If you’re preparing to purchase champagne for a meal or special event, you might be wondering how to make sure you’re getting a good bottle. Luckily, there are many criteria that make good champagne stand apart from the rest.
By choosing a reputable brand, you’ll maximize your chance of selecting a high-quality champagne. A good vendor is also important. You can help your chances even more by reading champagne reviews online and in wine enthusiast publications.
Here is a list of things to look for and questions to ask yourself when you’re purchasing champagne.
Start with the Marque
A ‘marque’ is a house that produces champagne. This is also known as the brand.
In the world of champagne, famous brands are usually famous for a reason: they produce great champagne! However, since everyone’s taste is different, you might need to sample champagnes from several marques before you find the one you like best.
Some of the most reputable champagne makers include Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Moet et Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Joseph Perrier, Ruinart, Taittinger, Veuve, and Cliquot.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
True Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France. Any other region of the world produces sparkling wine (or “champagne” with a little c). For the purposes of this section, “Champagne” refers only to the real thing.
Champagne is produced in a special way that sets it apart from sparkling wines. It’s actually a law in France that real Champagne must be made according to the traditional “method champenoise” – the Champagne method.
This is a labor-intensive process. Instead of carrying out the second fermentation in a vat, the Champagne is placed into small bottles and allowed to ferment there. This fermentation is what creates the spectacularly tiny, active bubbles associated with true Champagne.
Choose a Good Source
You can purchase champagne at liquor stores, supermarkets, specialty shops, and online. The choice is up to you, and each has its pros and cons.
Supermarkets are affordable, and shopping online is convenient. However, it’s unlikely that you can sample the goods beforehand. It’s also unlikely that you’ll encounter an expert who can answer your questions at one of these outlets.
Specialty shops might have employees who can give you advice about the best champagne. Just beware if they try to get you to purchase the most expensive brand. It’s not necessarily the best for your budget, or your taste.
Vintage or Non-Vintage?
Vintage champagne is limited-release champagne produced during a certain harvest year. Weather conditions or other factors made that year remarkably good, so the champagne maker created a limited quantity of vintage champagne from that year.
There are a couple of important differences between vintage and non-vintage champagne. First, the taste. Vintage champagnes typically have more character and a more unique flavor due to the factors that affected the harvest. As the vintage champagne ages, the taste takes on different characteristics.
Price is another difference, as vintage champagnes can cost many times as much as their non-vintage counterparts. Also, vintage champagne can be aged for several years.
Non-vintage champagne is also called “classic cuvee”, or “NV”. It is typically sold at its optimal drinking age. That is, it doesn’t need to be aged in order to taste its best. This type of champagne is a brand’s staple beverage. It is quite affordable, making it perfect for casual consumption.
Note that there are champagnes called “prestige cuvees”. These are a step above vintage in terms of quality, and several steps above vintage in terms of pricing. A rare prestige cuvee from a famous maker can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle.
What the Bubbles Reveal
Good bubbles are a key characteristic of good champagne. True Champagnes develop their bubbles when they undergo their second fermentation. This results in tiny, highly active, long-lasting bubbles that are very fizzy, creating an almost creamy texture in the mouth.
Large, short-lived bubbles are usually found in lower quality champagnes. These bubbles were created by adding carbon dioxide to the champagne post-production. They aren’t as active as the natural bubbles found in real Champagne.
The Internet can be an invaluable resource when you’re shopping for a great champagne. There are forums, websites, and communities dedicated to champagne. You can read reviews and comments, and interact with people who can answer your questions about good champagne.
Look for communities with lots of active discussions. You can also read expert reviews in wine publications, online or in print. Finally, look at customer reviews on online retail sites, marketplaces, and auctions. You can read thoughts from people who bought and drank the champagne you’re thinking about purchasing. These reviews will let you know if your purchase is a good value, or if you could do better with another brand.