Putting together a list of the best sparkling wines isn’t easy, especially when you do so with an eye on affordable wines. The world of sparkling wine is so varied and diverse it can make you dizzy even before you’ve popped the cork. And there’s a certain troublesome element to ranking them because they are so incredibly diverse, and we have by no means tasted every vintage of every wine on the globe, so there’s a certain (okay, huge) amount of Your Mileage May Vary factor here.
Some road rules:
Unless there’s a really good reason why it matters, we’re not specifying vintages. Yes, wines all vary from year to year and sometimes they vary so much it needs to be pointed out. But generally, these are Makers of Bubbleage you can count on year after year, so we’ll refrain from nerding out on the often teensy (but occasionally very significant) variations of one vintage versus another. P.S., high quality sparkling wines can age like a French movie star, developing more nuance and glamor than ever with time. We’ll point it out if something probably ought to skip the cellar and go straight to the fridge.
Do not be distracted by price tiers. We have excluded wines (almost all of them Champagnes) in a price tier that suggests you’d be collecting it rather than drinking it: While certain that Dom Perignon “White Gold” is a lovely wine, we happen to think having a $2,500 price tag actually disqualifies you from being the “best!” So you won’t find anything on this list that exceeds about $300. (Many great ones are more like $10, but heck, sometimes it’s your 60th wedding anniversary or the night you took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role; we get that.) So, wines that cost $15 might be listed ahead of wines that cost $150. Our point is simple: price doesn’t equal quality. Sometimes it just equals snob-cachet. Sometimes $400 Champagnes aren’t readily available to writers and we haven’t tasted all of them.
Comparing sparkling wines from uncountably varied traditions and terrains makes comparing apples and oranges a cakewalk. There are over 100 producers in France’s Champagne region alone, and you could drink a different sparkling wine every day of your life and never get to all of them. The “it’s personal” factor is enormous, and this list might as easily be titled “100 Bubbly Beverages We Would Totally Drink (and might rank differently tomorrow).” Some people happen to hate Chardonnay. Some people prefer their sparklers extremely sweet. Some people hate the pink ones. Each of those people would put different wines on this list. We’ve tried to represent a little bit of everything.
Finally, if you are totally distracted by sparkling wine jargon, here is a handy glossary.
Hey, a screw-cap sparkling wine! Who knew? This one’s gently fizzy and a little off-dry. It’s Sauv Blanc in the typical New Zealand expression—tropical fruit, tropical fruit, tropical fruit …despite which it manages to be quite refreshing and is a great aperitif. Recommend this bottle for summer picnics and casual backyard get-togethers. It’d be a good Mimosa contender but the mousse is so minimal that it’d probably go pretty flat pretty fast, so I’d say Not A Mixer. But a pleasant warm-weather wine especially for those who like the tropical side of things.
Moscato d’Asti is not everyone’s cup of … juice, but for those who like their sparklies to be dessert-esque, keep an eye out for the Moscato d’Asti DOC. These wines are made from the rather ancient Moscato Bianco grape, in or around Asti in northwestern Italy. They are sweet, fizzy and low in alcohol. Oh, and if you want your hip-hop cred to be unassailable, please know that this stuff has replaced Champagne (Lucky for you, because try finding Cristal for $20 a bottle.) Ceretto’s Moscato is bright straw-yellow with an intense, perfumed nose (fruity/spicy) with a light-bodied, nicely acid-balanced finish.
Lambrusco is another Italian frizzante that can be a bit divisive. People tend to either love or hate it. Lambrusco di Sorbara is the lighter-bodied, less aggressive clone of this grape, often, rendered as a rosato. Frothy bubbles, and intense red berry notes on the nose. In the mouth, the dominant note is cranberry, with lingering mineral and earth elements. Great Rx for a bored palate! Have it by itself, or try it with charcuterie and cheese.
An Austrian sekt made from the Grüner Veltliner grape, which you more commonly find as a still white. Grüner is a “light-bodied” wine in the extreme; in fact it can be a bit watery if it’s not handled well. Not to worry here. Szigeti’s sparkling version is definitely a casual wine, but it’s not lacking in flavor. Tart acidity, large bubbles and a short, almost sharp finish highlight a strongly lemony character. This is a great, equal-opportunity food wine, refreshing and non-overwhelming and plain tasty. I recently had a spicy Vietnamese clay-pot stew that probably would have gone great with this. It will put heavy sauces in perspective.
Even the name’s a mouthful, but you can just take that as Italian for “this is really, seriously, super high-quality Prosecco.” The designation “Millesimato” indicates a special extra-awesome production run, and the rest of it specifies that this is Official Good Stuff Prosecco from 100% Glera grapes. Personally, I sometimes find Prosecco a little bit … basic. Pleasant but with a limited range. Like it won’t generally disappoint you but it won’t surprise you much, either. This one’s surprising. Rich, straw-colored, with a vivacious and assertive peppery nose, pear and peach on the palate and more herbaceous flavors than many Proseccos, including a minty-eucalyptus note and some hay-like qualities. Great structure, quick finish. Lively and approachable and well suited for parties.
Santa Margherita is better known for Pinot Grigio. They also make this stuff, and it’s quite good. They’re also a good choice for the sustainability-conscious (which should arguably be all of us), with a focus on sustaibable practices in the vineyards and in the winery. Their sparkling pink is not a rosé in the usual sense of taking black grapes and pressing them off the skins—this is prosecco (Glera) to which a small amount of red wine (Malbec specifically) has been added. It’s a lighthearted and free-spirited bubbly with an alpine strawberry character you wouldn’t find in a true Prosecco, and it’s a really beautiful color. The hint of Malbec adds interesting floral dimensions and gives it a longer finish than a pure Glera would often have. I bet it would be great with a white pizza, or roast chicken.
This is the full-blooded red version of Lambrusco and it’s a wines you will either find joyful or off-putting but probably not much in between. Sparkling reds are a bit confusing for some people, and Lambrusco ranks with the dreaded white Zinfandel among misunderstood-because-sadly-mishandled wines. An Emiglia-Romagna native, this wine is dark and rich, very full-bodied and pretty tannic, none of which are things you think of when you think “sparkling wine.” It is kind of fascinating stuff, though. Mysterious and deep, with a clear ruby color and a plummy, black-cherry character. This is a sparkling wine with no problem standing up to grilled meat or aged cheese. Not my first choice for large gatherings because there will be people who plain don’t like it. Great for smaller, more intimate situations with people you already know enjoy experimenting.
This cava has a cute matte pink bottle that makes it a standout before you even pop the cork. It’s pinot noir-based (considered the best grape for making rosé cava) and strawberry-pink, with berry and apple flavors and a creamy texture. It’s not entirely dry, so those who like a bit of sugar will likely find Anna appealing. This is a great brunch wine but will also happily stay up late. Try it with BBQ or smoked poultry, or chocolate.
