If you have a taste for 100-year-old champagne – and a bit of cash to spare – you may be in luck.
877 bottles of champagne and burgundy wine with vintages dating between 1911 and 1943 are being auctioned by Acker, the largest wine auction house in the world, on Wednesday and Thursday, CNBC first reported.
There are more than 900 separate lots of the rare bubbly being sold, which is expected to sell for a whopping $10 million. The variations of champagne include “323 magnums, 10 Jeroboams, two Methuselahs and 30 half-bottles,” CNBC reported.
In total, the collection could go for over $10 million.
“The bottles offered in this sale are truly the cream of this collection,” Acker Chairman, John Kapon, told CNBC. “To offer such depth and breadth of Salon, Krug, Bollinger, Louis Roederer, Pol Roger and Pommery back to the 1920s, and Moet & Chandon back to the 1910s, is truly a rare privilege for myself as an auctioneer.”
The auctioneer told CNBC that there was “a significant effort” put into the vetting of the 100-year-old collection of wines. Kapon said, “any bottles deemed to have suboptimal color or conditions were removed.”
Champagne is often the drink of choice for celebratory events, due to its high price and status as a luxury item. And while a glass of the best bubbly is something special, it’s cost prohibitive for most people if they’re looking for something casual, say, to pair with dinner. But there are misconceptions about what Champagne is and isn’t, and you don’t actually need to spend a lot in order to make a toast.
Firstly, Champagne is just one type of sparkling wine, which comes from its namesake region in France. It’s aged in individual bottles, and many enthusiasts prize the limestone soil where the grapes are grown. Because of the region’s rules and prestige, bottles of sparkling wine labeled Champagne are generally more expensive than those from other places.
But sparkling wine comprises more than Champagne. You can find excellent options originating from different parts of the world – including Prosecco from Italy and Cava from Spain, to name two popular sparkling wines. There are even quality Champagne-style wines from California, made in the traditional method. And, these tend to be much more accessible and affordable than Champagne.
While sparkling wine is often thought of as golden in color, there are some that are red, like Lambrusco, or pink, like rosé. We focused on sparkling wines made from grapes, so you won’t see a sparkling sake, for example.
For our guide, we recommend a variety of options at various prices, based on consultations with wine experts and our research. Because you can ask several experts for their suggestions and see no overlap – which is what we did – we took into account that taste is very subjective, and that’s why there is no single winner.
The market is also tricky: You can find certain brands everywhere, while smaller producers tend to distribute in limited areas. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other, but we tried to factor in availability with our choices.
With the holiday season upon us, many of these options may be sold out or low on stock – call your local wine shop for availability.
Updated on 12/18/2020. We expanded this guide with additional options, consultation with wine experts, and extensive information on what to look for when purchasing.
Cheat sheet to picking a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine
Short on time? If you need a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine now, here are our recommendations if you can’t explore our entire guide.
The best for christening a ship Anything under $5, as you won’t be drinking it.
The best Champagne
The best Champagnes under $65
The selection of Champagne at your grocery store will mostly consist of big-name makers, with prices starting around $40. To be called Champagne, the wine must be made in a specific region of France. While perhaps not priced for most people’s weekly wine budget, you can still find many champagnes that come out to around $10 a glass.
“We try to kind of really combat this stigma of Champagne being celebratory and kind of pretentious,” said Ariel Arce, owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor in New York City.
Most of the choices at these prices will be non-vintage, meaning winemakers may mix different varietals or grapes to ensure their signature wines taste the same, year after year. These are perfect for drinking right off the shelf for an impromptu celebration.
What our experts particularly like
The specialists we consulted recommend Agrapart & Fils Les 7 Crus Brut NV, Chartogne-Taillet Sainte Anne Brut, Cheurlin Brut Spéciale, and Marie Courtin Résonance Extra-Brut. “There’s almost nothing better than grower’s Champagne,” Chevonne Ball, owner of wine-focused travel company Dirty Radish, said about the Chartogne-Taillet. “Crisp and elegant, this true Champagne is worth the price.”
