Few things make me happier than drinking Champagne, especially when I have an extraordinary bottle to share with friends. I’ve been doing quite a bit of that over the past couple of weeks and, much to the chagrin of my liver, have tasted quite a few that are memorably delicious and relatively reasonably priced.
Starting with low-dosage Champagnes — when less sugar solution is added before the final corking — one of my all-time favorites is Paul Dethune Extra Brut Grand Cru, NV ($49). Impeccably balanced with almonds, lemon, red apples, brioche, a bracing minerality and a long, almond-pastry finish, it is absolutely sublime. And Ayala Brut Zero, NV ($45) is a mouth-watering, bone-dry Champagne dominated by crisp lemon and green apple.
If you don’t like your Champagne quite so dry, look for Champagne Roger Pouillon Brut Cuvée de Reserve, NV ($45). Minerally with lemon, vanilla, a hint of berry on the palate and an underlying yeastiness, it is, in a word, scrumptious. J. Lassalle Cachet d’Or 1er Cru, NV ($38) is a must try. Rich yet refined, it has vanilla, lemon, a hint of cherries and, the best part, a lingering almond-croissant-like flavor. Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines, NV ($44) is always reliable. It reminds me of the toasted-almond ice cream pops I used to buy from the Good Humor truck when I was a kid, though it is not nearly as sweet. With a creme-brulee-like finish, it is a good Champagne for those who like richer bubbly.
If blanc de blancs is your thing, remember the name Saint Charmant. Both the Blanc de Blancs Brut, NV ($48) and Blanc de Blancs Brut, 2002 ($68) are stellar examples of Champagne made entirely from chardonnay. Compared to other better-known blanc de blancs Champagnes, both are a steal — especially the 2002. Stylistically, the wines are creamy and crisp, with the vintage having a more pronounced yeast and red apple aroma and the nonvintage having a little more of an almond-tea quality.
Champagne Lancelot-Pienne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, NV ($40) is made for those who like mineral-oriented Champagne. Made from chalky soil, it has a flintlike smoky nose and crisp green apple on the palate.
As for rosé, Champagne CH. & A. Prieure Grand Prieure Brut Rosé, NV ($60), one of my favorite wines in 2011, continues to astonish with its finesse and balance of minerality and strawberry and cherry fruit. Gonet-Medeville Brut Extra Brut Rosé 1er Cru, NV ($60) is always stunning with its subtle bing cherry, lemon, spry mineral tones and understated yeastiness. Champagne Bereche et Fils Brut Rose, NV ($60) stands out with a pungent nose filled with cloves and other spices that are reminiscent of a baked Christmas ham.
As for vintage Champagne, Champagne Paul Bara Brut Grand Cru Millésimé, 2004 ($59) is a great bargain. A conglomerate of fruit, nuts, minerals, vanilla and brioche that begins with the first whiff and continues on the finish, it is a magnificent wine. Honorable mention also goes to Champagne Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or Brut Champagne, 2007 ($94). Though it is getting up there in price, this full-bodied matrix of a wine blows away other vintage Champagnes that are in the $100 and higher range.
Whatever you drink, be sure to do so safely. I say this every year, but it cannot be repeated enough: A taxi is much cheaper than a DUI. Happy holidays!
Some of these wines can be found through Arlequin Wine Merchant, Brix 26, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, K&L Wine Merchants, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Vin Vino Wine and The Wine Club.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.