Shopping List for Champagne
By Eric Asimov
The bigger producers of Champagne are producing excellent, distinctive celebratory wines, even at the entry level. Here are 10 big brands well worth seeking out, and a glossary to help you navigate the selections.
Refined Champagnes, particularly the Brut Réserve ($45), Brut Sous Bois, fermented and aged in barrels ($80), and the rosé ($65). (T. Edward, New York)
Graceful Champagnes of great minerality and finesse, including the nonvintage Brut Première Cuvée ($45) and the vintage blanc de blancs ($75). (Verity Wine Partners, New York)
Nonvintage Brut Réserve ($55) is extraordinarily deep and complex; the other cuvées are just as good. (Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Calif.)
Nonvintage blanc de blancs ($60) is pure, chalky and elegant; the vintage ($100) is even better. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)
From the nonvintage brut ($40) to the high-end Femme de Champagne ($180), a fine range of understated beauties. (Duval-Leroy Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.)
Idiosyncratic yet gorgeous Champagnes, from the savory, numbered, extra brut nonvintages (currently No. 739, $50), to the higher end, site-specific cuvées. (Vintage ’59 Imports, Washington)
Across-the-board top quality, from energetic, harmonious nonvintage Brut Premier ($45) to the vintage blanc de blancs ($75) to the high-end Cristal ($250). (Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Calif.)
Ripe, rich nonvintage Royale Réserve Brut ($60) is fine, but the higher-end blends are superb, especially the single-vineyard Clos des Goisses ($200). (Banville Wine Merchants, New York)
Nonvintage blanc de blancs ($70) is unusually full-bodied though elegant and fresh; vintage Dom Ruinart blanc de blancs ($140) is superb. (Moët Hennessy USA, New York)
Understated wines, from the lacy, toasty, nonvintage La Française ($40) to the complex Comtes de Champagne blanc de blancs ($150). (Kobrand, New York)
Champagne Cheat Sheet
Blanc de Blancs Champagne is ordinarily a blend of some combination of three grapes. Two, pinot noir and pinot meunier, are black grapes, ordinarily used to make red wines. One, chardonnay, is a white grape for white wine. A blanc de blancs, literally white from whites, is made solely from chardonnay and tends to have great elegance and finesse.
Blanc de Noirs “White from blacks” is a Champagne made only of black grapes, often but not always just pinot noir. It’s more robust than blanc de blancs and much rarer.
Disgorgement After the wine is fermented and bottled, a little sweetness and yeast are added to the bottle before it is sealed. This starts a second fermentation in the bottle, which produces the carbonation. Before the Champagne is finished, the sediment left by the dead yeast is expelled, or disgorged, from the bottle.
Dosage After disgorgement, the Champagne is generally sweetened a bit before it’s corked to balance the often searing acidity of the wine.
Brut The amount of the dosage determines how dry the Champagne will be. Brut is the most common designation, indicating a wine that can range from 0 to 12 grams of residual sugar per liter, though nowadays most bruts are 6 to 10 grams.
Extra Brut indicates a very dry Champagne, 0 to 6 grams of residual sugar per liter.
Brut Nature Indicates no dosage, though technically it can have a small dosage of up to 3 grams of residual sugar per liter. Synonyms include brut zéro.
Extra Dry Paradoxically, this indicates a much sweeter Champagne than brut, up to 17 grams residual sugar per liter. Demi-sec is even sweeter.
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