“For those seeking the crème de la crème of the sparkling world, I always have some grower Champagnes in stock, like Laherte Frères,” said Laura Marchetti, owner of Riverview Wines & Spirits.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV ($67): Forty percent of this wine is from the reserve selection, which are wines aged an average of 10 years. Charles Heidsieck was one of the first Champagnes imported to the US in the 19th Century. Notes: brioche, apple.
Chartogne-Taillet Sainte Anne Brut ($49): Made from 50% chardonnay and the rest a mix of black grapes, mainly pinot noir, this non-vintage Champagne is a split of the previous year’s wine and wines that were aged two to five years. Notes: apple, citrus.
Cheurlin Brut Spéciale ($40) This non-vintage Champagne, 70% chardonnay and 30% pinot noir, is from a historic house and is imported to the US by former Detroit Piston Isaiah Thomas. Notes: bread, citrus.
Henriot Brut Souverain NV ($45): With 30% of the Brut Souverain coming from reserve wines and an almost equal amount of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, this Champagne is very consistent from bottle to bottle. Notes: apple, mineral.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut ($45): This Champagne, made with pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes, should be easy to find in practically any grocery or liquor store. Notes: citrus, apple.
The best Champagnes under $150
As you go closer to the over-$100 price point, you’ll start seeing more vintage wines. The grapes for vintages all come from the same year, and the wines are aged longer than non-vintages. Leaving a bottle to sit for three years takes up space, which costs money. There are also constraints on how much is grown in Champagne, France.
“It’s a small area of land, so they can only produce so much,” said Crystal Hinds, who owns Effervescence, a sparkling wine lounge in New Orleans. “You’re paying for the taste of that terroir, which is usually very limestone.”
At under $150, you’ll also see some cuvées, which is a term winemakers use to designate their very special blends. But there’s no real regulation of the term, so its appearance on a label doesn’t ensure quality.
For most people, drinking a glass of Champagne from a bottle that costs upwards of $150 is a once-in-a-lifetime — if ever — event. As prices climb, there will be more vintages. Prized wines are made with more care and are aged longer, so they come in smaller batches. Rarity increases the price.
Producers also make bottles that are meant to be stored before they’re savored. That’s not true of every expensive Champagne, but if you’re spending a lot, you’ll want to ensure you’re drinking it at the best time. To see just how out-of-control prices can get, check out some of the world’s most expensive Champagnes.
Dom Perignon Brut 2005 ($170): This vintage from Moët & Chandon is ready to drink now but can also be stored for a few years. Notes: toast, apples.
Krug Grand Cuvée ($190): Unlike many high-priced Champagnes, this Krug is a non-vintage. It’s made by blending over 120 individual wines. Notes: lemon, brioche.
Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2008 ($250): You can either drink or save this cuvée, which is made of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. It’s named for the English Prime Minister, who was a fan. Notes: brioche, citrus.
Most Prosecco comes from Italy and is aged in tanks, unlike Champagne, which ages in bottles. “Prosecco is usually super easy to drink,” Hinds said. “It’s not super complex — doesn’t have a lot of different flavors that linger.”
It’s very easy to find a nice bottle of Prosecco for under $20, which makes it attractive for a lot of people. “If I’m being honest, people are buying for cost,” said Ball of Dirty Radish. “But I would say that people who like Prosecco probably really like a little bit softer of a bubble,” she added.
What our experts particularly like
Ball is a fan of Loredan Gasparini’s Prosecco. “Inexpensive and available at most grocery stores, this is one of my favorite brunch sparkling wines,” she said. “Delicious on its own or great as a mimosa. I suggest fresh-squeezed citrus!”
Villa Sandi Prosecco il Fresco Brut ($12): Villa Sandi’s Prosecco comes from the Treviso region in Italy and is made from mostly glera grapes, along with some chardonnay and pinot blanc. Notes: apple, citrus.
