Dedication to Tradition Sets Modern Champagne Apart

wine bottles
Photo by Tom Arena

True Champagne comes, and can only come, from its namesake region in northern France, among the cool, chalk hills east of Paris. A sparkling wine made anywhere else is something different.

It may sound like a pedantic distinction, but it’s an important one. While Champagne is created by a technique used worldwide, it’s also the result of particular grapes grown to particular standards in a particular place.

That place centers around Reims and Épernay, where three main grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, are grown. Most Champagne is a blend of at least two of these.

After harvest and pressing in September, juice is fermented, typically in tanks. Come spring, winemakers will begin an intense blending process called assemblage.

Champagnes can be made of as many as 40 lots. This is further blended with reserve wines from previous vintages. Though producers will employ tweaks to try to improve the existing model, most will hardly notice them. The goal is to create a house style, to make a nonvintage Champagne that tastes the same each year.

The resulting still wine gets bottled with yeast to encourage a second fermentation and to create fine bubbles. Once it’s done its job, the yeast is ejected and the bottle resealed. This is the true Champagne method.

Champagne's Workhorse Grape Steps into the Spotlight

Six to Sample

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve; $69, 92 points.
An extra touch of aging before disgorgement has given this Champagne a fine balance. Hints of toast as well as tight acidity have come from the equal blend of the three main grapes. The fruitiness is still very present, offering crisp citrus to balance the edge of maturity. Drink now. Folio Fine Wine Partners.

Henriot Brut Souverain; $50, 91 points.
Bright white fruits and a fine balance between richness and crisp acidity are the hallmarks of the nonvintage Champagne from this producer. Perfumed and with delicious apple and peach fruits, the bottling is ready to drink. Maisons and Domaines Henriot.

Lanson Le Black Label Brut; $45, 92 points.
With the house signature of a high percentage of Pinot Noir and no or little malolactic fermentation, this famed Champagne remains the hallmark of the producer. It has great freshness as well as bright apple and lemon flavors that have been tempered by four years bottle aging. This bottling is ready to drink. Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits.

Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut; $50; 91 points.
The nonvintage cuvée from this producer is definitely on the dry side. Like many Champagnes in the range, it has benefited from long aging before release, giving a wine that has richness as well as great fruits, hints of maturity coming through. Drink now. Laurent-Perrier US.

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial; $44, 90 points.
Attractively poised between softness and crispness, this best-selling Champagne is packed with ripe white fruits that are given a lift by the tight acidity. Its reliability and the increasing dryness and freshness of the wine are exemplary. This bottling is ready to drink. Moët Hennessy USA.

Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut; $67, 93 points.
This producer’s nonvintage cuvée is just right. It is balanced, the ripe apple and pear flavors are laced with acidity and citrus are, giving minerality as well as structure from the 65% Pinot Noir in the blend. This Champagne is perfectly ready to drink. Banville Wine Merchants.

Published on December 1, 2020
Topics: Champagne