The French went to court (and won) to keep wineries outside the Champagne region from labeling their sparkling wines as Champagne. But the word’s enduring ubiquity as a casual synonym for any effervescent wine reflects the phenomenal success of the region: Few (if any) sparkling wines can match Champagne’s best bottles in complexity and finesse. Chalk and limestone soils and a cool Atlantic climate—along with centuries of winemaking trial and error—mean that these wines are in a category of their own, no matter how liberally the Champagne moniker is applied elsewhere.
One of Champagne’s most respected midsize producers, Billecart-Salmon crafts wines that emphasize fruit and finesse over power. The nonvintage brut rosé is the most famous example of the house style, but the estate’s most impressive and complex offering is the prestige Nicolas François Billecart cuvée. Brothers François and Antoine Roland-Billecart pick grapes on the early side, resulting in especially fresh wines.
Founded in 1829 and still family-owned, Bollinger is known for its full-bodied style, a result of fermenting some wines in barrel. Most of Bollinger’s grapes come from estate vineyards—a key factor in its wines’ reliable quality. Its famous reserve and vintage bottlings are some of the most long-lived in Champagne.
Deutz’s wines manage to combine delicacy and refinement with underlying richness—a tightrope act that translates to whites and rosés with deep fruit, bright acidity and pronounced minerality. Started as a négociant business in 1838, Deutz has been owned since 1983 by deep-pocketed Champagne Louis Roederer, which continues the winery’s tradition of excellence.
Krug produces some of the world’s most breathtakingly expensive wines, such as its Clos d’Ambonnay, introduced at $3,500 per bottle. Scarcity and prestige drive up the prices, but the wines can be truly thrilling, with extraordinary complexity and endless layers of flavors. This results partially from Krug’s practice of adding very high amounts of reserve (i.e., older) wines; fermenting them in oak barrels adds a signature richness, too.
Louis Roederer sources 70 percent of its grapes from estate-owned vineyards, more by far than most major Champagne houses. That kind of quality control contributes to Roederer’s remarkable consistency; another factor is winemaker Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, who has been with the winery since 1989. Roederer’s esteemed prestige cuvée, Cristal, was first created for Russian czar Alexander II, in 1876.
Moët & Chandon/Dom Pérignon
Moët & Chandon’s debonair chef de cave, Benoît Gouez, oversees Champagne’s largest cellar, turning out five major cuvées sourced from a vast collection of 2,500 acres of estate vines, plus purchased fruit. The three nonvintage Impérial wines include a brut, a rosé and Nectar, made in a sweeter style. Moët’s legendary tête de cuvée, Dom Pérignon, became so successful that it is now its own brand, crafted by winemaking genius Richard Geoffroy.
Value in Champagne is relative—the least expensive wines are still pricey. But this young brand, founded in 1976 by coffee baron and diplomat Nicolas Feuillatte, always delivers exactly that. Feuillatte gave the brand glamour by popularizing it among his jet-set friends, but the wines’ continued quality is due to Champagne’s oldest cooperative, which acquired the brand in 1986.
In less than a century, starting in 1785, the Heidsieck family founded three Champagne houses: Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck and what is now Heidsieck & Co. Monopole. Piper-Heidsieck wines are lighter-bodied than the others, with refined fruit and zesty freshness. Winemaker Rémi Camus has stayed with the winery since its sale to a luxury goods firm in 2011.
Pol Roger—now in its fifth generation of family ownership—is responsible for some of the finest wines in Champagne. These bottlings include its impressive prestige bottling, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (the English statesman was a devoted fan of Pol Roger and a friend of the owners), plus the gorgeously balanced nonvintage Brut Réserve.
Nearly all Champagne houses produce wines in several different styles, but Salon creates just one, and that only in great vintages. It is made with grapes from a single year, variety (Chardonnay) and village (Le Mesnil), and its rarity and extraordinary longevity have made Salon one of the most coveted and expensive white wines in the world.
One of the few large Champagne houses that’s still family-owned, Taittinger, whose roots date back to 1734, is headquartered above a spectacular network of Gallo-Roman chalk mines in Reims. The chalk-pit cellars provide a perfect environment for aging the house’s wines, which weave delicate flavors with enough creamy lushness to keep them from tasting austere.
Vilmart & Cie
A darling of sommeliers, this boutique grower and producer made its reputation with powerful, biodynamically grown sparkling wines that mature in barrels, not in tanks, which gives the wines an opulent, round texture. Laurent Champs, the fifth generation of his family to direct the estate, favors a style that is equal parts freshness and richness.