The best Prosecco over $20
A few years ago, the Prosecco industry was having issues with counterfeit sparkling wine. To try and combat the problem, it created two classifications, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). Both require following strict regulations, but DOCG is more stringent. Not all Prosecco — even some nice ones — will have these marks, but they can help guide your selection-making if you’re feeling a little lost and want a marker of quality. Keep in mind that taste is subjective and it doesn’t guarantee it will be to your liking, though.
Rebuli Prosecco Cartizze ($40): From the Cartizze area, like the Col Vetoraz, this Prosecco is made completely from glera grapes. Notes: floral, apple.
The best Cava
The best Cava under $20
Penedès, a region of Catalonia, Spain, is known for its sparkling wine called Cava. Compared to Prosecco, Cava is made more similarly to Champagne — aged in bottles. The grapes are very different, though, with many wines being made from a mix of macabeo, parellada, and xarel·lo grapes. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to Cava, including vintages and rosés.
Like Prosecco, it is much more affordable than Champagne. But just because you can pick up a bottle for $10, it doesn’t mean you need to hold your nose and drink. While inexpensive Cavas do make great choices for mimosas or bellinis, you can also enjoy them in their own right.
What our experts particularly like
“[The Naveran Dama Brut] has one of the most delicate mousses and mouthfeel,” Ball said. “The bubbles fill your palate with delicious aromas.” Marchetti of Riverview Wines & Spirits recommends the line of Azimut wines from Cellers de Can Suriol “for a classic, traditional palate at an affordable price.”
Segura Viudas ($10): From Penedès, this Cava is made with macabeo, parellada, and xarel·lo and is widely distributed in the US. Notes: apple, citrus.
The best Cava over $20
When is a Cava not a Cava? When the winemaker doesn’t want it to be called that. Some producers wanted to designate what they see as their wines’ quality, so they’ve begun labeling their bottles with Corpinnat instead of Cava. Raventós i Blanc, meanwhile, uses its own designation for its sparkling wines, Conca del Riu Anoia.
This doesn’t mean everything still labeled Cava is bad. Corpinnat producers make up only a small percentage of winemakers in the region, so there’s still plenty of Cava to go around.
While all of the wines mentioned in this guide are, technically, sparkling wines, the ones mentioned here focus on wines mostly from the United States.
The best sparkling wine under $25
There are sparkling winemakers all across the United States, all using different methods and grape varieties with unique results. Not only can you find terrific options, stateside products are often budget-friendly too.
“Sparkling wines coming out of Oregon or California are always going to be vastly different than any of the others, because we’re so young and so new,” said Ball of Dirty Radish.
“There’s very cool stuff happening all around the country in sparkling wine,” Arce said. The problem is, it can be difficult to find Michigan’s Mawby wines or sparkling wines from New York’s Finger Lakes outside of certain areas. You might have a local winery making a sparkling wine that you fall in love with, so they’re worth exploring in addition to some of the more widely distributed brands.
Besides US wineries, there are nice options from other winemaking regions such as Australia and New Zealand. For a bit of prestige, Mumm Napa is an affordable sparkling wine made in the traditional style of its parent company, G.H. Mumm of France.
What our experts particularly like
The recommendations for Gruet Sauvage Blanc de Blancs and McBride Sisters Black Girl Magic Sparkling Brut come from our panel. Sunshine Foss, who owns Happy Cork in Brooklyn, New York, says the McBride Sisters’ wine has been popular in her shop because of the name, “but it’s also a really, really good sparkling Brut.”
It’s not just US winemakers that have vineyards in California. Some big Champagne houses, like Taittinger Champagne and Louis Roederer, have land in the state. That’s why wines from Roederer Estate, for example, are lower than a typical Champagne. Larger producers will often stick to more traditional methods and grapes, while smaller producers might experiment more. Caraccioli Cellars, for example, is a smaller, family-run vineyard in California.