Fruity nose, lively mousse, and a great value for a very venerable, high-end name in Italy’s gastronomic paradise, Emilia-Romagna. Deeply colored and a bit—I don’t know … slinky. Generous to intense on the dark red fruit side (I get pomegranate), this is rich and a little sweet. Best served a bit chilled. And maybe paired with other things that come from the same neighborhood, like prosciutto or Castelveltrano olives or cheeses like Parmigiano or Pecorino.
Intense straw color, lovely perlage (that’s French for “the bubbles hang around for a long time”), highly aromatic with lots of peach, pear and green apple on the approach. Floral flipside, with a lemonlike finish. Rich and substantial, but not a drama queen. This one’s a great seafood wine, but again, don’t think you have to restrict yourself to seafood. It’s a team player.
This is a huge bargain for great quality and it has the added benefit of being kind of ubiquitous, which is Italian for “easy to find at your supermarket.” This is a balanced prosecco, with both a lemony astringency and a malolactic creaminess, a touch of grapefruit, a little honey, a hint of pastry. Like any self-respecting Veneto white, an assertive but not overpowering minerality, and a steal. La Marca’s on the “grab a case of it and pop one any time you feel the need for something fizzy” side of things, not the “rare delicacy to make a huge-ass fuss over” side.
Domaine Ste. Michelle is kind of an anchor of the Washington wine world, and though it’s the only Chateau-esque, parklike, big beautiful tasting room winery in easy striking distance of Seattle, even these relatively old-guard guys do things a little differently—in this case adding some pinot blanc to the usual chardonnay/pinot noir mix, which gives this wine a rounded feel and a strong Granny Smith apple note. Lively acidity, medium dryness. Quaffable, and also a great base for champagne cocktails. Very food friendly—try it with sushi. Apple and citrus dominant on the palate. It’s not the most scintillating wine coming out of Washington state but it is consistent and tasty and won’t let you down.
Chandon’s “Étoile” brut sparkler would probably have earned a higher place on this list if its pricetag were a little lower. It’s a very nice wine, but so are lots of things that cost less than half as much. Extended sur lie aging lends this wine a layer of nut and caramel tones you won’t find in a younger wine. It’s got a honeyed quality and a lingering spiced apple finish. Decent acidity, too. All in all, it’s a delicious wine and a likely crowd pleaser, but at $40-50 a bottle, you could please a way bigger crowd just as much with a nice cava. But if you come across it, by all means try it. Especially if you happen to have come across a couple of lobsters.
If you are of an experimental bent, Washington’s a great wine region for you in general and this bubbly Roussanne might become one of your best friends specifically. Made in the “Méthode Champenoise” but using a grape that would get you kicked out of Champagne, this has a gentle perlage and a lot of the aromatics and flavors that make this one of my personal fetish grapes: almonds, pastry, and a juicy, Asian pear type thing. Golden with green reflexes. Lovely acidity. Stands on its own just fine, but as with a majority of the wines on this list, it’s food-versatile. Pair it with chicken or pad thai or curry or nothing at all. Rousanne’s a flexible character.
If you’re one of those “Sparkling wine is pretentious and fussy” people, this one’s for you. This is definitely the kind of wine you open because you’re celebrating the fact that you got home from work. It’s fun, maybe even a little silly. Effervescent and slightly sweet, this blend contains Gewürtztraminer and Moscato grapes, so expect tropical flavors to predominate—lychee, primarily, with some citrus blossom and a little bit of something like Meyer lemon. From Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where pretty much anything can happen, this is a patio wine for sure. Tasty, a little eccentric and happy to hang out with some seafood, or just with you. If you are irritated by bubblies that aren’t bone-dry, you might find this one annoying, and because there are plenty of those folks it wouldn’t be my first choice for a large party. For large amounts of spicy food, I recommend it strongly.
Zonin is most definitely on the “having a large party” list. It’s cheerfulness in a bottle. Maybe it isn’t a wine you’ll be thinking about for days to come, but it’s always a plain old feel-good crowd pleaser. It’s balanced and approachable and will offend no one-it’ll just send them on a trip to Festive City. A true Prosecco from 100% Glera grapes, which are believed to have been around since the days of Julius Caesar. Golden, with a lovely nose of white flowers and mineral notes. Typical aromas and flavors: lemon, orange zest, stone; also hints of stone fruit (peach, nectarine). Clean finish. It’s convivial and friendly and you would have to try very hard to come up with a really bad pairing for it, so open it whenever the mood strikes.
Bisol is an Italian winery with a mere 500 years of experience under its belt-safe to say they know what they’re doing. This NV Brut is a low-key character, subtle and understated, fine-beaded and creamy. Apricot and peach tones along with a sharp citrus note (kumquat or bitter mandarin) and a faint trace of baking spice. A great value, but do not hoard it—Jeio will not age all that gracefully. It will play a gracious sidekick to polenta and mushrooms or any number of veggie dishes, however.
A cava from Penedés, Spain. Cavas are made in the same fashion as Champagnes, but with less pronounceable grapes: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Tropical fruit palate with pineapple and lime dominating, but very dry. Complex, with a long finish, and a lightly floral nose. Food-versatile and fine on its own, but to me, this stuff is begging for garlicky prawns. Or pasta.
If you’re looking for something a little more iconoclastic (or if you’re trying to resolve some karmic issues) this small-production-run bubbly from Washington’s Columbia Valley makes a very cool gift. It’s made from the usual Champagne suspects, Chardonnay and the Pinots Noir and Meunier. Dry and bright with a pastry tone on the approach followed by a mix of white florals, mango and pineapple, and cream. Silky and long on the finish. These folks have a dedication to philanthropy and sustainability, so another good choice for folks who want to support the good guys. Food-wise? Pretty much anything goes.
A beautiful Penedés cava with an almost tangerine color in the glass, fine, snappy, persistent bubbles. Nose of berries and roses. Long finish with a raspberry and cherry character and elegant, lingering woodsy notes. This is a substantial pink that will stand up to heavier foods (though it doesn’t require them). Complex minerality and a lot of panache. This wine’s dream date is turkey; in fact large amounts of it might make a huge improvement to Thanksgiving with your Aunt Millie who criticizes absolutely everything and that one sibling who doesn’t bring anything and complains all day. Sparkling wine is a miracle for taking the edges off that stuff.
Franciacorta is more of a “champagne” type sparkling wine than Prosecco, in that it’s made in the Méthode Champenoise—grapes specific to this DOC are generally Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. In fact, if French Champagne is what you think you like the best, but you don’t like what it does to your wallet, this is the stuff you want. It’s more like champagne than any other sparkling wine I’ve tasted and the price/quality ratio is just way more reasonable. This one’s pretty dreamy, with apple and pear fragrances and a velvety texture, displaying lovely depth and a zesty acidity. Lingering spice notes, great richness, a lingering citrusy finish. It pairs well with… well, everything. But try it with dishes from the same region (Lombardy)—think risotto, osso bucco, polenta or pumpkin ravioli with some brown butter and sage.
