French Wine: The Champagne Region
Champagne, very simply, is the world's single greatest region for sparkling wine.
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The Champagne region's wines are usually blends of different grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) from different years and different vineyards, combined to create consistency, vintage after vintage. The result is that despite this northern region's marginal and unpredictable climate, Champagne is incredibly reliable.
Champagne Region: Main Varietals
The honor of "most expensive Champagne in the world" belongs to a bottle of Veuve Clicquot salvaged from a 19th-century shipwreck in the frigid Baltic Sea. It sold for $43,900 at an auction this June. It's unlikely that the current Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label bottling will last as long, but you can pick it up for about one-thousandth of the price ($45).
In good years, Champagne houses produce vintage wines (where all grapes are from the same year); look for the 2002s and 2004s. Then there are têtes de cuvées, such as Perrier-Jouët's Fleur de Champagne. Made from the best grapes, these usually cost $125 a bottle and up.
Laurent-Perrier Brut LP ($40) LP's citrusy brut is superb and less pricey than its famous rosé.
Taittinger la Française ($40) Fine-bubbled and fragrant, Taittinger tends toward delicacy.
Deutz Brut NV ($41) Equal parts of the three Champagne grape varieties yield a refined balance.
Charles Heidsieck Brut NV ($55) Heidsieck's complex bottling is up to 40 percent reserve (older) wine.
Bollinger Special Cuvée ($60) This house is known for its particularly rich and luscious style.
Champagne Region: The Sweetness Scale
Brut Nature/Zero Dosage
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