It’s bubbly season! Here are some Champagne facts, and great local finds, to help you choose just the right bottle.
photograph by Françoise Peretti
With its effervescence and its associations with celebration and luxury, no wine marks a milestone like champagne. And, while two billion bottles of bubbly wine are produced around the world each year, only a small fraction of this amount can truly be called champagne. First, a short lesson on the real thing:
The name Champagne refers only to those wines produced in a small growing area in France, north and east of Paris, made with a strictly limited selection of grape varieties.
The cool climate and limestone soil of the Champagne region, in addition to the laborious “methode chamepenoise,” by which the wine is pressed from the grapes, undergoes secondary fermentation in bottles, and is meticulously handled until it is ready for release, give this wine its cachet, and its price tag. Wines produced in other countries, but labeled champagne, are unfairly borrowing their nomenclature from the real thing.
Champagne lovers often have a favorite label and taste. Most American prefer the wines labeled as “brut,” which are dry, as opposed to other, sweeter champagnes, labeled sec, demi-sec or doux. The sweetness depends on the dosage, an addition of a very small quantity of reserve wine and sugar, determined by the winemaker. Champagne that is labeled brut nature, pas dose, or dosage zero has less than three grams of sugar per liter, and no added sugar.
Champagnes labeled with a year are known as vintage champagnes; no year on the label means they are non-vintage, that is, composed of a blend of grapes harvested in more than one year. Vintage champagne is usually more expensive than non-vintage, but this depends on the maker and the quality of the vintage.
Searching for some great examples of Champagne, we stopped first at The Wine Connection, a stone’s throw from the New Canaan border in Scotts Corners in Pound Ridge, New York. There we found a half-bottle of Brut Rose, from the venerable house of Krug, in its own custom, rose-colored box. Big enough for a romantic toast for two, and a handsome stocking stuffer ($110/half bottle) for a Champagne lover, it will make a great holiday gift.
Less well known is the store’s stock of Champagne Moutard, a smaller property than some of the bigger names in Champagne, but with great offerings at great prices, such as Brut Grand Cuvee at $34.99. Stop in on a Saturday, and Wine Connection offers a 20% discount on any case—a great way to stock up for a party.
Down the road a piece at Franco’s—a venerable wine purveyor since 1933—we found a bargain on Krug’s Grand Cuvee, a top-drawer Champagne that normally retails for just a hair under $250 a bottle. Through the holidays, you can make this your toasting wine for just $139.99. Like the previous store, Franco’s offers some Champagnes that are not household names, but great wines at a good price: Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, in its handsome satin-silver foil neck wrapper, at $49.95 the bottle, is one example.
Nicholas Rossi, who recently acquired Purple Feet of Westport offers the well-known brands—Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Roederer, Piper Heidseick—in his shop, newly relocated to the Playhouse Square shopping center. But he also has some lesser known gems worth acquiring, including a Gosset Grand Rose Reserve, at $79.99, and some great wines from Vranken, including Vranken Demoiselle at under $43.
“It’s the house champagne at the Plaza,” notes Rossi of Vranken. He also carries the brand’s Diamant cuvee, in a diamond-cut bottle, at $51.99. Another interesting name to look for on Purple Feet’s shelves is Champagne Louis de Sacy, both brut and brut rose, and both under $40 a bottle.
With the season of celebrations upon us, and many Champagne choices, it won’t be hard to find something special to toast with this year.