Be warned: This wine is a total freaking flirt. If you feel like it’s trying to seduce you, it probably is. An unabashedly fruity pink from Bordeaux. Since true Champagnes are generally blends, it’s always fun to see what happens with varietal bubblies—this one, made from Merlot grapes, is fresh and approachable and juicy, with a beautiful bright pink hue and lots of berry and sour cherry notes; earth and chalk on the nose as well. Elegant, high-finesse, nice long finish with a lingering hint of vanilla. It’s firmly in the “tastes like it would be a lot more expensive” category and the kind of wine that will intrigue the person in your life who carries on ad nauseam about their wine-savantism. It’s a wonderful aperitif, party-friendly, and probably pairs most seamlessly with poultry dishes, but I can’t say it enough times: Sparkling wines are absurdly food-versatile and situations where you can go badly wrong with a food pairing are relatively rare.
This is a rounded, balanced bubbly from the venerable house of Santa Margherita. Clean, fruit-forward, with a lot of peach blossom on the nose. Plays nicely with food. In fact, it might be the wine you go to for pairing with the unpairable. It can stand up to ingredients (most of them vegetables) that are notoriously hard to work with, wine-wise, like beets, artichokes, salads with vinaigrette dressings. Also definitely a friend to salmon, crab, and blue cheeses. I’d also happily cocktail this stuff-brunch mimosas or kir royales, or evening concoctions involving bitters and citrus zest. It’s not a wine that will induce gasping, moaning, and lengthy discussion but man, is it a workhorse. This is high on the list of general problem-solver bubblies.
Chardonnay is a nemesis to many people. Often this is because they’ve only tried one style from one place (and that place is probably Napa Valley, where some viniferous crimes occasionally get committed). Thing is, Chardonnay ranks at or near the top of the list of shapeshifter grapes: Terroir and handling are everything. Washington is an interesting place, winemaking-wise, and this sparkling Chard’s a good example. Made in the traditional Champagne style, this bottle is balanced and tasty, with brioche and apple notes dominating. Vanilla and something like bread dough (almost like fresh buttermilk biscuits with honey?) are layered in, as well. Very bright acidity and a smooth finish. If you are someone who eats pork, try this as a pairing. If you are someone who eats only plants, good news: This wine will work for you too. Though I wouldn’t pair it with asparagus. Mushrooms, though? Perfecto.
I almost don’t want to put this in writing too often due to More For Me issues, but it has to be said. South Africa might just be the most overlooked wine region in the world. And wrongly. This means the flavors of the Cape and centuries of craft are yours for a sliver of something of equal quality that happens to be French. Take Graham Beck’s Brut yummybomb for example. An almost 50-50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine is complex, vibrant and fresh, with a brioche note leading on the nose and an array of tropical fruit notes including mango and layers of citrus peel. A hint of apricot, too. There is a pleasant creaminess and a short, but pleasing, finish. Graham Beck wines are rock-solid and environmentally conscious as a lovely bonus, so put this on your “keep several bottles of this around in case of a spontaneous dinner party, picnic, or … the sudden onset of 5:00 PM” list. It’s definitely on mine.
For the people who took German: “Saltare” means “to dance” in Latin, and that is exactly what this dry little vixen from the amazing Stellenbosch region does when it hits your tongue, or for that matter your nose. Rich and opulent, with citrus peel, marzipan, herbs and quince notes on the nose. Delicate mousse, long finish with a decidedly yeasty or bread-like flavor. Creamy texture and a slightly honeyed. Apparently the Romans had a saying: “Nemo saltat sobrius,” or “No one dances sober.” You can make up your own mind about that, but know that this bottle will happily partner with whatever you’re putting on the table. Crab. Popcorn. Pho. Standing rib roast. Waldorf salad. I don’t care. It’s good with everything. It’s a boutique winery with less ubiquitous distribution than many of the wines on this list, so aren’t we lucky that online retail is a thing?
Huet is one of the masters of the Chenin Blanc grape, which you’re generally more likely to see in still form. Chenin Blanc can be a little on the uninspiring side but these guys do a really nice job with it. The Pétillant Brut is light, refreshing, with a primarily green apple character, and a lot of mineral notes. Refined bubbles, light-bodied and light in color. A bit ephemeral, and likely to get along with foods that also have a certain immediacy to them: Think sashimi or a cheese soufflé for example. Again, because the bubbles aren’t especially feisty, you’ll likely shut them down completely using this as a cocktail mixer. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
The first time I tasted this I was underwhelmed. I subsequently realized that the server had poured me a glass from a bottle that had been opened back when velociraptors terrorized the land. Once I got hold of a fresh bottle I changed my mind hurriedly. This varietal Xarel-lo (cavas are usually blends, so it’s fun to get a single-varietal one)) from the Penedés region of Spain is a gold-green bubbly with a lot of really interesting herbal notes (rosemary, fennel, thyme) with a peaches-and-cream heart. Soft, fine mousse. Completely delicious. Try it with bacalao and chick peas! I had it with a medium-rare carne asada and didn’t spend a nanosecond wishing I’d ordered a big throaty red. Oily fish will meet their match with this one, too.
A great Spanish sparkling wine recommended by Julie Cappellano, a wine and spirits expert at Formaggio Kitchen South End in Boston. It’s refreshing, dry and surprisingly complex for such an inexpensive bubbly. You might taste nutmeg. You might taste … popcorn? You could pair it with popcorn. I wouldn’t put it on the table with really feisty, aggressive foods though, it is one of the wines that might get a little overshadowed by mole negro or grilled mackerel.
This Sonoma County sparkler is a really tasty blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with a salmon hue in the glass and great structure. Strawberry, raspberry and apple lead. Floral notes (rose, primarily, and lingering nut tones (mainly almond) and blood orange on the finish, with a pleasant minerality. It expresses Pinot Noir characteristics most (the main component of the blend), and has bracing acidity and great crispness. A fine oyster wine. Good with lots of other stuff too.
In the “French knowhow without the Champagne fancy-neighborhood price” category, this white blend (mostly Colombard, Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc, also known as Trebbiano) hails from the Jura region and is made in the traditional method. Pale gold wine with greenish reflexes; delicate perlage. Intensely perfumed white-flower nose (jasmine, citrus blossom, maybe honeysuckle) gives way to a beautifully balanced “yellow” heart (yellow apple, lemon, brioche). Creamy mouthfeel, pleasant, lingering finish, great structure. A lovely aperitif but feel free to pair it with just about anything.
