Holiday season is almost here, which means that Champagne sales are about to climb, as they seem to every year around this time. But rather that focus on the bottles that are worthy of ringing in the new year, I want to stress how important it is to savor a great bottle of Champagne throughout the season…and then, once January arrives, to continue doing so. Great Champagne, after all, is one of the most food-friendly, consistently rewarding wines you can drink, and to limit your enjoyment of it to a few specific occasions throughout the year is not just unnecessary—it's unfortunate.
After the year we've all had—and the year before that—it's more important than ever to treat yourself. Which is why today's Wines of the Week are all Champagnes. These 13 prestige cuvées and high-end vintage bottlings represent some of the best, most exciting Champagnes on the market today. Any one of them would make for a perfect way to ring in the new year—but, I'd argue, they're even more impactful when popped alongside dinner on a random weeknight. That's how I enjoyed most of these, and without exception, I felt better about the world after having done so. There is just something decadent and deeply life-affirming to popping the cork from an iconic bottle of bubbly alongside fried chicken on a Monday, or fettuccine Alfredo on a Wednesday.
This is also a good time to recommend the new Coravin Sparkling Wine Preservation System, because one of the most frustrating aspects of opening a bottle of Champagne is the pressure—no pun intended!— to finish it before it looses its fizz. The new Coravin Sparkling System was instrumental in my work tasting through the Champagnes I recommend below.
Unlike the classic Coravin, which utilizes a needle to pierce the cork and inject argon into the bottle, displacing the liquid and ensuring that the remaining wine inside stays fresh (I recently enjoyed a bottle of Merlot from which I removed a glass using the Coravin two years ago, and it was perfectly intact, vibrant, and delicious), the sparkling system leverages a proprietary locking cap that serves as both seal and conduit for pressurized carbon dioxide to be introduced into the bottle. The materials that come with the sparkling system say that the Champagne—or any other sparkling wine; it's been engineered to work with every bottle shape on the market today—will last for up to two weeks, but my experience has been that it provides a solid month, and possibly longer, of life. I even tested it with many of the older bottlings recommended below, and the Coravin sparkling kept them fresh for weeks, regardless of how delicate they were.
So now, there's really no reason to limit your enjoyment of Champagne—even the best and most expensive ones—to only this time of year.
Here are 13 of my favorites, listed alphabetically.
Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis Brut 2013
A remarkably fresh and bright style, bursting with lemon oil, lemon clotted cream spread on brioche, and chalky minerality. On the palate, this is so bright and detailed, with a laser-point focus providing a mouthwatering, concentrated, and mineral spine for flavors of white berries, lemon-lime, fresh ginger, and lime leaf to shine. The finish is so clean and crisp, with a touch of oyster-shell minerality and a hint of salinity. Drink now and for the next 20-plus years.
Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Triple B Brut Nature 2015
Aromas of orange marmalade on multigrain toast tee up a palate of surprising generosity given that it's a brut nature: Proof that there are so many more factors impacting a wine's sense of ripeness and generosity than dosage. This is rich and lively, with lemon marmalade, caramel apples, honey, lemon blossom, and sweet spice, all of it finishing with a sweep of graham crackers and Honey Smacks in the best possible sense. I'd drink this over the next decade to make the most of that fruit, but it can certainly go longer, too.
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas-François Brut 2007
This is so beautifully biscuity on the nose, with ginger snaps, hints of apricot and lemon conserve, and chalk-like minerality, all teeing up a palate of amazing acidity, concentration, and length, yet also with a floral lift to the sappy lemon meringue, perfectly ripe autumn apples, verbena, and sweet white spice. This is anchored by excellent yeast notes, and the long finish rolls on and on. This will age for another two decades, but it's so delicious right now that I wouldn't (or couldn't) wait.
Champagne Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut 2007
Disgorged July 10, 2020
Aromas of deeply concentrated lemon oils and preserved lemon, apricot pits, chalky minerality that seems to go a mile deep, honey-glazed almonds, coffee oils, and the suggestion of mushrooms: What a transporting nose. On the palate, this is so energetic and linear, coiled with tension, and boasts flashes of fresh ginger, lemongrass, lime leaf, and Provencal apricots finding length and real tensile strength on the finish. This is a really remarkable wine, with lingering notes of salted caramel fascinatingly spiced with fennel seeds. This will reward cellaring for the next 30-plus years, but it's also terrific right now.
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Mise en Cave 2001
This absolutely sings with toasted chestnuts, a hint of halvah, old leather library books, mushrooms, and apricot pits. On the palate, this is impeccably balanced, with the toasty, nutty flavors of well-cooked pralines, fresh golden chanterelles, the broth of rehydrating dried porcini, and an impeccably balanced seam of acidity and minerality running through the flavors of preserved lemons through the finish. Amazing concentration, and an oyster shell character that rings through the slightly saline finish that is also kissed with dark-cooked honey. Heidsieck won't be releasing a Mise en Cave this year, but if you can find one—or, honestly, any from the venerable house—I'd snap it up.
