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Looking for the best bottle of Champagne can be a fun, relatively easy process. First, know that Champagne is defined by sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France, period. Though winemakers in California make a Champagne-style sparkling wine, this style of wine made outside of Champagne is merely just sparkling wine.
Also, forget the notion that Champagne is only for special occasions—an array of styles and price points make it available for nightly imbibing. On the more affordable spectrum, look for non-vintage-dated “Brut” bottlings, which are typically the entry-level “house style” Champagnes of most producers. But don’t miss out on the exquisite opportunities to drink vintage-dated bottles as well from some of the best years in recent decades: 2012, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2004 and 2002. Additionally, look for “Premier Cru” or “Grand Cru” on a label, which indicates the Champagne is from vineyards of top quality, and hence, on the expensive side.
Best Overall: Krug Grande Cuvée Brut
Krug can be described in no uncertain terms as the Holy Grail of Champagnes. The famous house dates back to 1843 when Joseph Krug conceptualized blending vintages together to combat the variation in growing seasons. It was a radical idea, which has formed the basis for all non-vintage-dated Champagnes today. Each year, this bottle is formulated from 250 different vineyard plots and as many as 150 reserve wines from up to 12 different vintages.
The Grande Cuvée captures the pure essence of great Champagne—bright, crisp, vivid, with layers of intricate baking spices, apple pastry, pear tart and distinctly chalky minerality. You'll also find polish, poise and refinement in each sip, and its ultra-fine beads and creamy texture make it a masterful creation.
Best Brut: Delamotte Blanc de Blancs
Brut Champagne is classified as sparkling wine that is bone-dry to off-dry, with either no residual sugar or up to 15 grams per liter. One of the best entries in this category is the 2012 blockbuster from the house of Delamotte, which was founded by François Delamotte in 1760 in Reims.
This Brut is a rich, decadent, cellar-worthy Champagne, capable of long life if stored properly. This 100 percent Chardonnay comes from the Grand Cru villages of Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Oger, showing the concentration and power of the low-yielding harvest. Elegant beading accompanies lively and fresh aromas of Meyer lemon, sweet-tart candy, kiwi and wildflowers. Creamy on entry and supported by zesty and mouthwatering acidity, more orange peel and lemon zest is met with a deep, mineral finish punctuated by an unyielding wow factor.
Best Rosé: Ruinart Brut Rose
Adored by French kings and modern-day celebrities, this rosé Champagne by Ruinart is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a fresh, fruity flavor profile. Founded in 1729, Ruinart is the first-established house of Champagne and the longest-standing producer of exceptional quality bubbly.
Ruinart’s Chef de Caves (cellar master), Frédéric Panaïotis, highly recommends serving his intensely aromatic, finesse-driven, red-fruited rosé bubbly alongside Peking Duck: "The crispy skin and soft meat contrast, the complex and gently spicy flavors, make for a beautiful, refined combination." He also suggests fixing up an upside-down vine-ripened tomato and balsamic vinegar pie, with fresh opal basil and shaved 24-month-old Parmigiano. “The gentle effervescence [of Ruinart] wraps up the light puff pastry, the acidity, and sweetness of the tomatoes,” he says.
Runner-Up, Best Rosé: Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige
This equally exemplary rosé comes from Duval-Leroy, the first Champagne producer to make a certified organic Brut Champagne, as well as the first to achieve France’s uber-sustainable HVE certification (High Environmental Value).
Today, Duval-Leroy is one of the largest estates in Champagne. Made with only Premier Cru Pinot Noir grown in Vertus, the Marne Valley, Montagne de Reims, and Premier Cru Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, this rosé is a lip-smacking mouthful of red berry fruit, baking spices, poached pears, plum, and finishes clean with uplifting energy.
Best Vintage-Dated: Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque
In contrast to “NV” (non-vintage) bottles, a vintage-dated Champagne is produced from a single year’s harvest because of its exceptional quality. One of the more elegant and refined Champagnes of the 2012 vintage, Perrier-Jouët's cuvée blends together 50 percent Chardonnay, 45 percent Pinot Noir and 5 percent Pinot Meunier from five crus—Cramant, Avize, Ay, Mailly and Dizy. Translucent gold in color with radiant emerald hues, this Belle Epoque Brut Champagne offers notes of fresh white flowers, stone and orchard fruit, as well as lemon zest with a creamy mouthfeel and mineral finish.
The bottle in and of itself is a beauty, with gold-etched, white Japanese anemone flowers that echo the highly stylized, ornamental Art Nouveau fashion of the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Runner-Up, Best Vintage-Dated: Moët & Chandon Rosé Brut
It can’t hurt that historic Champagne house Moët & Chandon is owned by LVMH, the luxury French parent company which also owns other iconic houses like Dom Perignon, Krug and Ruinart.
