Champagne has helped celebrate countless love affairs and inspired the, um, conception of its fair share of families.
What better beverage to help mark the arrival of the New Year — or any other season, or day of the week, come to think of it?
Sure, sparklers can cost a fortune (and can be fantastic), but there are also great bubblies for much less, sold everywhere from Publix to posh wine shops.
Among the authentic Champagnes, which technically can only come from a small area in France of the same name, there are plenty in the $30-plus range that are wonderful. My favorite mid-rangers include Heidsieck & Co.’s Monopole Brut, Deutz Brut Classic, G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut, and Laurent-Perrier Brut, with Perrier Jouet’s Grand Brut and Veuve Clicquot Brut close behind.
(A bit about all the “brut” business: “Extra Dry” means slightly sweet, while “Brut” means dry.) Heidsieck Monopole ($36) is curiously unadorned, all clean and round and bright. But don’t think seltzer; this is real wine.
Deutz ($38) seems to taste different each time I try it. I don’t know if my tongue goes schizoid or the wine can be inconsistent, but on best days it has pleasant hints of citrus and nuts — call it toasty but refreshing. The gold standard of mid-priced champagnes, Mumm Cordon Rouge ($30), is, however, amazingly consistent in quality and taste — smooth with hints of vanilla and fruit, but nicely firm. Laurent-Perrier is faintly tangy and toasty ($32). Perrier Jouet ($31) is smooth, with a nice creamy floral finish, and Veuve Clicquot ($32) is fruity without being cloying.
Great bubblies can also be found among France’s neighbors. Germany’s Peter Jacob Kuhn’s Spatburgunder Rose ($34), made from pinot noir grapes, has a nifty earthy and strawberry quality. Austria’s Hugo Rose ($18), made from pinot noir and zweigelt grapes, is nicely dry and earthy.
If you want to splurge, skip stuff like Dom Perignon, which is nice but hardly deserves its over-the-top rep — and price (typically over $100).
Instead, spring for Mumm de Cramant ($65), a delicately smooth and elegant wine that makes you feel dressed up even if you’re wearing a dingy bathrobe. For something unusual, try Mumm “Joyesse” demi-sec ($35). It’s too sweet on its own for my taste, but goes great with desserts, especially anything chocolate.
Other high-enders well worth their heavyweight prices include Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ($140 for the ’95 vintage); Gosset Brut Excellence ($40); and the Gosset Grand Rose ($70). Voirin-Jumel Rose ($45) is especially lovely.
With every sip of Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, I grew more frustrated; how do you describe falling in love? It’s powerful and expansive, yet so exquisitely delicate, only hinting at its depths. Bubbles as impossibly tiny and titillating as whispers. Think I’m going overboard here? Just try it.
You, too, will become a veritable Vesuvius of superlative BS.
Speaking of love, here’s a good litmus test for love. If you pour a glass of either Gosset for your sweetie and he or she doesn’t swoon, it’s time to rethink your relationship. The Brut Excellence is full-bodied and very subtly perfumed with aromas of pear and flowers. The Grand Rose, elegant and lively, is among the best roses (fizzy or flat) I’ve ever tasted. Plus, just drinking it makes you feel smarter and better-looking.
Meanwhile, don’t neglect domestic sparklers like Mumm Cuvee Napa’s brut prestige ($30), very smooth, faintly floral, but firm. Among the best I’ve tried recently are produced by Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvee (about $30 per bottle), made with organically grown grapes.
Neighboring Mumm Napa also produces some lovely bubbly, including a Brut Rose ($25), whose faint rose color (from the skins of pinot noir grapes) seems to make it especially festive. Toasty Cuvee M and Brut Prestige are also wonderful (both run about $20 each). If you’re in search of something more unusual, you might go for a bottle of Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blanc 2006 ($25), a nifty sparkler redolent of apples that’s produced at the eponymous estate in Virginia.
Of course, just because New Year’s is over, that’s no reason to abstain from bubbly. Champagne needn’t be only for special occasions. Which is why I’m about to pop open a bottle now — and toast to Wednesday.