The beverage we associate most closely with New Year’s Eve—and with any and all festive occasions— is, of course, champagne. Whether sipping from a plastic cup or a crystal flute, no New Year’s Eve would be complete without a toast to friends and family.
It’s not clear when the tradition of toasting in the new year started, but we do know that Dom Pierre Pérignon, a 17th-century French Benedictine monk, made it possible—and we’re grateful for his efforts. Dom Pierre refined the production methods and bottling techniques for sparkling wine to greatly improve quality and (important!) to prevent bottles from exploding. The process was expensive so champagne was usually saved for special occasions. It’s as good an explanation as any.
A myriad of rules and regulations governs the production and sale of what can legally be called champagne. In addition to the types of grapes that can be used, and strict production processes employed, the most commonly known rule is that true champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France. Excellent sparkling wines, however, are produced all over the world, including in the United States.
How do you pick the right champagne or sparkler for your perfect New Year’s Eve toast? One that fits your budget but also provides sufficient quality and flavor bang-for-your-buck? New Jersey Monthly asked experts at three of our state’s premium wine retailers for their recommendations in three price ranges: low, middle and high-end. Here’s what we learned:
Christopher Sachs, CoolVines
Christopher Sachs, lead wine buyer for CoolVines, and assistant manager of the three-store chain’s Princeton location, says he is “always looking for the quirky and interesting bottle. We like to travel off the beaten path.”
In the lower price range, Sachs recommends Domaine du Vieux Pressoir Saumur Brut NV, a Cremant sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley, priced at $18.50. Cremants, he explains, are made in the same style as champagne but use chenin blanc and chardonnay grapes, which grow well in the Loire Valley region. This sparkler is light, crisp and fresh.
For a step up in price, Sachs suggests Charles Ellner Brut Seduction 2002 ($58). This is a true champagne blend hailing from the heart of Epernay in the Champagne region and made with 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir. “It has classic notes of toast and pear with a nice long finish,” he says.
Moving up in price, Sachs says Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blanc 2004 is, at $175, “as elegant as they come, bustling with lively acidity and creamy bubbles.” Using only the finest chardonnay grapes, this Blanc de Blanc is made with fruit from five different Grand Cru vineyards. “This is the champagne you want to open when you are celebrating life!”
Chuck Russo, Carlo Russo’s Wine & Spirit World
Chuck Russo began working at his father’s Wine & Spirit World in Ho-Ho-Kus in 1973 and took over the business in 1988. “My wife and I love champagne,” he says, “and we try to begin every occasion or dinner out with a glass or two.” He says his recommendations will satisfy novice and expert, alike.
Russo’s least-expensive pick, the Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley ($23.99), is considered one of California’s premier sparkling wines. Designated by Wine Spectator as a Smart Buy, it’s described as crisp and elegant with complex pear, spice and hazelnut flavors… yeasty apple torte and floral cherry aromas leading to rich, crisp flavors of lemon curd, spicy vanilla and fresh ginger.
Have a little more generous budget? Russo suggests Tattinger Brut La Française NV, currently $39.99. Tattinger calls the wine an “elegantly fresh and delicate champagne blended from a high proportion of chardonnay grapes to yield a refined flavor palette of pear and stone fruits, offset by warm, yeasty notes and hints of bread crust.”
For his high-end recommendation Russo says that Krug Grande Cuvée Brut—on sale at Wine & Spirit World for $149.99—is a “truly a magical experience!” The Krug people call it, “the most generous champagne in the world, with exceptional finesse.”
Robert Pierce, Canal’s Bottlestop
This is indeed the season for champagne recommendations, says Rob Pierce, general manager and head wine buyer at Canal’s Bottlestop in Marlton. His first suggestion is Marie Weiss Champagne Brut NV, produced by the superb, small champagne house of Ployez-Jacquemart. With about half of the grapes coming from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards, this is a true champagne at a modest price point; it’s on sale for $24.96. Pierce says it has extraordinary quality for the price.
Pierce’s pick for the midrange is Cuvée 737 Champagne Extra Brut (on sale for $49.99). Allen Meadows of Burghound.com gave it 93 Points and says, “There is excellent richness to the robust and relatively powerful full-bodied flavors.”
And for his premium selection, Pierce points out Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 2002. Noted wine critic Jancis Robinson described it this way: “Impeccable but very subtle fruit. This is excellence done by degrees. As is often said of the very best champagnes, this is wine first and sparkling second.” Pierce adds that, at $399.96, “it’s simply the best, and worth every penny.”Click here to leave a comment