“The big differences between a big house and a small house (a big producer and a small producer) is how they’re handling the wine,” Ball said. Smaller operations often lack machinery, so they hand turn or hand riddle the bottles. That’s one reason it took some US winemakers a while to get into sparkling wine, she said: “It takes a lot of work.”
You can find sparkling wines from the United States that cost over $100, for bottles producers have taken extra time and attention with or that come from a particular vintage. There are many quality wines for closer to $50, though.
What our experts particularly like
“Corollary Wines is the husband and wife duo Dan and Jeanne’s passion project,” Ball said. The Cuvée One is a mix of grapes from five Oregon vineyards, grown in different soils and climates, and that interest in the varying terroirs of the state comes through in the wine, she said.
J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut ($30): Almost half chardonnay grapes, plus pinot noir and some pinot meunier, make up this California sparkling wine. Notes: peach, green apple.
Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2013 ($55): Roederer Estate is the California winery from Champagne maker Louis Roederer; this sparkling wine is made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Notes: apple, toast.
Sometimes you want a glass of bubbles without the glass part, and that’s where sparkling wine cans come in. Over the past several years, more and more winemakers have started making more portable versions of their products. You won’t find Champagne in a can, but you can still get some great bubbles for on-the-go — or at home.
Underwood Rosé Bubbles ($6): Mostly pinot noir with some chardonnay and pinot gris grapes, this wine from Oregon is available in bottle and can form. Notes: strawberry, cherry.
The best Crémant
Crémants are sparkling wines from eight regions in France — including Loire, Alsace, and Burgundy — and one in Luxembourg. They’re made in a similar style as Champagne but are just a fraction of the cost. Some are made with grapes you won’t find in Champagne. There’s not an easy way to describe the taste, because there’s a lot of variety.
The prices of many of these sparkling wines are much, much lower than Champagne. “I feel like you can find great value,” Ball said.
Bailly-Lapierre Brut Reserve ($20 to $23): Aged for an average of 12 months, this Crémant comes from France’s Burgundy region and is made from pinot noir, chardonnay, gamay, and aligoté grapes. Notes: citrus, apple.
There are several ways to make rosé sparkling, and it’s going to taste different depending on many factors. Despite its pretty color, rosé doesn’t have to be sweet. As with Champagne, you’ll find bottles labeled Brut to be on the drier side.
“I think a lot of people think that rosé is maybe something that’s going to be sweeter or more fruit-forward, which that category, again, has so many variations within it,” said Arce of Air’s Champagne Parlor.
For under $20, you won’t find pink-hued Champagne, but there are lots of Cavas and other sparkling rosés from around the world (including other parts of France) at that price.
What our experts particularly like
The experts we spoke to mentioned Landmass Papi Sparkling Rosé, Lve Rosé by John Legend, and Rivarose Brut Rosé as some of their go-to rosés. “It’s really delicate,” said Effervescence’s Hinds of the Rivarose. “It’s not overly sparkling.” She also said the modern-looking bottle makes it perfect for gifting.
Lve Rosé by John Legend ($17): John Legend’s Lve rosé is made in the Charmat Method, like Prosecco, from mostly unspecified white grapes, along with some pinot noir and grenache grapes. Notes: strawberry, mineral.
Closer to $50, you can start to find rosé Champagne, but the majority of sparkling wines under that price are from other regions. There are many rosé Crémants from France that are around $25, but you can also get bottles from Italy, the US, and elsewhere for a similar price.
What our experts particularly like
“I would definitely hold [the Domaine Franck Besson Rosé Granit] up against any of the other sort of higher-end wines that you would find out of Champagne,” said Ball of Dirty Radish. Hinds recommends the Murgo Nerello Mascalese. “You can smell the smoke on the nose of that wine,” she said. “It’s a beautiful light pink and it’s just so delicate and delicious.”
Scharffenberger NV Brut Rosé ($26): From California, Scharffenberger’s rosé is nearly evenly split between chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, aged for two years in the bottle. Notes: raspberry, citrus.