Champagne Dom Pérignon 2003 Plénitude 2
Assertive, laser-point bubbles rise with real speed from the bottom of the glass, and carry aromas of fresh-dug chanterelles, deeply roasted chestnuts, dried flowers, tobacco, espresso beans, and leather, with the faintest hint of orange pith in the background. These precede a palate of plush power and deeply held elegance, with more generous fruit—dried apricots, membrillo, Fuyu persimmon, partially dehydrated yellow apples—joined by Middle Eastern spices, candied lemon and candied ginger, and a long finish marked by scorched peppermint, coriander, and enough bright acidity to pulse this through and keep it fresh and long with a deep spine of almost saline minerality. The warmth of the vintage is marked clearly here in the generosity of the palate, yet the freshness and length are just distractingly beautiful as a whole. This can age for quite some time still, but it's nearly perfect right now.
Champagne Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2006
Preserved lemon and lemon zest, almond, and warm brioche precede a palate with both breadth and depth, the generous caramel flavors fanning out on the finish after flavors of fresh and dried apricots, sweet spice, candied ginger, hints of lemongrass, and honey-coated sesame seeds. Suggestions of orange and peach emerge with air, which are a great counterpoint to the salinity of the finish. For the cellar or the table right now.
Champagne Legras & Haas Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Chouilly
Immediately brings to mind gently browned seeded toast spread with a thin layer of lemon marmalade. Those aromas are cut through with a deep core of minerality and a subtle dusting of spice, all of which precede a palate of appropriately assertive blanc de blancs acidity that's beautifully balanced against a weightier texture that is still so energetic, all of it carrying flavors of mashed pears, apple fritters, lemon blossom, and honey suckle, joined by a touch of honeycomb and a bass-note of fresh-baked brioche. Drink over the next decade, easily.
Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal 2013
Aromas of baked apples and membrillo on warm brioche, with mashed pistachios, hints of gunflint, baked ripe pears, baking spices, and the suggestion of coffee beans and leather books. On the palate, this is persistent and so vinous, with incredibly calibrated acidity, Granny Smith apples dipped in Manuka honey, pistachios woven through the sense of nuttiness, verbena, lemon-lime, lemon oils, a deep-seated sense of slate-like and chalky minerality. Those bakery notes, and something almost balsamic and briny at the edges, are woven throughout the long finish. Built for the table…or lots of time in the cellar. But it's so delicious right now, too.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut Rosé 2012
A transporting nose of cherry blossoms, mixed mountain berries, and a touch of orange marmalade next to a basket of pastries just pulled from the oven. So delicate and layered and supremely subtle on the nose: Classic. On the palate, there is a subtle saline spine running through this very food-friendly wine, whose vinous character shimmers through in notes of smashed cherries, wild strawberries, more of those cherry blossoms, stone fruit, orange pith and a suggestion of candied peels, and candied red apples, anchored by a touch of crushed nuts and then a savory honeyed note on the finish. This will continue to sing for decades.
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Hors Série 1971
What an incredible burnished color in the glass: It looks its age in the most magnificent sense imaginable. Deeply evocative aromas of apple fritters and dulce de leche, fabulous sweet and aromatic spice, dried apricots, grilled stone fruit, and multi-grain toast drizzled with honey are complicated with a dusting of turmeric, garam masala, and dried ginger. On the palate, this is fabulously nutty and mineral, lifted with orange oils and anchored by deep core of mineral which rings through the long, acid-seamed finish. Each sip reveals layers of dried apricots, apple fritters, honey-coated walnuts, touches of dried pineapple, coriander, and dried flowers. With air, notes of cumin emerge in this long, rich, energetic, and impeccably detailed Champagne. Even at half a century, this is so full of energy. What a remarkable achievement: A transcendent homage to the past and a shining promise for the future.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2012 by Yayoi Kusama
Warm buttermilk biscuits, blanched almonds, Mandarin oranges, and orange blossom aromas are joined by touches of honey and mineral before a palate of generosity and precision, with flavors of white peaches, lemon blossom, honeysuckle, crisp autumn apples, lemon pith and juice, a touch of lemongrass on the finish, and an acid-zipped seam of minerality through the long finish. And the box and label, by esteemed artist Yayoi Kusama, is gorgeous.
Rare Champagne Brut Millésime 2008
Beautiful aromatics here, taut and concentrated yet full of energy and depth. Yeasty, toasty notes of cooked honey, roasted chestnuts, white-blossomed flowers, leather-bound books, lemon clotted cream, autumn orchard fruit (especially pears), roasted coffee beans, a hint of forest floor, and lemon marmalade. It's all so fresh! On the palate, this is vibrant and energetic, brilliantly concentrated and with laser-point bubbles that carry flavors of lemon pith and oils, passionfruit, verbena, candied ginger, Granny Smith apples, and a serious seam of mineral flashing along the spine of acidity. The finish hints at acacia and honeysuckle, and is anchored by a leesy, rich, and slightly nutty and coffee-like finish, all perked up with a hint of pineapple. Drink this over the next three decades.
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