Champagne is a wine that's smiling.
Without Champagne, we wouldn't have the sparkle in wedding toasts or the pizazz in New Year's Eve. Queens would have nothing with which to launch their ships ( or hips ) . There'd be no 'O!' in mimosa. And James Bond wouldn't have gotten out of Russia alive.
Champagne isn't a mere wine. It's a metaphor. It seals the beginnings and the ends of lives: births, engagements and marriages; treaties, deals and death.
The invention of Champagne belongs to a celibate ( and blind ) monk, Dom Perignon, cellar master at the abbey of Hautvillers, near the city of Reims in the district of Champagne, France. In 1640, he decided to try to control the spritz or carbonation that occurs in wine when it refermented each spring.
True Champagne comes from a limited area in northeastern France. It's expensive because it is rare, difficult to make and the best of all sparkling wines. If you can't afford to pour the liquid pearls of true Champagne, try some of the excellent wines made in the Champagne method, la methode champenoise. What follows includes recommendations from 'grande marque' houses such as Bollinger and Perrier-Jouët, but also from smaller, less well-known producers who make stellar wine, often at less than stratospheric prices. $50 to $100
Charles Ellner Brut 1988 ( $55 ) : Ellner owns more than 140 acres of vineyards, of which more than 50% are planted with Chardonnay. This wine is a felicitous combination of tight structure, firm acidity and delicious, deep notes of toffee, fresh toast, lemon and honey. It's a powerful wine, but in the way DeNeuve is powerful, with enormous class. Pol Roger Brut Rosé 1995 ( $60 ) : A perfect pink: the scents of blood oranges and raspberries mark this super-dry, lemon-tart finishing rosé. Winston Churchill's favorite brand. Buy it for someone under siege.
Bollinger Brut Grande Année 1996 ( $70 ) : Gerard Depardieu in a bottle: bold, big-flavored, but suave and elegant. James Bond's preferred bubbly, so an excellent pick for the adventurer in your life. $30 to $50
Champagne Brice Brut Tradition Non-Vintage ( $28 ) : This is a blend of 10% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noirand the Pinots are manifest in the very rich, creamy texture and an exuberant aroma of peach blossoms. The wine is soft and plush, but also pure of flavor, and finishes lengthily.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Non-Vintage ( $28 ) : One of the better widely distributed NVs, for its robust, bold aromas and flavors and aromas of vanilla, toast and nuts. Dave Barry in a bottle: in your face, but oh it makes you so happy. Drappier Grande Sendrée 1996 ( $35 ) : This comes from a parcel planted more than 70 years ago and is just over one-half Chardonnay. It is a marvelously complex wine, with waves of yeasty, toasty flavor and an extraordinarily long finish. This is the equal toor surpassesmany tête de cuvées, and for much less outlay.
Champagne Brice Aÿ Grand Cru ( $40 ) : Dominated by Pinot Noir ( 90%, to Chardonnay's 10% ) , this all-Aÿ wine is both super freshalmost incisively soand fat with flavor ( the fruit is so concentrated, it's tropical ) . The rich texture dissolves into a tight, lean, very dry finish. Try with non-traditional cuisine, such as North African tagine or medium-heat Indian curry. $20 to $30
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley ( $15 ) : America's best sparkling wine ( at this price ) for its rich, layered flavors: lemon, nuts, yeast and creamthat all go on and on. Something a couple in love could open quickly and share slowly.
Drappier Carte d'Or Demi-Sec Champagne N.V. ( $24 ) : Drappier has produced Champagne since 1908. Their plantings are strong in Pinot Noir ( 70% ) , with Chardonnay ( 15% ) and Pinot Meunier ( 15% ) making the balance. This is drier than many demi-secs, due in no small part to its very snappy acidity ( it finishes nearly dry ) . It tastes of pear and Golden Delicious apples, with hints of honey and rosewater.
Iron Horse Green Valley Blanc de Blancs 1994 ( $26 ) : Terry-Thomas here, terrifically fruity and very bubbly; tightly structured, very fresh and as lively as a drop of water on a hot skillet. Give this to a busy mom to enjoy when she finally has her feet up. Don't you pop Keep in mind these safety tips when opening a bottle of good sparkling wine. First, chill the bottle well ( 30-45 minutes in a mix of ice and water ) . Strip the bottle of its foil top. Untwist and loosen, but don't remove, the wire hood over the cork. Drape the bottle with a cloth, keeping a firm grasp on the cork with your weaker hand. Then, holding the cork stationary and with the bottle at a 45-degree angle, twist the bottle, not the cork, controlling the exit of the cork with your weaker hand. The cork should depart with a whimper, not a bang. Never use a corkscrew or other tool to open a bottle of sparkling wine.