If you’re headed to the wine shop to buy Champagne, there are a lot of choices. Where should you start?
Take a look at Taittinger. It’s a universal favorite, described by one prominent wine reviewer as “the essence of Champagne.” One of our friends, a wine writer who could have chosen anything, served it at his wedding.
Don’t purchase a vintage year Champagne.* Vintage champagnes typically need to be laid down for 15 or 20 years to reveal their glorious nuances. Knowledgeable people who buy them don’t plan to drink them anytime soon.
Instead, look for a nonvintage Champagne, such as Taittinger Brut La Française. A nonvintage Champagne is a blend of wines from different years (see footnote).
*Vintage Champagne is a blend of wines from that one particular year indicated on the label, when the quality of the harvest, measured by the sweetness of the grapes, meets the requirements to declare a “vintage.” True vintage years may happen three or four times a decade, or fewer. Because vintage Champagne commands a significantly higher price, some Champagne houses declare a “vintage” in a year when others do not feel the quality of the harvest merits it. This doesn’t imply that nonvintage Champagnes are inferior; in fact, in a lean year, wines from richer vintages are mixed together to create the house’s “perfect” recipe.
Elegant and crisp, a perfect Champagne style. Photo courtesy Taittinger.
With a nonvintage Champagne, the different barrels of wine are assembled by the winemaker into a “perfect recipe,” known as the house style (le style de la maison): a consistent taste from year to year. And it’s a value: about $45.00 for Taittinger Brut La Française, compared with $80.00 for the 2004 vintage Taittinger Brut Millesime—which, as noted, is far too young to drink right now. (If your idea of a value is $10, you can find a nice sparkling wine, but it won’t be Champagne.)
Taittinger Brut La Française is made from 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir grapes. Crisp, creamy and complex, it has notes of citrus, green apple and the characteristic Champagne toastiness.
The best rose for Valentine’s Day: Rosé Champagne. We love rosé Champagnes, which acquire their natural rosy color from contact with red grape skins. Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé is a beauty, with the greater roundness that rosés have, compared with traditional Brut Champagnes. It’s priced in between the nonvintage and vintage Taittingers, around $65.00. It’s hard to find, so if you see a bottle, pounce on it. It’s a memorable Champagne for a special occasion.
If you want Champagne with dessert, head for Taittinger Nocturne, a sec† Champagne that is vinified for sweeter foods. Taittinger Nocturne has twice the dosage (sugar added after the second fermentation) of the brut Champagne. Brut Champagnes are not vinified to pair with desserts, and will seem too astringent if you drink them with sweeter foods. Instead, those in the know drink sec and demi-sec Champagnes. Sec Champagnes also go well with foods that typically pair with sweeter wines, such as foie gras, lobster and double-creme/triple creme cheeses (our idea of a perfect meal). The nose evokes peaches, apricot and yeastiness (as with toast, a characteristic of Champagne). As with its brut brother, there’s crisp acidity and rich mouthfeel, tropical fruit and minerality. Trust us, it’s romantic.
Whatever is in your glass, have a delicious Valentine’s Day.
†While sec means “dry” in French, as it refers to Champagne, it indicates sweetness.