If you’re the kind of person who does not want to be engaged in a serious confrontation with your beverage, this is a sedate and unaggressive character who will not throw a gauntlet at you. Mauzac and Chenin Blanc aged in steel. Appley. Long finish but not a ton of depth. If you are a fan of ultra-light whites like Gruner Veltliner you might want to get your hands on this.
Elegant. Classic. Persistent perlage and straw-yellow hue. There’s a pleasant fruitiness, some bread-like and citrusy notes and a nice white flower nose. Gancia has been making prosecco since 1865. You can trust them, they know what they’re about. Party-friendly, this wine is a classic Veneto Prosecco at a great price. It wants to be with Asian food.
Distinctive pale rosy tone in the glass. This is a happy-go-lucky, affable cuvéee with persistent and refined perlage. Roses, citrus peel and a hint of lychee haunt the nose, and on the palate a rapidly unfolding array of summer fruits combine with a very taut, well-balanced acidity. A great aperitif and all-around bon vivant at a grab-a-case price. So yeah, grab a case. But don’t store it more than about two years. You probably won’t need to remember this advice because it’ll disappear spontaneously.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier. Sleek, dry, fruit-forward. Citrus and something a bit fennel-like on the nose; creamy body with yeast, honey, pear, apple and spice notes. You could drink this every day—and I know some people who do.
Prosecco DOC generally means a straw-colored beverage with a fresher, less aged-tasting character than Champagne, due to its being aged in the “Charmat” or tank method style, rather than in bottles. Mionetto’s lovely rendition of happy-in-a-glass has a fresh-faced, soft and approachable character, and evokes ripe pears and honey, with a balanced acidity and very crisp finish. Prosecco is a great cocktail wine, but don’t be fooled into thinking that means you wouldn’t want to drink it on its own. This stuff is thoroughly delizioso as an aperitif, and a fine accompaniment to a wide range of foods. Prosecco is an extroverted, sociable beverage and gets along well with almost anything you’d think to pair it with.
This wine is an incredible value and tastes like it ought to be a lot more expensive. Happily it is not! Case-worthy and most definitely summer afternoon with friends-worthy. Part Pinot Nero, part Chardonnay, and part some kind of ineffable terroir-magic that comes from this DOC, it’s an elegantly nuanced and beautiful pink with notes of strawberry and sour cherry, followed by pastry and cream notes. Beautiful effervescence, great minerality, some little traces of spice. Fruity, extremely easy-going, very refined.
All Jean-Charles Boisset wines are numbered. The “21” release is so called because it’s the French government’s department designation for the Cote d’Or. Crémants de Bourgogne are generally Chardonnay or Pinot Noir with a range of potential supporting players. In this iteration, there’s a youthful, vivacious air to the wine and a pretty pale gold color. Almond blossom nose-liquid springtime. An array of fruit notes on the palate. Early spring seasonal foods might be the most fun pairing experiments.
So, I’m not always the world’s hugest Gloria Ferrer fan; this was a great year for them. A very feisty mousse, and a really intriguing bouquet of Asian pear and apple, Meyer lemon and bread. Lavish finish with a complex interplay of creamy and stony notes. Really very good. Need to just plain lighten the mood? Pour this.
Zonin made a really playful limited edition run of “prosecco-plus” wines, which you’ll find in eye-catching white, black and gray matte bottles. The trope: prosecco is usually made from the Glera grape. These ones are mostly Glera but each is blended with a little Pinot—Blanc, Noir and Gris. (Get it?) They’re all “prosecco” but have wonderful subtle differences (not imaginary—in fact this is a fun blind tasting game for those of us who are a a certain kind of nerd). Long story short, the Blanc lends a little bit of pear and green apple and a certain roundedness, the Gris is a little extra citrus and snappiness, and my favorite, the Noir, gets a little hit of black cherry you do not generally find in peachy all-Glera prosecco. Individual tastes will vary, but they are all wonderful.
Festive and easy, this 80% Pinot Noir bubbly is salmon-pink and pleasantly beaded. Napa Valley wines often feature “big” flavors—you’d be unlikely to confuse one with a rosé from, say, Provence. Here, there’s a lot of black cherry, the typical fraise des bois note found in lots of West Coast Pinots, and a healthy dose of raspberry, with hints of peach and plum. On the finish, very decent minerality and a lingering note of something like cookies or graham crackers. (Don’t infer “sweet” from the mention of cookies; it’s definitely dry.) Assertive personality and fairly playful. Pairs well with a wide range of foods, including some notoriously difficult spicy types.
Man, do I have a crush on the Alto Adige-Trentino region. No exception here. A brut with a straw color, very persistent and fine perlage and a lovely clarity. A very “yellow” bubbly with aromatics of almond and yellow fruits, a pleasant yeastiness, and a creamy texture with a snappy Meyer lemon finish. The right occasion for this? Your birthday. Someone else’s birthday. Sunday dinner. You found a penny in the street. It didn’t rain. You finished the crossword. Seriously: Anything.
Brilliant yellow hue, a bouquet on the low-key side but with pleasant, appealing saline and almond notes, as well as a hint of chamomile. Decently persistent bubbles, really nice apple-lemon thing on the palate and a shortish but very nice finish. Solid citizen; not a drama queen. Goes with: charcuterie. Fried stuff. Seafood. Pizza. Potato chips (yes, I’m serious). Szechuan food. There are few non-versatile sparkling wines and Proseccos might be the most go-along-to-get-along of all. This one included. So go nuts. Oh! Nuts. Nuts would go nicely with this wine.
A gaunt specter of a wine; big on austerity and leanness and drier than an Oscar Wilde quip. Pale-straw color, fine but very persistent mousse. A study in crushed stone notes and probably one of the best friends sushi will ever have. When this stuff does give up a little fruitiness, it’s largely tart apple and lemon with a trace of pomelo. It has top-notch structure and will disabuse anyone of the opinion that you cannot be a 100% Chardonnay from the western United States without being a pineapple upside-down cake in a bottle. Pop the cork on ol’ Slim here if you want a fabulous hot-day refresher or something that will keep a cream sauce from getting too big for its britches.
Napa Valley fruit of the Pinot family. Has the typical notes of a CA Blanc de Noirs: strawberry, currant and cherry (more on the cherry side than some, which I happen to like). This is a festive and approachable wine with a dense mid-palate and lovely creaminess. Lingering. Food pairings? It plays well with others but its secret passion is salty stuff. Try it with smoked salmon, caviar, or salty cheeses.
Sometimes things are just pretty. This is an example. Elegant, refined and clean, with a crystalline pale gold color and long beading. Pleasant chalkiness, notes of apricot and raspberry. Perfect acidity and a lively, appealing finish full of candied lemon peel. This is a world-class seafood wine but certainly cannot do you wrong as an aperitif.
