lemon freshness which makes this dry, slender and creamy wine utterly refreshing. This seems lighter than it is but delivers lots of flavor. —A.K.

Published on December 6, 2016
Topics: Sparkling Wine