Champagne for the Holidays
Food & Wine's Ray Isle picks five of the best brut Champagnes on the market and gives tips for holiday entertaining.
Although Champagne producers spend millions of dollars each year trying to convince people that Champagne isn't just for parties, that doesn't stop Americans from pouring more Champagne during the holiday season than at any other time of year. And why should it? Whether or not Champagne tastes good with a weekday roast chicken (it does), it's always going to be the ultimate celebration wine.
A few important facts: Champagne refers only to wines from the Champagne region in northern France; anything else should simply be called sparkling wine. The best type of glass to serve Champagne in is a flute, which both looks good and helps preserve the wine's bubbles. A typical Champagne pour is about five ounces, meaning there are roughly five glasses in a bottle. Serve Champagne at around 45 degrees. Two glasses per guest per hour is a fair estimate of how much Champagne you'll need for a party; at that rate, 20 guests at a two-hour cocktail party will require 16 bottles of Champagne (it's better to overestimate than underestimate).
The most popular type of Champagne is brut nonvintage. Champagne terminology is a little confusing—brut means dry, whereas extra-dry on a Champagne label actually means lightly sweet. Most Champagnes are nonvintage (NV) because they are blends of different vintages; this is done to ensure that the house style remains consistent. They are also typically blends of the three grape varieties that regional vineyards are legally permitted to grow: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Here are five terrific Brut NV Champagnes to look for this holiday season:
Oudinot Cuvée Brut NV ($30)
Oudinot is a small independent producer that grows all of its own Chardonnay for this attractively priced cuvée (most Champagnes are produced by large companies that source most of their grapes from thousands of independent growers). A floral scent and creamy, peachy flavors define this brut.
Gosset Brut Excellence NV ($46)
A small but very high-quality producer, Gosset was founded in the town of Aÿ in 1584. Unlike most other Champagnes, Gosset's wines—this citrusy Brut, for example—do not undergo malolactic fermentation (a kind of secondary fermentation that helps to soften the wine), making them bright and remarkably zesty.
Deutz Brut Classic NV ($49)
The Deutz style is delicate and aromatically complex, as in this subtle, blossom-scented bottling. It's blended from roughly equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and largely sourced from the Marne Valley subregion.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV ($55)
Bollinger, which owns an unusually high percentage of estate vineyards for a Champagne house (about 70 percent of its production), is known for its wines' full-bodied density of flavor. This luscious bottling is a great example of the Bollinger style.
Taittinger Prélude Brut NV ($75)
An equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Taittinger's Prélude is sourced from only grand cru villages, raising its price but adding finesse to its peach- and orange-inflected flavors. It's luxuriously creamy at first but finishes with mouthwatering acidity.