A little bit of a party animal, but the kind with really good manners. This exuberant gold bubbly from the mountainous Trentino area exhibits persistent, very fine perlage, and a lovely bready nose. Ripe apples, white flowers, and some really lovely stone notes. If you are a Chardonnay hater, reserve judgment until you’ve tasted a couple from Trentino—they’re different, in a really good way. This would be a fine place to start.
From the festive bottle alone you should probably get the impression that you’re opening something lighthearted and effortless and a little different, like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Crafted from cava grapes Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo (that’s Catalan for “tasty”), this wine is pale green-yellow, light, dry and very fruity. Green apple dominates but there’s a kind of diffuse candied-fruit thing that’s a little hard to pin down. A little orange peel, a little pear. Super-clean, brisk finish. A great aperitif but, like most sparkling wines, also happy companions to almost anything you’re putting on the dinner table. If you are one of those people who see non-stratospheric price tags on sparkling wine and feel worried that you might be buying total plonk, let it go if this is the bottle in your hand. A contender for the best value on this list, Vilarnau in particular and cava in general is miraculously affordable for the care and quality that go into it.
“Champagne prices have a tendency to swing drastically as the large champagne houses reposition themselves during the holiday season, but generally this one comes in at $10-15 less than Veuve Clicquot,” says Certified Sommelier Yashar Shayan, and founder of Impulse Wine. On the nose: aromatic pears and hints of raspberries. On the palate: light cherries, fresh peaches and it finishes with a creamy, briochey, richness.
An all-Chardonnay Champagne with a lot of really great florals. Acacia and honeysuckle dominate. Notes of apricot, pastry, and almond, a little hint of candied ginger. Extremely fresh, a tiny bit steely. Really well structured. The obvious choice with this is a big plate of oysters, but that’s true of a lot of sparkling wines. Branch out. Just because you shelled out doesn’t mean it has to be shellfish. I’d be totally cool putting this next to a perfectly seared ribeye and some fingerling potatoes.
A sparkling Chenin Blanc at a great price. Dry yet somehow leaves you with an impression of sweetness. Dominant notes are honey, quince, apple, white flowers and chalk, with a little lemon and honeysuckle trailing behind. Tiny and somewhat subdued bubbles, clean finish. Super food-friendly.
This is a beautiful pink NV sparkler that incorporates the time-honored-yet-dreaded “saignee” or bleed-off method that gave Zinfandel a bad name in the 1980s. A blend of red varietals is pressed and some of the juice immediately siphoned off, then blended with Chardonnay. The method is old and it is old for a reason; this early harvested, cool blend is nothing like a headache-inducing hothead white Zin. It’s fresh, youthful and lovely, with a salmon-pink tone, tasty light-bodied fruitiness, good structure and fine bubbles developed under “cap” fermentation. It is a very good friend to chicken. It is also very comfortable on its own—and hell, it has earned it, with over 300 years of experience. The new new is old, people.
Luxuriant, romantic and beautiful, this South African bubbly is watermelon-pink with faint amber glints. This wine kind of glows, and you might find that particularly nice sunsets are strong triggers to open a bottle. Redcurrant and alpine strawberry nose with an assortment of flowery grace notes, extremely silky mouthfeel with streaming bubbles. Red berry flavors dominate on the palate. Long and elegant finish. I wouldn’t mind having this with dessert—chocolate mousse, say—but if some just fell into my glass at another time, I wouldn’t be put out about it.
Like many pink sparklers it has a significant percentage of pinot noir (60%) with Chardonnay making up the rest. Salmon-pink in the glass, very pretty bubbles, aromatics are rose-petal and wild strawberry. Dry with a clean finish reminiscent of stone fruit and almonds (which I love). The terroir of the Trento area is mysterious and intriguing and creates thought-provoking and highly drinkable wines. This one prefers lighter dishes. I think it might be really awesome with baked eggs and fresh goat cheese. I have not confirmed that through research, but someone should.
From the magical land of Healdsburg, Calif., where you have to try kind of hard to make bad wine. J’s 2010 Vintage Brut is a wine with some staying power—at least theoretically. I wouldn’t know because there is no way a bottle of this stuff would get stored past Friday night at my house. Elegant and springy (like the season, not a mattress), it opens with a bouquet of almond and stone fruit blossoms, apples and a hint of dried apricot. Decidedly pie-crusty on the palate, but also with layers of focused fruit notes, largely mandarin, lemon, orange and some kind of very aromatic pear. Crisp finish, excellent minerality.
A Catalan sparkler from one of the greats. This fascinating wine is made from the traditional cava grapes, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. This is an unusual one, though, with an unctuous, almost oily character, a blast of toasted walnut notes, citrus peel, marzipan and some tropical fruit (pineapple?) with a bit of apple. The bouquet is mesmerizing. On the palate there is a fascinating salinity and mineral character balanced with a distinct creaminess. This is not something I would call a “party” wine. There’s something contemplative and brooding about it; you’ll want to sit quietly with it. At least for a minute.
Some Champagnes are ethereal. This one’s earthy. Copper-tinted, with a subtle smokiness on the approach, along with a panoply of red fruit notes, ginger, honey and orange. Citrus and strawberries dominate on the palate, with a saline note and decidedly chalky minerality. Very long finish. Fine mousse, subtle creaminess, layered.
This pale yellow cava is complex and deep, with apple and white nectarine notes on the nose followed by herbaceous tints; fennel or licorice primarily. On the palate, toasted nuts, fresh bread and citrus zest. Very good structure and an incredibly velvety texture.
Mostly Pinot Noir and with some skin time, as attested to by the brilliant watermelon-pink hue. The amount of pigmentation in a pink wine doesn’t necessarily telegraph the level of boldness or assertiveness of the flavor profile-in this case it does. Vivid, bright, juicy, with intense raspberry notes along with black cherries and a touch of lime. If you want a sparkling wine that will cheerfully hang out with a grilled steak, this is your bottle. Festive, fruity, assertive and plain yummy.
Andy Hale of Sour Grapes in Asheville, N.C., calls this one of the most affordable grower champagnes he’s ever seen. A blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir, gives this wine a richer, more luscious texture with a beautiful floral flavor. Triolet farms in a traditional method called Lutte Raisonee, which is similar to U.S. organic farming. This is truly a champagne that must be tasted to be believed.
So, you might be noticing I am a big fan of Iron Horse. You should be, too. This blanc de noirs is primarily pinot noir and has a rose-pink hue and a mind-blowing strawberry and cream character. An exceedingly food-versatile wine, this is a great treat to bring to a dinner party even if you don’t know what’s being served. It goes with everything. And stands alone just fine, thank you.
