6 Champagnes to Celebrate
It’s summertime, and the living’s easy.
The sun comes out, and the parties start. Whether it’s romantic dates under the stars, garden weddings or anniversaries, this is the occasion for Champagne. There’s no better time to enjoy great bubbles.
Champagne, the king of sparkling wines, doesn’t have to be a budget breaker. It comes in many styles and price points. Whether a major anniversary or graduation, even if you’re ordering by the case, there’s a wine to suit your palate and your pocketbook.
I’ve been doing some pleasant research, searching out my favorite Champagnes for this year’s big moments.
Grower Champagnes—those produced by winemakers from their own vineyards—can represent a great balance between quality and price because there’s no marketing budget to support, but the famous brands, some produced in the millions of bottles, can also provide impressively good value.
Here’s my take on the best Champagnes to drink this summer.
The finest Champagnes don’t come cheap. The best wines are the product of rigorous selection, long aging—and a good deal of hype.
It’s easy to recommend one of the famous names that come at a handsome price. Instead, here’s a wine that’s great in the glass and hasn’t (yet) attracted too much marketing attention.
The palest pink in color, this is a mature, ripe Champagne. It certainly hints at the extra age
(five years in the cellar), which gives it a glow of richness and toasty flavors. Fine lines of acidity cut through the full texture to give a wonderful, balanced wine that’s ready to drink.
This is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, only from grand cru vineyards in the Côte de Blancs (for the Chardonnay) and the Montagne de Reims (for the Pinot Noir).
What makes it so special is what it says on the label—Extra Age. That five years in the company’s cellars fully suits the Lanson style of no malolactic fermentation.
Because of this, any recently released Lanson Champagne is crisp. With age, as here, the crispness gives way to toastiness, while maintaining acidity and balance.
The combination of the toastiness and the richness of a multivintage blend (in this case, wines from 2002, 2004 and 2005) informs the character of this wine. This is a true special-occasion Champagne.
Serve it with food, certainly. Share it with your loved one, definitely (as long as your partner doesn’t mind you talking about the wine). Or just enjoy it as a celebration of Champagne itself.
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.
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.
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.
Champagne is expensive to make.
The vineyards are among the priciest in the wine world. The local wine syndicate sets a high price for grapes sold to producers. Champagne production involves more stages than still wines, with expensive equipment and high inventory requirements.
So it’s impressive that Champagne can be such good value. The three Champagnes recommended here are all 90-point wines from Wine Enthusiast’s Buying Guide.
These Champagnes are great for parties or a quiet evening at home. All pair well with food, can be served as an apéritif, or just for a toast.
This rich wine shows some bottle age. This adds a toasty character to the ripe fruit and lively acidity, resulting in extra complexity. Citrus and apple notes are woven together in a tight, mature structure.
With 123 acres of vineyard, Ellner is a large-scale grower. Its vines yield half the grapes needed to make its Champagnes—the rest are purchased.
What’s attractive about the Ellner style is its bottle age. That brings out the toastiness in this Grand Réserve, a house style that’s consistent from year to year.
This is a fine apéritif wine, rich and not too acidic when enjoyed before a meal. It’s also great with eggs and bacon, or smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for a celebratory brunch.
Deliciously crisp and dry, this is a forward and fruity rosé made from Pinot Noir, with particularly fine depth of flavor. It has a ripe wild-strawberry character, citrusy freshness and a tight mineral structure.
It can be enjoyed now, but should improve over the next few months.
Established since the 17th century, Lelarge-Pugeot produces some serious vintage Champagnes that are also good value for money.
Since 2010, the 21-acre vineyard has been farmed organically. Dominique Lelarge even uses a horse to plow the soil.
This rosé is made, like most rosé Champagne, by adding still red wine, in this case from the Montagne de Reims, the hill close to Reims.
What stands out is its fruitiness and crispness, which makes it a great wine alongside food. Think shellfish—pink shrimp and pink Champagne are heavenly—or chicken. With its crisp acidity, it will even partner red meat.
The Yellow Label—actually, an instantly recognizable orange—is a fruity, yet structured wine. It has fresh and fragrant fruit as well as richness, a soft, creamy texture and bright acidity. There is no sense in bottle aging this.
One of the world’s most familiar brands, you can find it virtually everywhere that Champagne is sold.
Yellow Label has always been reliable, but under cellar master Dominique Demarville, in place since 2009, it has gotten even better.
He has kept the natural creaminess of the Veuve Clicquot house style while refining its precision and fruit.
That makes it the perfect apéritif Champagne, rounded, full in the mouth and still crisp.
- 2Life at the Top: $100 or More
- 3Champagne’s Middle Class: $51–$100
- 4Affordable Luxury: $50 or Less