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Champagne & Sparkling Wine
Page 3: Best Champagnes
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Here’s a delicious selection of Champagnes; prices will vary by marketplace and retailer. For a memorable evening, buy one of each and have a tasting on New Year’s Eve. Be sure to include Champagnes you haven’t tried before. If you start to buy the wines before Thanksgiving, all of the selections may not yet be out. Talk to your retailer about what will be stocked for the holidays.
Don’t feel the need to purchase a vintage year. True wine connoisseurs appreciate the nonvintage (NV) years equally. In a vintage year, by law, the wine can only be made from the grapes of the vintage; that’s why the taste varies from vintage to vintage. In a nonvintage year, the vintner carefully blends wines from different years to create “the perfect blend.”
It’s always enjoyable to taste a vintage Champagne next to its nonvintage sibling—but they should be the same age for an apples-to-apples (or grapes-to-grapes) comparison. The only challenge is, since there’s no date on a nonvintage bottle, you have no idea how old the wine is, unless you buy a bottle or case and date it when you lay it down in your cellar. (For that matter, you have no idea how long the wine may have been hanging around in a distributor’s or retailer’s warehouse. While they don’t want to hang onto inventory, they can buy up inventory from other sources, e.g. estate sales or wine stores going out of business.
In terms of laying down Champagne to age, nonvintage Champagnes from top houses benefit from bottle age as much as vintage years. The finer the wine, the more it can benefit from age.
Taittinger Prelude NV Champagne
From the well-respected house of Taittinger comes this special bottling. A little more elegant than the ubiquitous non-vintage brut, Prelude is light and crisp, slightly creamy with lovely fruit and gorgeous balance. I highly recommend this one to start a holiday meal, as the refreshing acidity can stimulate the palate in preparation for the inevitable onslaught of flavors that are sure to follow.
Available at 800wine.com.
Alfred Gratien Brut Classique NV
There are scores of small producers whose Champagnes are competitively priced with the big brands; they often offer better quality at better prices. Alfred Gratien is certainly one for great quality for the buck. It has a pretty floral nose with crisp green apple on a silky palate. Gratien ages this NV brut in 15-year-old barrels to achieve a creamy texture without the intrusion of oak flavor.
Alfred Gratien Millésime (Vintage) 1998
$90.00 to $100.00
Aged in its natural cork (not a crown cap), this vintage brut also has lovely fruit and crisp acidity. The complexity is impressive and it has the body to contribute to a main course dish of game or red meat. The 1998 is not in stores just yet, but using WineTracker.com, we found the equally delicious 1997 vintage is available in three states. Table and Vine in Northampton, Massachusetts has both the 1990 and 1996 vintages for $90.00—a bargain for these classic vintages, if they were stored well.
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