I love these guys. Boschendal has been making wine in South Africa since shortly after the death of William Shakespeare and they are world-class. The brut pink is mostly Pinotage with a little Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the result is a very elegant pale-rose color with almost lilac reflexes. Early harvest of the grapes keeps the acidity brisk and lively. There’s something just plain sexy about this wine. It’s subtle, creamy, structured and bracing, with a lingering pomegranate note along with various red berries. I’d tell you to drink this one young, but I don’t have to because it’s the kind of wine you’ll be unable to resist opening.
This 100% pinot noir from Alsace is a pale salmon color and has nice, persistent bubbles. Perfumed nose of strawberries and flowers. Affable, frothy, exuberant. Medium bodied with great acidity, red currant and berry notes, bright citrusy finish. This wine is a good time in a bottle.
Almost equal parts Chard and Pinot Noir with a tiny bit of Pinot Meunier. PJ’s flagship in the gorgeous painted floral-motif bottle is even prettier on the inside. Elegant, classy, high-finesse, with a floral nose (linden and acacia predominate), silky mouthfeel, apple-y palate with a little lime and a bit of spice on the finish. White peach, honey and almond will come more to the forefront with age. This is one of the classics, and you’ll know why the minute you try it. Warning: we are firmly in the “I take myself very, very seriously, for lo, I am Champagne” zone. So if you’re expecting Fantastic Beasts style gigglewater, get past it.
Whether Champagne is truly an aphrodisiac remains a subject of debate, but if you’re looking for a love potion, or a sparkling wine to fall in love with, this is a pretty great one. (P.S., if you’re on your own, this wine will happily be your date.) Intense nose, with fresh raspberries leading, along with assorted florals. On the palate the wine is balanced and exceedingly well-structured. Strong red berry notes courtesy of a pinot majority in the blend (I get a ghost of something citrusy too), beautiful delicate rosy hue, persistent mousse, a delicate creaminess. 2008 was a great year for Champagne, but if you find one from a different vintage, you’re in for treat regardless.
This Blanc de Noirs is an absolute classic, a straightforward and fruit-forward Champagne, full-bodied and a bit fleshy. Juicy, opening on pear notes and a little bit of something gingery, plums, a little bit of pie crust and a grapefruit-dominant finish. This is not an austere wine, nor is it particularly exotic. It’s a Little Black Dress Champagne—goes with everything, always in style, appropriate for any occasion. Excellent gift. Including to yourself.
A very elegant wine from a pretty venerable house. Chardonnay-forward, so less of a berry affair and more on the apple-blossom and citrus side of things. Savory notes come forward as well, something toasted or even smoky. Strong minerality that should have oysters quaking in fear. Do oysters experience fear? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that this is a classic, and very refined wine.
Some proseccos are casual or even a bit raucous; others are dignified but stylish. Chloe is one of those classic, elegant types. If it were a movie star it would be Eva Marie Saint. Fine bubbles, straw-colored in the glass with a bit of a green tint, and a lovely expression of the Glera grape, very lively peach, apple, and white flower notes, a citrusy finish with a nice balancing hint of something stony.
While I have by no means tried every wine coming out of Oregon, Argyle’s probably making the best sparklers I’m aware of. The Extended Tirage is aged on the yeast for a decade. Malolactic fermented Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. A carefully handled, definitely “artisan” wine, this shows an odd (good odd) fruitcake-like note, nuts and spices and candied fruit peel. A little trace of burnt orange rind. Peaches and pastry. Soft minerality, great endurance. This wine makes me just want fresh levain bread and really good butter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a real dinner. It’s a fine aperitif, too.
A Mendocino County outpost of Reims big-guy Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate gets its fruit from the beautiful Anderson Valley. This stuff gets aged for a long time and can continue to do so for quite a while to come. Hazelnut and apricot notes are dominant, with a lemony acidity and a very long finish. Mouthfeel is extremely silky, persistent and full of beautiful bubbles. Another “But seriously, it goes with everything” bottle and another gift choice that telegraphs you have great taste and are not trying to be a total berk.
If you were to argue that this wine is too far up the list here, I would probably say, “Yeah, you’re right.” It’s a real problem when the world is brimming over with incredible sparkling wines, but it’s a good problem. Silverthorn is one of South Africa’s hotshot Cap Classique artisans, and “Jewel Box” is probably their crowning … um, achievement. Dense hay-color. Rich and complicated with opulent marzipan, almond blossom and bakery notes, cherry pie, oranges and tangerines. Dry, but not bony by a long shot. Elegant long streams of tiny bubbles. A beautiful fusion of French sensibility and Cape terroir. There are tons of wines that are priced twice as high (or five times) that aren’t this good. Truly a beauty.
Veuve Cliquot is synonymous with Champagne for a lot of people, and not without reason. This pink iteration is a bit of a change from the regular entry-level yellow label lady you’ll find at the grocery store. It shows a smoky, earthy, chalky kind of quality; it’s light-bodied but fairly assertive. Soft spiciness, some salinity, mid-palate of red fruits, grace notes of toasted nuts, orange peel, aniseed, almond and cherry. Lingering finish. I want to say keep the food light and graceful and let the interesting depth-notes of this wine have a chance to sing.
If you see the name “Trento” on a Bubbly Blanc, it’s probably Chardonnay. (This one is.) The Trento area has a strange affinity for this grape; if you were to insist that it’s the best Chardonnay on earth you wouldn’t automatically get an argument out of me. Exceedingly elegant, very pale straw color, very persistent and fine bubbles. There’s a kind of wild apple note to the nose, followed by a citrus note (tangerine, to me) and lingering aromas of almond blossom and fresh pastry. All very rich but subtle. The finish is fairly typical sparkling Chard fruit notes, a lovely minerality common to wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy, and a lingering almond finish. It’s the Italian bubbly equivalent of a classic strand of pearls.
In a word: sexy. A rich, voluptuous, salmon-tinted sparkler with persistent bubbles and a rounded character. Lush combination of cherry, pear, spices and earth, with a pleasantly citrusy finish. A bit of a forest floor note, some vanilla, and a seashell sort of minerality. This is the kind of wine I’d open all by myself and drink unrepentantly on a warm evening in the garden, but it will definitely benefit, as all sparkling wines do, from being shared. A drag-and-drop hostess gift for any dinner party.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (an unusually high percentage of the Meunier, around 40%). This is the real deal, a true Champagne with an ancient lineage, and a more affordable bottle than the House’s signature “Belle Epoque.” Light, elegant and lively, this wine carries a good deal of lemon and lime zest on the nose and tart berries on the palate. It’s clean, versatile, and lovely.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This majority Pinot Noir wine, even rendered as a white, has the Pinot’s characteristic hints of cherry, berry and plum. Add Chardonnay and malolactic fermentation, and you get a creamy undertone of vanilla, caramel, hazelnut and freshly baked bread. You can confidently age this, but I can already tell you—you won’t. It’s just too drinkable.
