In my house, the bubbles flow this time of year. Popping the cork on a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine can instantly make the mood feel festive. And did you know that Champagne is considered an aphrodisiac? Here’s everything you need to know to pick a great Christmas Champagne or sparkling wine for drinking or gifting during this joyous season.
What is Champagne vs what is sparkling wine?
If you don’t drink a lot of Champagne, you may not realize that a wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from France’s Champagne region. But if you call all sparkling wine Champagne, are you saying the wrong thing? Well, technically, yes. The French may frown but the term Champagne has really become synonymous with festive bubbles, so even though it may be the incorrect label for the wine, your friends will still be happy to partake.
Sparkling wine refers to all effervescent wines made anywhere in the world except Champagne. This includes Cava and Prosecco, Cremant and sparkling wines from regions in every corner of the world from Michigan to India.
Champagne is always made in the traditional method, mèthode champenoise, in which the wine’s bubbles form in the wine bottle. However, although many sparkling wines are also produced in the traditional method, some are produced by other methods, most commonly using the charmat, or tank, method of fermentation. In this method of making sparkling wine, the bubbles are introduced in a pressurized tank. This is how Prosecco is made.
Why is Champagne more expensive than sparkling wine?
You can find some Champagnes that are less expensive than many bottles of American sparkling wine. But in general, Champagne is pricier than its sparkling cousins. The main reason is that the production of Champagne is so limited. This wine can only come from one tiny speck on the map.
So the land in Champagne is much more expensive than the vineyards of Tasmania, (which is an outstanding sparkling wine-producing region). Additionally, the traditional method of making Champagne or sparkling wine is more expensive and time-consuming than the process of making charmat method sparkling wine. And when a wine is aged, like in the case of vintage Champagne, those extra years in storage also add to the cost. But you can have confidence that the wine you’re getting is something special.
My Christmas Champagne & sparkling wine recommendations
You really can’t go wrong with a chilled bottle of bubbles this time of year. But I have some tips and recommendations for finding a memorable bottle, whatever your budget. One of my best recommendations is to check the label to see how the wine was made. Look for the words mèthode champenoise, traditional method or charmat. If you find an inexpensive wine that says nothing at all about production on the label I advise you to steer clear because what’s in the bottle is likely just carbonated – not what you’re imagining when someone says Champagne.
Looking beyond popular Champagne
If you want to impress with a bottle of true Champagne, I recommend looking beyond the familiar names to find greater value. Not that I’d turn up my nose at a glass of Taittinger or Bollinger. These are wonderful wines, too! But you can find some interesting, higher-value wines just waiting to be discovered.
The Best Champagne value
Agrapart & Fils Grand Cru Terroirs Extra Brut
One of the quirkiest producers coming out of Champagne, Agrapart & Fils is making some very interesting wines. This Extra Brut is a terrific buy for the price. It has an ethereal, weightless quality and almost intangible honey and floral notes. Unusual is one way to describe it, another is to say it is a Champagne of the year.
NV Champagne Collet Brut Art Deco
This might be my new favorite across-the-board value wine. It normally sells for about $45, but you can sometimes find a bottle sold for less than $35. And for that price, it drinks like something easily twice the price. It’s a floral wine with stone fruit flavors and a hint of minerality.
Value sparkling wines
You can also find some sparkling wines at a better value than others. Here’s a look at a few delicious bottles of bubbles at good very fair prices.
Jansz Premium Cuvee
If you’re looking for an alternative to Champagne, Australia offers some interesting options, including this Brut from Tasmania. An incredibly fine wine for under $30, it offers crisp apple and asian pear aromas and flavors with lemon acidity and a yummy, doughy note on the finish that makes you long for more.
2020 Canella Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Brut “Millesimato” DOCG
This wine is for everyone who loves Prosecco but wants an upgrade for a special occasion. There are many wonderful options but this his wine makes a great jumping-off point to start your exploration. (If you want more, check out my guide to Prosecco.) This wine is delicate with lovely floral notes and minerality.
2015 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs
Although a bottle will set you back over $100, this American sparkling wine is one of the few domestic bottles that can compete with vintage Champagne when it comes to complexity and sophistication. And when you take that into consideration, you can easily see what value you’re getting from this 100% Chardonnay-based sparkling wine.
Best Rosé Champagne & sparkling wine
Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé
This is my personal favorite Champagne. It’s a wine that works for any occasion from brunch to afternoon drinks. It will also hold up with dinner. It’s also great for sipping in the bathtub at the end of a hard day. It offers freshness while remaining elegant. It offers floral and wild strawberry aromas with luscious berry flavors. At just under $100, it’s probably one of the best values for the money from all of Champagne.
2018 Bride Valley “Sparkling Bella” Brut Rosé
If you’ve never tried an English sparkling wine, prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise. Because of the chalky soils and moderate, cool climate of southern England, more and more talented vintners are investing in the region. It offers beautiful but restrained red fruit aromas and flavors, cut by zippy citrus acidity.
NV Ruhlmann Schutz Harmonie de Rosé Crémant d’Alsace
At under $25, this is one of the best rosé sparkling wines coming out of France. It’s a gentle style of rosé with lush strawberry and dried apricot aromas. Ripe fruit flavors include white peach and yellow nectarine. It lingers fairly long with a pleasing, roasted nut flavor at the back of the palate.
NV Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava Brut Rosé
At around $10 a bottle, you really can’t go wrong with this delicious Spanish sparkling wine. With its deep pink hue and approachable red fruit aromas and flavors, this is a crowd-pleaser but also a nice bottle to turn an ordinary weeknight into a romantic occasion.
Best Champagne for a mega splurge
If you’ve followed my column over the years, you’re probably wondering if I recently wandered face-first into a glass wall. No, I haven’t suffered head trauma. Like my last recommendation, this one comes as a surprise even to me. But find me a wine critic who will deny the splendor of this 2008 and I’ll show you an oenophile with head trauma! This prestige cuvée is sensual, balanced, feminine without being “pretty.” It was bottle aged for 10 years before release. A harmonious blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, it offers notes of minerality, of spice, stone fruits and citrus. This wine is not only the best Champagne for a splurge, it might be the best Champagne in the world from its vintage. It is truly that good.
2008 Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé
I do not want to love this wine as much as I do. I wanted to find a great, undiscovered Rosé Champagne to blow the competition away. But this vintage Rosé from one of the most famous Champagne brands is the one that blows all other Rosés out of the competition. It’s everything you want from pink bubbly. It is bold yet reasonably restrained with generous strawberry and cherry flavors balanced by a jolt of lemon acidity. For Rosé lovers, this really is one of the best Champagnes around.
Best No Dosage Wine
NV Champagne Drapier Brut Nature
Extra Brut and Brut Nature, or zero dosage wines, are having a moment. To be honest, I find a lot of wines in this category about as approachable as a glass of apple cider vinegar. Extra Brut Champagnes, wines made with little to no residual sugar, can be austere, with biting acidity. But Drapier’s version of a no dosage Champagne is rich and weighty with a nice blend of fruity and toasty notes.
Christmas Champagne Cocktails
What’s the holiday season without a great cocktail? If you’re itching for something more than a bottle of bubbly, here are a few of my favorite holiday champagne cocktail recipes:
- Cranberry Champagne Christmas Punch
- Pomegranate Champagne Mule
- The Cupid’s Kiss
- Saffron Fleurtation
- The Easiest Champagne Cocktail
Where to buy a great sparkling wine
Featured photo by JESHOOTS.COM
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