Schramsberg Brut Rosé ($42.50): Made in California with mostly pinot noir and some chardonnay grapes, this rosé is aged in the bottle for about two years. Note: strawberry, bread.
The best sparkling rosé over $50
Just like other Champagnes, you can find bottles of rosé that cost hundreds of dollars, including Krug and Dom Perignon. Vintages and some cuvées will cost more, because winemakers take more care with them, and some of them are aged for longer. For under $100, there are lots of delicious choices from Champagne, as well as many sparkling rosés from elsewhere.
Pétillant-naturel (pét-nat) wines are bottled while still undergoing their first fermentation. Some winemakers leave the yeast in the bottle, so the final product will be cloudy, with sediment on the bottom. “Pét-nats have become super-big right now, because it’s on the sparkling side but it’s done in such a natural way,” said Sunshine Foss of Happy Cork.
The results tend to be less predictable than something like a cuveé, which is reliably blended from known reserves. “A lot of wine geeks love that funky taste, like strawberry cola,” said Crystal Hinds. “Some taste like sour beers.”
What our experts particularly like
Hinds recommends both the Kobal Wines rosé and the Les Tètes Nat Igny Rusé ($29): “It’s just so beautiful and delicate,” she said of the Les Tètes’ wine. “You can hardly tell that it’s a pét-nat.”
“Being Italian I’ll always have a few Prosecco Col Fondo — the Italian version of pét-nat,” said Marchetti of Riverside Wine & Spirits. “Those are old-school, unfiltered Prosecco.” She suggests offerings from Carolina Gatti and the Col Tamarie, as well as Rodica’s sparkling malvasia from Slovenia.
With a few exceptions, Champagne is sparkling wine that comes from Champagne, France. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) oversees production and enforces the strict regulations that govern virtually every aspect of the process.
“When you’re paying for Champagne, you’re paying for some of the techniques that are used,” said Crystal Hinds, owner of Effervescence. “They can only pick at a certain time. They can only pick so much per hectare.”
If you pick up a bottle, and it has the word “Champagne” on it, the wine is almost certainly from this region and was made in accordance with the rules. “California Champagne” is quite different and is essentially the product of a loophole.
Cava, Prosecco, and other sparkling wines are made from a variety of methods, with different grapes, and in different regions and countries. Consider this glossary a crash course in Champagne 101.
Assemblage: The process of blending wines from different vineyards, grapes, and years. You might see the assemblage listed as a percentage of each type of grape.
Blanc de Blancs: It means “white of whites,” so these wines are made from all-white grapes; in the Champagne region, this usually means 100% chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs: Noir is French for black, and only red grapes go into these wines, but the resulting wine is still a pale golden color, because it uses the juice and not the skin, which is where the reddish color comes from.
Brut: In the traditional method, Champagne goes through two fermentations. After the second, winemakers add sugar, which is known as “dosage.” Drier, less sweet sparkling wines will have the word “brut” on the label. Here’s the scale, from driest to sweetest:
Brut Nature 2. Extra brut 3. Brut 4. Extra dry or extra sec 5. Dry or sec 6. Demi-sec 7. Doux
Brut Nature: The driest of the dry, brut nature has no added sugar. It may contain some leftover sugar, up to three grams per liter.
Cava: Cava is sparkling wine from Spain. However, not all sparkling wine from the country is labeled as such. Compared to Prosecco, Cava is more similar to Champagne. Winemakers mainly use three varieties of white grapes to make Cava: macabeo, parellada, and xarel·lo.
Champagne, France: This region is in the northeast of the country, about 90 miles from Paris.
Cru: Traditionally, Champagne houses purchased their grapes from growers. There are 319 crus, which are also known as villages or vineyards, in the region. There are some grower-producers that use their own grapes, and so you won’t find these designations on some very good bottles of wine.
Crémant: Crémants are sparkling wines from France but made outside of the Champagne region. “Crémant is a really great way to go if you’re looking for a good glass of sparkling wine, but without the cost of the Champagne tag, if you will,” said Chevonne Ball of Dirty Radish.