This is one yummy pink cava, folks. A bit of a cherry-bomb, with raspberries and lime in supporting roles. Elegant, not skimpy on the bubbles, and remarkably versatile. Acidity balanced as an Olympic gymnast and a bright, bright finish.
I remember a time when Domaine Carneros was a little bit more of a local secret and their price point wasn’t quite so lofty. Those were good times because the wines were a freaking steal for the quality. This is far from their priciest, however, and it’s lovely. Made in honor of tastemaker and bubby-aficionado Madame de Pompadour, this is a youthful and fruity wine I personally would not recommend cellaring for too long. Foamy mousse that hangs on like crazy. Dominant notes of cherries and raspberries, along with a little spice (cinnamon or allspice), and a significant presence of orange zest. A certain exuberance, but not a diva.
Dry to the edge of bony. Honeysuckle on the nose, then stone and saline notes take it from there. Peach, pear and a little citrus on the finish. Bracing. Tart. Restrained. All about structure.
This 80/20 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend is on the heavier-bodied side, and very layered. Gruet’s Grande Reserve is an elegant, complex, serious wine. Think toasted bread, caramel, white chocolate in addition to the more typical apple and citrus notes found in these blends. Dry but rich, with a long finish. Gorgeous.
A pink Pinot Nero spumante from Veneto, Italy. Ethereal pink with slight violet tints, this wine is whispery and soft, but not a wallflower. Soft but persistent bubbles, and delicate floral and fruit notes. (I get raspberries and roses.) The appropriate occasion for this wine is absolutely anything. The pairing? Ditto. I officially defy you not to love this stuff. It’s my go-to for pizza, especially that one with the potatoes and white truffle oil.
So, there are austere, bony, spectral sparkling wines. And then there are wines like Gosset, with an unabashed Baroque decadence. The Grande Reserve Brut is explosive, though harmonious—like a big resounding chord. Rich, with a honeyed character and lots of toast tones, as well as neroli, peaches, and fresh profiteroles. Raspberry and lime on the finish. The aromatics are intense, the mouthfeel dense and full-figured. I want to say goat cheese is the obvious choice here. I have known people to say it is fabulous with fried chicken.
This biodynamically farmed cuvee Champagne would most appropriately be placed in the “Le Charm-Bomb” style of French sparklers. It’s incredibly festive, very versatile, and has a sort of wittiness to it. (Please don’t ask me how it is that wine can have or not have a sense of humor, but trust me, it’s a thing, and frankly not everything that comes out of Champagne has the ability to laugh out loud.) It’s a Chardonnay, and its main expression is grapefruit and crushed stone, but there’s a healthy ration of orchard fruit notes too, including aromatic quince. Dry but faintly honeyed, with a beautiful bead and a skin-tight finish. Focused but don’t expect it to take itself overly seriously. You can get that from plenty of Champagnes. Come to this one for a break from all that. Finesse for days, non-snooty. Gnocchi would enjoy a night out with this.
This cuvee from Napa is just plain delicious. The winemakers get “free rein” on this limited edition wine, which means there’s more year-to-year variability, which means I’m discussing the 2009 release specifically. This is one of the best sparklers in Napa Valley, with a burnished gold hue and persistent mousse. Explosive palate, with raspberry and alpine strawberry leading but also a good deal of fig and nut tones and a hint of vanilla. It balances creaminess and acidity very nicely.
If you lined up ten wine experts and asked them what their favorite Champagne was, they’d probably all say something different, and regardless of their training and experience, each answer would be founded in an emotional reaction they had to that wine. Billecart-Salmon is my “it’s an emotional thing” bubbly. It might hit you differently, but you can expect excellent craftsmanship from these guys, and in the case of the Brut Reserve iteration, a bright straw hue with slow, almost levitating bubbles and a nose full of ripe pears. Mid-palate is largely about stone fruits, with a slight grassiness and a touch of mango. It’s bright and clean and joyful.
A Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend from the Northern California Coast, this beautiful wine is structured, elegant and clean, equally at home with sashimi or chocolate—it can stand up to something rich and unctuous but also plays nicely with light appetizers and salads. The 2007 bottling is a rich, layered mixture of cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavors, with ghost notes of mandarin and melon and something faintly yeasty. Will not disappoint any reasonable human.
With a brilliant gold color and long-lasting bubbles, this highly vivacious stuff is aged for a long time on the yeast, so it has a very mature and voluptuous nature—it’s a bit like someone managed to bottle sunshine. Ripe fruit notes (plum and apricot, a little mango) mingle with lightly nutlike traces on the nose (pistachio?) while the palate expresses buttery pastry, cherries and caramel and praline notes. The texture is lavish and lush. If I were going to step out on Billecart-Salmon I’d be hooking up with Heidsieck for sure. (In other words, put this in the Awesome Gift Column.)
I love this stuff. Love. It. It is just so freaking good. Albrecht is a long-respected name in Alsatian sparkling wine, and this wine is a perfect example of why you don’t need ultra-deep pockets for something incredible. For what a bottle of Dom Perignon 2005 would cost you could get nearly a case of this, and you’d probably be equally happy. Made from Pinot Blanc grapes and showing the soft green apple note characteristic of that varietal, this is an ultra-elegant, crisp, refined, layered and well-structured wine. A creamy texture, beautiful beading, and a long, light, lemony finish. It is sophisticated, versatile, and approachable. As with so many of these wines, this would have an affinity for food from the same region, and Alsace tends toward the rich and substantial (think pork and game and stews and tarte flambée). Perhaps I’m a heretic but I’d pair this with anything.
There are few “prestige cuvee” wines on this list. Partially, it’s because it’s questionable whether it’s worth it in light of the price range. For some people, the high price tag is a key part of the opulent experience, and it’s part of what they want. Personally, I prefer to drink things that do not give me guilt pangs or a credit card balance I can’t pay off. I’m calling out the vintage here because it’s the only Dom Perignon I’ve ever tasted so I cannot speak to anything else, and also because it’s a very good wine made from a reputedly difficult vintage. The nose is a decadent mixture of toasted brioche, subtle fruit notes and a hint of citrus and chalk. It’s a substantial wine with caramelized tones on the palate and even a hint of smokiness. A long, persistent finish. Is it a beauty? Oh, definitely. Is it a bucket-list kind of wine? That’s up to you. There are plenty of sparkling wines I’d be equally thrilled to drink that I can buy without donating an organ. With this stuff you’re kind of drinking an experience at least as much as a glass of Champagne. Oh, and for the record? Here’s a pairing no-no you must, and I mean must, take very seriously. Do not, ever, under any circumstances, I don’t care who you are—do not pull this wine out on a first date with someone you are trying to impress. All you will impress upon them is a huge red flag and the impression that you are leading in the polls for the Asshat City mayoral race. Ignore this public service announcement at your peril.
