My top champagnes, from $30-$130

My last post was about an alternative to champagne, so today will be for those of you who believe “there is no substitute”.  Here are the champagnes that impressed me this year, ranging from $30 on up:

~$30

  • For those who want something a bit rich, my favorite at this price range is consistently Henriot Brut Souverain – really pleasing for the price.

~$50

  • For those who like their champagne a bit crisper and tarter, Ruinart blanc de blancs has zippy green apple hints, citrusy acidity and floral aromas, and possesses a nice overall liveliness.

~$70

  • 2002 Gaston Chiquet Special Club is my choice in this range – a bit oxidative on the nose; on the palate, just plain delicious – perfect balance for me when it comes to champagne. Some honey/brioche, but also still fresh. Love this.

…and a champagne that is flat-out amazing

One champagne that rocked my world this year can be yours for $100-120, from the excellent grower champagne house VilmartIf you’re serving this for New Year’s, I’ll be right over!

  • 2001 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée- France, Champagne (12/10/2011) Right off the bat, an absolutely captivating nose. A touch of honey, with a smoky mineral note – there’s something indescribably delicious about this nose. Very interesting palate – some honeyed flavors hit you on the palate up front, then an expansive acidity hits you – tongue-coating, vibrant and full. A winey, sappy quality here makes me think of my favorite red burgundies even, which is accentuated by a floral quality that becomes more apparent on the nose with some time. Not perfect – the feeling of separate stages from honeyed richness to tingly acidity is very distinct and may be jarring to drinkers looking for something seamless. But for me, this is captivating, complex – one of the most interesting champagnes I’ve ever had, and one of the best. 96-97 (96 points)

Cheers, Happy New Year’s Eve and all the best for 2012!  -Alan

Countdown to New Year’s: cava as an alternative to champagne

As New Year’s eve approaches, many of us will be looking for some sparkling to ring in 2012 with some extra pop.  Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about some good rosé sparklers, basic champagnes, and one splurgy champagne that rocked my world.  But for today, I want to focus on cava, which is not only a great value choice because of the reasonable prices they go for, but is an excellent choice on its merits, regardless of price.

Cava – these sparkling wines from Spain are made from the same method as champagne, but to my palate they bring a somewhat lighter body and more of a saline minerality than champagne.  For many of them, I feel like they have a bit less carbonation as well, for those who want less of the gassy feel.

Good examples of cava can be found for less than $10 with reserve versions for $25 or less, so there’s lots of pleasure to be had for a reasonable sum.  At $10ish, the basic Jaume Serra Cristalino, one of the most popular brands, is quite decent, with some savory mineral. Lady of Spain cava is also less than $10, comes in a kitschy decorative bottle and pleases me a bit more by comparison, with smoother texture and deeper fruit flavors.

Stepping up the $ ladder just a bit, 2008 Raventos i blanc cava L’Hereu Reserva is pretty smooth and very tasty, dry and clean at just $15.  If you can move up to $20ish, I found Naveran’s Dama cava to be an interesting, complex wine, combining an olive note on the nose, sunny sweet fruit on the palate, a touch of floral aroma, and a salinity to lend further interest.

The wines mentioned in this post were tasted at free retailer or trade tastings, with the exception of Lady of Spain cava, which was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from the distributor.