Fact Sheet: Nonvintage Champagne
You may find some very fair Champagne prices this holiday season, as wine merchants are likely to lure would-be buyers to their stores with sales on select brands of bubbly. The best deals are generally the nonvintage (NV) wines (those without a year specified on the label), costing between $30 and $50 (with Krug as the exception). Nonvintage Champagne accounts for nine out of 10 bottles produced in France's Champagne region.
Nonvintage vs. Vintage Produced by the same exacting methods as vintage Champagnes (which reflect the character of a single harvest and are thus subject to variation), NVs are made from wines of several years, blended to maintain a consistent style over time.
House Style Although there is a broad range in styles from one Champagne house to the next—austere and light-bodied to rich and toasty—a nonvintage is a producer's hallmark, and as such, should always be recognizable. For example, if you've liked Bollinger's nonvintage in years past, you can expect to encounter the same character in a bottle you buy today.
Pairing with Food Champagne tastes sensational with smoky or salty hors d'oeuvres like cheese straws, roasted pecans or smoked salmon and gives a festive upgrade to most dishes that might traditionally be paired with white wine—for example, fried chicken.
10 Great Bottles
Henri Billiot Brut Réserve ($32) This small grower, located in Champagne's Pinot Noir heartland, Ambonnay, has produced a sensationally rich, lively wine from 100 percent grand cru-rated grapes.
Bollinger Special Cuvée ($45) Bollinger, one of the best known of the big-label Champagne houses, produces one of the driest nonvintage wines, which is one of the richest and toastiest as well.
Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut ($35) This independent-minded Champagne maker, also in Ambonnay, has created a wine with a compelling aroma of rich red fruit and hints of apricot and honey.
Gosset Grande Réserve ($53) A lovely nonvintage wine with a Rubenesque body and lots of lively acidity (leavened by five years' cellaring before release).
Krug Grande Cuvée ($150) Thanks to a high proportion of aged reserve wines in the blend, Krug calls their nonvintage wine "multivintage." It's gloriously complex and full-bodied, with the mellowness that comes of five to six years' aging.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier ($42) Firm-structured, medium- to full-bodied and crisply refreshing, this young sibling to Roederer's Cristal often has more immediate appeal than that iconic wine.
Ruinart Brut ($48) Ruinart claims to be France's oldest Champagne house, dating from the eighteenth century. This is a distinctive wine, medium-bodied and crisp, with surprising concentration and power.
Jacques Selosse Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($50) Selosse is famous for harvesting some of the ripest grapes in the region. This all-Chardonnay wine is full-bodied, biscuity, toasty and very dry.
Taittinger la Française Brut ($40) From a family-owned luxury goods company, this elegant, fairly light wine has a pleasing touch of sweetness.
Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier ($46) One of the few Champagne firms to use wood-fermented and wood-aged base wines, Vilmart makes a nonvintage that bursts with exotic young fruit and floral aromas.