The 1700s-era house has crafted perhaps the best rosé of the 2012 vintage in Champagne. Primarily Pinot Noir with Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this salmon-hued grand cuvée is only the house’s 43rd vintage-dated rosé. It's aged for at least five years in cellars in France and for another six months minimum before release, for a classy mix of orange peel, black cherry, plum and strawberry tart, finishing with decadent, buttery pie crust notes.
Best Value: Alfred Gratien Brut
For four generations, the Jaeger family has been making world-class Champagne at the house of Alfred Gratien, with this as its flagship bottle. It's a particularly great value, as the $50 non-vintage Brut drinks like a $100 bottle. This Champagne is effervescent with a delicate mousse; wonderful French pastry aromas build with freshly-baked biscuits, yellow apples, Bosc pears, and cultured butter tinged with a white floral finish. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc.
Best Under $50: Taittinger Brut La Francaise
Another one of the last family-run estates is Champagne Taittinger, which owns 34 vineyards spread out over 752 acres of prime land. Its Brut La Francaise is aged for a minimum of three years in cellars and contains a higher proportion of Chardonnay in comparison to Taittinger’s general non-vintage Brut—making it a bit brighter and lifted. The Chardonnay is blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with persistent bubbles in the glass for subtle yellow peach, acacia flowers, and Madagascar vanilla bean notes. It's also full and rich on the palate with ripe stone fruits, brioche, and a honeycomb finish.
Best Under $100: Pol Roger Brut Réserve
Pol Roger is one of the most iconic labels in Champagne, and the Brut Réserve is one of its best offerings: it combines equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from 30 Cru vineyards in Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Épernay and the Côte des Blancs. Blended with 25 percent reserve wines, the Champagne is astounding, powerful and seductive, with abundant bubbles and fervent aromas of tropical fruits, honeysuckle, jasmine, quince, apricot jam and candied citrus peel with a dramatic baking-spice, vanilla bean, and acacia honey finish.
Best 2012 Champagne: Louis Roederer Vintage Brut
The 2012 season in Champagne was one of two challenges—a rainy spring reduced yields, and a hot August hastened the ripening process. Still, the best houses, like Louis Roederer, were prepared for these roadblocks and in the end, 2012 turned out to be one of the top vintages of the last 20 years. With smaller and reduced grape clusters, and because unusual late-harvest heat helped ripen the grapes, the year produced spectacularly rich Champagnes and this vintage Brut is no exception.
Persistent and delicate beads cascade in a steady stream revealing lemon citrus, white flowers, flinty notes and toasted almonds. Full-bodied and silky with rich citrus and crushed stone minerality, this Brut is best consumed starting in 2020.
Best French Champagne: Dom Perignon Vintage
Famous Champagne house Perignon only produces vintage-dated bottles, all of which are aged up to seven years prior to release. This 2008 bottling marks one of the best years in champagne-making: in a year of overcast skies, the start of harvest had opened up the weather, resulting in strong vines and riper grapes than usual.
This complex Champagne offers both warmth and freshness. Opening up with white flowers, citrus and stone fruit, it's enhanced by aniseed and crushed mint with aromas of spicy, woody and roasted notes.
Best Splurge: Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs
A top Champagne house with utterly strict standards, Salon makes vintage-dated Chardonnay only—no blending involved. It only declares a vintage in years when the growing season produces exceptional wine. As of this writing, only 40 vintages have been produced since 1905. One of the finest Champagne vintages this century is 2006, and it shows: intense, mineral-driven, and just-bloomed white floral notes, with rich yellow apple, citrus peel, and a flinty, toasty finish. Drink this Champagne in 2020, and it will still age for years.
Best for Mimosas: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé
This is the benchmark Champagne rosé that top sommeliers keep stocked for every occasion. You can't go wrong with a bottle of Billecart, which has been producing bubbly for more than 200 years. With mouthwatering, tangy acidity, a wave of strawberry, cherry and raspberry fruit, and immense freshness and verve, it is best enjoyed solo—however, the rosé will pair perfectly with a nice, Sunday morning Mimosa.
Best Sweet Champagne: Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec
This sweet Champagne tastes as if your favorite lemon meringue pie, strawberry tart, or chocolate mousse with graham-cracker crumble came together in a glass. The Demi-Sec wine, or a sparkling that is not entirely dry (not Brut) but possesses some sweetness, is produced by Laurent-Perrier.
Give it one sip, and you'll get a richly textured, full and creamy taste with candied apricots, apple pie spices, toasted almonds, roasted hazelnuts and honeycomb. Pair this with your favorite dessert after a meal for twice the fun.
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade and first began writing for Liquor.com in 2014. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe, and personally tasted every wine in this roundup, except for Salon. He is the editor-at-large for The SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel Magazine and his writings have appeared in Food & Wine, Seven Fifty Daily, Los Angeles Magazine, Complex Magazine’s First We Feast blog, Thrillist, Time Out LA, Tasting Table, and Psychology Today.