I seriously owe a debt to the person who turned me on to Boschendal (yo, Juliana: Thanks!) This Brut bubbly is a pinot and chardonnay blend with a golden color, a super-bright lemon tone followed by orange peel and almond notes. On the palate, citrus dominates, but there’s some stoniness to it, too, and whispers of tropical fruit notes (pineapple? I think pineapple). This wine is delicate and balanced and not one you should plan on cellaring. It is “Of the Now,” and best drunk young. It might make you feel young, too.
Stong gold hue. Persistent itsy-bitsy bubbles. Fresh to the edge of being a tad sharp with a kind of greenness to it. Medium-bodied, appley. Reined in and elegant, a perfect companion for fish, but as with most of these wines, perfectly happy to hang out with a wide range of food companions, or confidently stand alone.
Ca’ Del Bosco is a venerable and highly awesome Franciacorta producer, and this cuvee is truly world-class. This is a glamorous movie star of a wine, meticulous but energetic, with fine and vivacious bubbles and a bright gold color. It’s aged for at least seven years, which gives it an incomparable bouquet and stunning levels of nuance. Baked apple, caramel, lemons, bread. Apricots, crushed rock, wild herbs. Intensely creamy on the palate with a long, long, long finish. One of the greats, and a wine that is great for celebrating a special occasion, or being the occasion.
Fun fact: When James Bond foregoes his signature martini for a glass of bubbly, he orders Bollinger. And with good reason: It’s indisputably one of the masters of the genre. Aromatic and complicated, with itsy bitsy starry bubbles and a liquid-gold hue. Baked apple, spices, peach, a bit of walnut, brioche and pear. Superb structure and luscious texture. Not exactly a Tuesday night price point for most of us, but if you occasionally find yourself with a bottle in your hand you’re never going to regret it. Bollinger is one of the greats. Pairings: the sky’s the limit with this one, but do your palate the favor of making it something created with care. If you choose to add a side of Dr. No, that’s perfectly reasonable.
This is a very affable wine, and while it’s more of a splurge than most cavas, it’s not an unreasonable one. On the delicate side, crystalline and almost silvery in the glass, meandering, unending bubble-streams. A tad shy on the approach but the nose unfolds into a floral and white nectarine and pear thing, and with a little time, starts to show complicated notes of riper fruit, and savory spices (like curry? Maybe fenugreek?). Dry and fresh with a light finish. A bit reserved, but a great friend once it opens up. Try it with something that echoes those spice notes or just enjoy it as an aperitif.
This Champagne flies a bit under the radar. But bring it as a host gift if the host in question is a wine connoisseur and you will secure a permanent spot on that person’s guest list. Nose of peaches, piecrust, almond or marzipan and a little sweet cherry. A kind of lemon curd thing unfolds on the palate, along with tart green apples, orange rind, mineral notes and spice. Deep, deep depths to this stuff and a molten-gold color that’s totally gorgeous. It’s a complex and impressive concoction and absolutely as good as or better than plenty of champagnes for which you shell out a good deal more.
The term “Millesime” is common in perfumery but in describing Champagne it means the same thing: extra-high quality. And this is some pretty fine stuff. Be careful opening this one if you’re flying solo because you will drink the entire bottle and then start sending racy text messages to your ex by accident. Sleek, structured, finesse in a glass. Straw color, lovely aromatics (violets and strawberries), persistent perlage, and pleasant mix of fruity and pastry-like notes. A beauty. Broadly food-loving but I happen to like this one best paired with an empty house and a movie I didn’t have to negotiate with anyone about.
See, this is a really good example of “it’s personal,” sub-clause “I only tried it once and I recognize it’s fabulous but I can’t really afford it, which inherently makes it less good for me personally.” Many people venerate this Champagne. It deserves a high rank for its complete awesomeness, but I get more excited about makers like Lucien Albrecht or Boschendahl, who make utterly delicious wines you can actually drink without taking out a home equity line. If you’re the kind of person who can drop $300 on something you will, let’s just say it, turn into pee, then you know what? Skip the Dom and get this; it’s a pretty kowtow-worthy wine. It’s a sucker punch with a huge towering presence, incredible complexity, and serious aging power. Notes dominant in this vintage now? Nougat, caramel, roasted nuts, candied citrus zest, ginger, pastry, and a long lime finish. Rich and luxuriant with intriguing salinity. Deep gold color, unapologetic opulence. Try it at least once. Especially if someone else is paying for it! This wine is the Emperor of “I am the occasion” special-occasion wines. I knew someone whose dad bought a high-end Napa Cabernet when she was born and opened it with her on her 21st birthday. This is a wine I’d do that with.
If you like your Champagne on the intense side with a slightly less intense pricetag, this is your guy. There’s an immediacy and power to this stuff. Apricot tone in the glass, beautiful bubbles, massively aromatic nose reminiscent of strawberry jam, baking spices and honey. Creamy mouthfeel, and a highly nuanced and rather eccentric palate—plums, piecrust, blackberries—I even get some rather unexpected spice notes; Is that cumin? Fennel? Before you figure it out it reveals a deeper layer that expresses tea, figs, and pink peppercorns. If that list of spices sounds odd or intimidating, don’t sweat it—it’s amazingly seamless and, with all due respect to La France, the stringent regulations on what you can call Champagne result in consistent greatness but also … predictability. There is a certain limited range of flavors. Heidsieck has managed a very surprising one here. So … if you’re planning to surprise someone special, this might be the moment to pop the cork on a bottle of this nectar.
Domaine Carneros is owned by Taittenger and retains a strongly French style and character. Their price point has gone up quite a bit since the first time I found myself on their patio, which is a drag; if I’d known what was going to happen I would have gone into hock to purchase cases of “Le Reve” and they’d probably still be awesome right now. It’s soft, mellow, fairly nonastringent, with a nose of fresh scones. Its name means “the dream,” and it is pretty much just that. An incredibly luxurious wine. White flowers, peach, honeysuckle, quince, fig, almond and something indefinably creamy. If you wanted something special for—I don’t know why but I want to say Mother’s Day?—I’d look into this one. Not that it has to be that. There’s just something really Spring Occasion about it.
This might not be your desert island wine, but it is mine (assuming your desert island has refrigeration). Never-ending, beautiful effervescence, pale coral color with a hint of gold, nuanced nose (alpine strawberry and pear play the leads). Crisp and ethereal, with hints of black cherry, chalk, rose petals and damson plum. Creamy yet light on the finish, focused and direct with a pleasant astringency and pretty much perfect balance. There’s something ineffable about this stuff—it’s fresh and brisk and airy but at the same time substantial. If you could bottle happiness it would probably taste a lot like this.