Cuveé: In Champagne-making, the first pressing is considered the best, and it’s known as the cuvée. Subsequent pressings are the taille. Some winemakers also call their special blends cuvées, but there’s no guarantee that something labeled with that word will be spectacular.
Disgorgement: During riddling, the yeast sediment collects in the neck of the bottle. To get it out, winemakers submerge the neck into a freezing solution. Then they turn the bottles right-side up, take off the cap, and the carbon dioxide inside pushes the frozen chunk of sediment out.
Fermentation: For the second fermentation — which gives the wine its bubbles — producers add the liqueur de tirage, a solution of sugar and yeast. Champagne and Cava undergo this second fermentation in individual bottles. For Prosecco, it happens in a tank, so it’s a much less labor-intensive process.
Grapes: Some types of sparkling wine use a limited amount of grape varieties. Champagne is most often made from chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes. Cava are mainly macabeo, parellada, and xarel·lo grapes. Glera grapes are typically used for Prosecco.
Lees: After the second fermentation — once the yeast has consumed all the sugar and died — the wine isn’t quite ready. Champagne stays in the bottle for at least 15 months before it’s released. Non-vintage cuvées stay in the bottle with the lees, or dead yeast deposits, for at least 12 months. Vintage cuvées must rest on the lees for three years, minimum.
Liqueur de tirage: The mix of sugar, yeast, and sometimes a bit of wine that producers add to non-sparkling base wine to start the second fermentation. The yeast consumes the sugar, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Méthode Traditionnelle: The traditional method of making Champagne, where the second fermentation takes place inside an individual bottle. Many sparkling wines outside of Champagne are made in this way.
Non-Vintage: The vast majority of Champagne is non-vintage. It’s not about how long the wine was aged. Rather, it means that the wine is a blend of different vintages or types of grapes, or it comes from grapes in different vineyards. Using a mix allows winemakers to create a more consistent wine.
Prosecco: Prosecco is made in Northeast Italy, primarily using glera grapes. Unlike Champagne, Prosecco is made with the Charmat Method. Instead of the second fermentation taking place in individual bottles, it happens in a tank, in larger batches. The method is faster and less expensive, so the resulting wine costs less than Champagne.
Pét-nat: Short for pétillant naturel, this style of sparkling wine has grown in popularity over the past several years. Non-sparkling wine undergoes a single fermentation when yeast transforms sugar into alcohol. The CO2 is released, so the wine is still instead of bubbly. With pét-nats, winemakers bottle up the wine during this first fermentation, retaining some of the CO2.
Riddling: To get the yeast sediment into the neck of the bottle, winemakers slowly tip the bottle so the bottom is up. It can take a week or months, depending on the quality (and eventual price) of the wine.
Rosé: There are a few ways to make sparkling rosé or rosé champagne. Winemakers may add still (unsparkling) red wine to give some color or they may “bleed” juice from tanks of macerating grapes that will be used for red wine. Even when it’s described with words like fruity, rosé can still be dry.
Sec: On the scale from driest to sweetest, Sec is on the sweeter side, while brut has less sugar.
Sparkling wine: Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are all sparkling wines. They all have bubbles. You can find sparkling wines from practically anywhere. They may be made with different methods and different grapes, which is why they are priced and taste differently.
Terroir: When people discuss terroir, they mean the climate, soil, grape varieties, landscape, and other factors that make wines distinct.
Vintage: Vintage wines come from grapes harvested in a single year. That year will be on the label, so it’s easy to tell vintages and non-vintages apart. These are the wines people buy and store in cellars. Non-vintages are meant to be drunk right off the shelf.
Advice from our experts
To help us narrow down some selections of Champagne and sparkling wines, we spoke with five experts and got advice and recommendations for choosing what to drink.
