Like This? Try That: Champagne Edition
Go to Top

Popping the cork off a bottle of bubbly is every bit as important to a New Year’s Eve celebration as confetti and a headline-making Mariah Carey performance, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Champagne is our go-to tipple for first dates, weddings, anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, graduations, and feting huge purchases like a new home or a mega yacht (hey, we can dream). But what do you do when you’re craving the fancy stuff but your budget is a little more down-to-earth?

There are plenty of quality sparkling wines that will make your palate sing without making your wallet squeal. Here are our top four:

Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, 2009

If you believe the great modern-day poet Jay-Z, “You can’t even drink Crist-OWL on this one/You gotta drink Crist-ALL.” Truth. Cristal is the gold-standard of Champagne in many circles, and there’s good reason for that sparkling reputation (get it?). The wine has racked up top-shelf ratings from every major wine critic and publication, and it’s been a favorite of celebrities and world leaders since Alexander II first asked Louis Roederer to make the Tsar his own signature cuvee back in 1876.

Today, Cristal is prized for its precision and balance. Using both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes ensures a smooth, supple mouthfeel yet plenty of structure. The color catches the light like Goldilocks’ hair and the nose is laced with everything from citrus to honeysuckle. The taste, you ask? It’s magnificently complex, with round notes of toasty hazelnut and vanilla giving way to an edgy acidity dusted in fine chalk.

With Cristal, you’re paying for quality, aging ability, tiny bubbles that feel as intoxicatingly prickly as a baby cat’s tongue, and, of course, the Roederer name.

Local: Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, NV

It’s hard to top elegance personified, so try expecting something different—not less, just different—when we head over to the Cote des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, and Vallee de la Marne vineyards of Billecart-Salmon.

The name is a mouthful and so is the Champagne. The wine is a triple win of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pino Meunier, the three grapes legally allowed in France’s most popular sparkling wine. The result is a lively drink that is both luxurious and playful. Take a whiff and feel the tiny, soft bubbles tickle your nose as they burst and release the scent of juicy pears and freshly cut flowers. Big, ripe stone fruit follows on the palate along with just a touch of greenery and minerality on the long, refreshing finish.

The BC Brut Reserve may not carry the widespread name recognition (at least in non-hospitality circles) that Cristal does and it would be pretty awkward to work “Billecart-Salmon” into a Kanye West ditty, but it is a favorite in expert blind tastings and, at $53 a bottle, you can afford to celebrate life a little more often.

A Little Far-Flung: Ruggeri Giustino B. Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore, 2015

If Champagne is the beret-wearing sophisticate quietly but happily nibbling on caviar and blinis in the corner of a charming brasserie, prosecco is the captivatingly animated diner seated at a communal table loaded with wildflowers and charcuterie. It’s a crazily stereotypical comparison, but it kind of works. Where Champagne is all brioche and stone fruit, Prosecco—including this lauded version—is a practically bohemian mix of herbs, exotic blooms, honey, tropical fruit, and a slip of cream.

The Giustino B. is made using grapes harvested from old vines in the historic Valdobbiadene DOCG. Locals refer to these old vines as “the memories of the region,” and the wines produced here are every bit as terroir-driven as those that come from Champagne. The biggest difference? This wine is priced for everyday drinking—and who wouldn’t want to pour some out to commemorate a random Wednesday—but it still feels special.

Out There: Argyle Brut, 2013

To the average person, Oregon doesn’t have quite the same cache as the rolling hills of France, but areas like Willamette Valley are actually producing wines that compare quite favorably to those made in the much-heralded Burgundy. Still, you might not expect to find a good sparkling in the Pacific Northwest… but you’d be pleasantly surprised.

Argyle is a phenomenal vineyard with a dynamite portfolio, and their 2013 Brut—which unsurprisingly features a Pinot Noir-heavy blend—is no exception. The wine is robust and booing with acid and minerality, but there is softness, too, in the form of orange blossom honey, white peaches, fig, and toasted hazelnut. It’s an undeniable value and a delicious buy for those nights you feel “I need something yummy” special but not “blow the rent” special.