Over the past couple of weeks, I have used this space to lament the fact that champagne and other sparkling wines are often seen by many as wines strictly for celebrations or special occasions. I have also put forth some solid less expensive sparklers (Prosecco, Cava, and Crémants, to name a few) to consider since champagne has (at least for most) become a bit too expensive to be included as an every day wine.
Glancing at the calendar, however, it is time to get serious.
New Year’s Eve is just two days away and, frankly, it is champagne’s night to take center stage. If you are like me, you will likely be around a few friends and there might be dancing and plenty of drinking, id est, plenty of hijinks.
This is not the time, in my opinion, to break out the Dom Pérignon or the vintage Krug since more than a drop or two is likely going to end up polishing the hardwood floors. No, I generally stick to some of my favorite non-vintage champagnes when it comes to New Year’s Eve, and here are some of the best that I have sampled recently:
N.V. Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru Champagne: Retail $65. 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. There are a couple of ways to make a rosé champagne, and this uses the maceration method in which the juice is in contact with the skins briefly before being bled off. Some argue that it makes for a richer wine, and while I am not sure if that is a widely accepted view, if this wine is any indication, I would not argue. A beautiful deep pink, with a vibrant sparkle, and a nose of red berry fruit and even a floral aspect. On the palate, even richer than I had hoped as this is one of the fruitiest champagnes I have had in a while. Since it is mostly Pinot, though, it is also incredibly deep and flavorful. Wonderful. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
N.V. Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut Premier Cru: Retail $65. Let me just get this out of the way: Champagne invariably tastes better when the bottle has been sabered. By you (if you are into that kind of thing). Which is precisely what happened to this bottle. Initially a particularly vibrant sparkle that seems to wear itself out rather quickly, but the flavors? Whoa. I have had far more than my fair share of good champagne in my life, but this has to rate near the top in the non-vintage category. Pear, raspberry, and tons of baked bread, this is not a wine to share with your Aunt Betsy. This is a wine to be tasted among a couple good friends who know a thing or two about champagne—but you do the sabering (if you are into that kind of thing). Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
N.V. Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne: Retail $45. 50% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier. One of the larger houses in Champagne, this is a wine that is more readily available throughout the country. Laurent-Perrier’s house style is decidedly more medium-bodied due to the predominance of Chardonnay with stone fruit and white flower dnaces on the nose. The palate is much of the same as Chardonnay’s finesse and elegance comes through with a citrus creamsicle angle that screams “apéritif”, particularly oysters or light cheeses. While this is not particularly in my wheelhouse when it comes to champagne styles, this is quite well done, as it has a tartness that is extremely appealing, Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
N.V. Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé: Retail $80. 100% Pinot Noir. There is really no mistaking Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Rosé: from its distinctive bottle, to its near trademarked salmon hue, and the rich red berry fruit, this was the first commercially released non-vintage Brut rosé and it remains one of the best. There is a reason that for many this is the rosé against which all others are judged: it’s really, really good. Another maceration rosé, the pale salmon color is striking and the nose is marked with strawberry and cherry aromas. Rich and full on the palate with deep cherry fruit and a bit of mint. This really is a benchmark rosé that is worth every penny. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
N.V. Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne: Retail $45. 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay. A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to go to a couple of tastings with Régis Camus, the Chef des Caves at Piper. Basically, the Chef des Caves is the head wine maker at a Champagne house, responsible for maintaining the house style through the blending of dozens of wines that not only span three varieties and scores of vineyards, but also several different vintages. Even before my tastings with Régis, I had been a fan of Piper, and their flag-bearing Brut is the main reason why. With “black” grapes making up 85% of the blend, this drinks almost like a red wine: tons of red berry fruit, plenty of backbone, and pinpoint precise acidity. I always have a couple of bottles of this on hand as it always delivers. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.