Drink what you like: “Prior to even this new wave of making wine more accessible, people thought, ‘Okay, well you have to have this vocabulary to be able to speak to the wine and understand the wine.’ For me it’s just really about how it tastes and what I like to drink,” said Sunshine Foss, owner of Happy Cork in Brooklyn, New York.
Taste a lot: “There’s not really a way to learn about wine other than to try it and to taste it,” said Chevonne Ball, who owns Dirty Radish, a travel company that specializes in wine tours.
Look outside of Champagne, and France: “That’s one of the fun things that we do, is look for these different sparkling wines from different countries and give it a try,” said Crystal Hinds, who owns Effervescence, a sparkling wine lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Try to be a little extroverted: “If visiting a boutique wine shop, I’d ask what the staff is drinking right now,” said Laura Marchetti, owner of Riverview Wine & Spirits in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Ask what’s new and exciting and what wines their go-to wines are. Once you get the staff pumped up, it’s often hard to get them to stop working for you.” She knows this can be intimidating for some, but she adds that she’s an introvert as well.
How to choose what Champagne or sparkling wine to buy
Start with the price: If you must have Champagne from France, the cheapest bottle is going to cost around $40. Sunshine Foss, who owns Happy Cork in Brooklyn, said she thinks people should also be flexible on price. “You might come in saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to spend $50 on a bottle,’ but you might get two or three bottles for that price that are all going to be amazing,” she said.
Buy by brand: If you definitely, definitely want to buy Champagne but are still stumped, you can look at some well-known brands and feel confident about what you’re getting. “It’s not my first recommendation, but I do think there are certain brands that make an incredibly consistent and quality product,” said Arce, owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor. She recommends Charles Heidsieck, Bollinger, Philipponnat, Henriot, and Delamotte. “Those are five really beautiful houses, all of which are going to have their non-vintage Brut at an affordable price point,” she said.
Look outside Champagne: There’s Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy, but South Africa, England, Brazil, Australia, and lots of other countries are also in the sparkling wine business. “You’re going to be tasting different grapes, like a malbec or like a blaufränkisch, grapes you’ve never even heard of, something different than the chardonnay and pinot noir and pinot meunier,” said Crystal Hinds, who owns Effervescence. “You won’t compare them as much to Champagne if you’re tasting a totally different grape.”
Don’t expect all sparkling wine to taste like Champagne: “There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than sparkling wines that are trying to compete with a region that’s been making wine for hundreds of years,” Arce said. “I think American sparkling is more fun when it’s made in its own way, with its own unique grapes.” Compared to France, Oregon, California, and other states are newer to making sparkling wine. “It’s different soil. It’s different terroir,” said Ball, who owns Dirty Radish. “It’s different grapes, and the rules are different. So we have a lot more freedom here because we have less of the regulations than they do in something like France.”
But if you do want something similar to Champagne: There are plenty of winemakers that use Champagne-style methods outside of the region. They’ll label their bottles with méthode Champenoise or méthode traditionnelle. They’ll also use the same grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. “I really liked the wine from Caraccioli Cellars, if you’re looking for something to be similar to champagne,” said Arce.
What are vegan, organic, biodynamic, and natural wines?
While you might assume all wines are vegan, some winemakers clarify their wines with egg whites, gelatin, or other animal products. Wines labeled vegan will instead use clay or charcoal for this process.
US organic wines, certified by the USDA, are made without synthetic fertilizers, and the yeast and other additives must all be organic. If a US wine is labeled “made with organic grapes,” then the yeast and additives might not be organic. The European Union follows similar guidelines for its organic wines, but it might contain more sulfites. Other countries may have different practices.
Biodynamic winemakers follow many organic practices, but their wines may contain more sulfites. They also follow a strict calendar, when certain tasks like pruning or watering take place.
Natural wines are low-intervention, so the producers don’t add yeast or sulfites. These are often made in smaller batches.
What’s your palate? A crash course on tasting notes
Probably one of the most difficult ways for newcomers to wine is figuring out what they do and don’t like based on taste. After a few tries, they might realize whether they’re fans of dry or sweet, but it can be hard to distinguish apple or citrus notes, then articulate what it is that’s appealing or off-putting. “Sometimes, people don’t even know what their palate is,” said Sunshine Foss of Happy Cork. Some will assume dry means bitter, for example. “They’ll tell me, ‘Oh, I don’t want a dry wine, but then they’ll point to something that they’ve already had, and it’s like one of the driest wines,” she said. Brut wines will be on the drier side, while dry, sec, and doux will be sweeter.
“I’ll ask about style and price point, if it’s for just sipping or also meant to go with food,” said Laura Marchetti, who owns Riverview Wine & Spirits. “However, usually the key is to engage with the person, to get them to do the talking in their own language and then for us to decipher from there.”
“A lot of times, you break down people’s first experiences by asking them just simple questions, like, “Do you like something a little bit fresher and brighter or something with more fruits?'” said Ariel Arce, owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor. “And then if you liked something on the lighter end, ‘Can we dabble into flavors of berries, apples, and pears? Do we like minerals and lemon zest?”
All those questions will help a professional track down something you’ll love, but you can start by paying attention to what you like when there’s a bottle actually open in front of you. “You’re on your phone all the time throughout dinner, so why not take a quick note, take a quick photo of that wine?” said Chevonne Ball, owner of Dirty Radish.
If there’s something you can pinpoint about what you like, that will be helpful for the next time you go into a wine shop, but it’s not necessary. “It doesn’t have to be very specific,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be lemon zest and lavender fields and blah, blah, blah.”
The more you taste sparkling wine, the better you’ll be at distinguishing what you like. It’s the only way to learn, said Ball: “You don’t know that you like your burgers medium rare until you’ve had a medium-rare burger.”
What should I eat with Champagne?
Champagne and sparkling wine has long been associated with celebrations. That means people often think the meal they eat with their wine needs to be special, too. That’s not the case, according to Chevonne Ball and Crystal Hinds.
“I dare you to find one thing that doesn’t go with Champagne,” Ball said. “You can’t — it goes with everything.”
Hinds agrees. Unlike red or white wines that pair well with select foods, “everything goes with sparkling wine,” she said. “You can go through your entire meal with sparkling wine.” But you can also open a bag of potato chips. At her sparkling wine lounge, Effervescence, Hinds takes housemade chips and pairs them crème-fraîche, chives, and caviar. The bar also serves popcorn with nutritional yeast, paprika, and olive oil. “Even plain popcorn with a little salt and butter is delicious with bubbles,” she said.
Hinds also recommends pairing sparkling wine with fried foods. “The acid in the bubbles cut through the grease and the fried tastes and the fat, and it goes beautifully with the fried chicken,” she said. “I would have a glass of something with a big plate of onion rings and be just fine.”
Hinds gave a few suggestions for wine and food pairings.
Jean Vesselle Brut Oeil de Perdrix NV ($54 to $60): “This particular wine, which is 100% Pinot Noir, carries me from appetizer of warm brie to turkey, beef, or pork and on to dessert — if it lasts that long,” Hinds said. “I poured from a magnum this year. It was that kind of year.”
Gusbourne Brut Reserve ($58): “Of course when I want to impress a special guest with something new and amazing, I pair the Gusbourne Brut Reserve (2013) from Sussex, England,” Hinds said. “It usually surprises our guests that it is not from Champagne, France, but England.”
Peter Lauer Riesling Sekt Brut Réserve ($50 to $65): “Lastly, I find Peter Lauer’s Riesling Sekt Brut Réserve from Saar, Germany the perfect bubble for most of our desserts, which are seasonal and made in house. They are not usually overly sweet,” Hinds said. “The Peter Lauer has a hint of ripe apricot and peach, with lime and slight biscuit notes that complemented our Citrus and Crème dessert (makrut lime meringue, pistachio, satsuma, Tahitian vanilla whipped cream) perfectly.