The end of the year is a great time for lists. Top ten new cars, top ten network news personalities, etc. While I don’t drive new cars (I’m more of an old truck guy) and I don’t watch what passes for network news (I don’t have time and can’t afford the spike in blood pressure), I do taste and drink a lot of wine. In fact, it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I drink a lot of sparkling wine. Whether it’s Cava or cremant, or from Tasmania or Champagne, bubbly wine is opened at least a couple of nights a week – and often more than that – at my house. Most of the time we keep it under $30 per bottle but at least a couple of times a month we splurge a bit.
Because I get to taste almost everything, I know where the values are and so we mostly avoid the “big brands” with their big built-in advertising and marketing budgets. I know what delivers and over-delivers as well as what under-delivers at each price point. Here, in ascending price order, are my picks for the best bubblies in the market at whatever price. These are the wines my wife Carol and I drink at home and, as such, are the bubbly wines I most highly recommend.
CASTILLO PERELADA Brut Reserva, Cava (Spain), NV ($7.99)
A classic blend of Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada together with Chardonnay made using methode champenoise and aged at least 18 months en tirage (on the yeasts in the bottle). Pale-gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity. Toasty-yeasty with mineral earth to go with its citrus and tree fruit and earthy red fruit nuance. Good grip in the mouth, quite long. So much better than it has to be at this price point. This food friendly fizz is great with appetizers and anti pastas and perfect with potato chips or popcorn. BearScore: 90. (How good is it? When suppliers with competing products taste it, they decide not to present their Cava because it will get smoked. It’s that good.)
CASTILLO PERELADA Reserva Especial Brut, Cava (Spain), NV ($9.99)
A blend of Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada together with Chardonnay fermented using Methode Champenoise (same as the Perelada Cava Brut Reserva) but aged 27 months on the yeasts in the bottle and an extra three months after disgorging. Pale-gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-plus-bodied with still fresh acidity. Toastier with a yeasty earthiness and real depth to go with citrus and tree fruit along with some earthy red fruit. The richness from the additional aging makes this a Cava for those who like Bollinger-style Champagnes. Richer, deeper, more satisfying. Delicious. Shocking for the price. BearScore: 91.
FRANÇOIS LABET Brut, Crémant de Bourgogne, NV (14.99)
100% Pinot Noir all grown in Burgundy made sparkling using methode champenoise. Bronze-tinted-straw in color, fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity. Rich and toasty with clean mineral earth, good toasty yeast notes, and a fine mix of earthy red cherry fruit and enough ripe citrus to keep it balanced. Supple but lively feel. Satisfying. Opens up nicely in the glass. Big enough to serve with food. Great everyday bottle of bubbly at a value price. Yum! BS: 90+ (Did I mention it is French? From Burgundy?)
ABEL CHARLOT Brut, Champagne, NV ($19.94)
This fully sparkling, methode champenoise, real deal Champagne is a blend of 15% Chardonnay, 50% Meunier (formerly known as Pinot Meunier), and 35% Pinot Noir including 10% reserve wines (for richness and complexity). Pale gold straw in color and fully sparkling, dry and fresh with a hint of phenolics. Toasty-biscuity bubbly offering citrus and tree fruit with subtle mineral earth. Classic Brut Champagne in a toastier style. A Stunning Value. BearScore: 90+
JANSZ Brut, Tasmania, NV ($22.99)
A methode champenoise blend of 58% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Meunier aged two years en tirage (on the yeasts) before disgorgement and finishing. Sensory Note: Pale green straw in color and fully sparkling with a nice bead even in wine glasses. Plenty of fizz. The yeast-and-fruit nose was evident even as I was pouring the wine. In the glass, I found yeast and toast notes along with citrus and floral as well as a bit of red fruit. There is even a Champagne-like mineral component along with enough richness to make this work well with food. It is crisp and fresh with a fine balance and very long finish. Bear Note: Delicious. BearScore: 92+.
JANSZ Brut Rosé, Tasmania, NV ($22.99)
A blend of 68% Pinot Noir, 26% Chardonnay, and 6% Pinot Meunier made fully sparkling and finished with a dosage of .9% residual sugar. Spends about 18 months en tirage (on the yeast). Salmon in color, fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Crisp, fresh, refreshing Rosé offering strawberry and cherry essences along with a bit of citrus and an earthy mineral component that blends in nicely with the fruit and toasty yeast. Great food fizz. BearScore: 92+.
J.P. MARNIQUET Brut Tradition, Champagne, NV ($29.99)
A blend of a shocking 50% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Noir from an RM (recoltant manipulant) producer. Straw in color, fully sparkling. Dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity. Toasty-yeasty-biscuity with lively lemony citrus and some red fruit with limestone mineral and a hint of spice. Really very long finish.Delicious, focused, fresh, alive-in-the-mouth. Really hit the spot. Yum. BearScore: 92.
LOUIS SACY Brut Grand Cru, Champagne, NV ($32.69)
A blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay all from grand cru vineyards spread around Champagne. 10% of the base wine is aged in oak barrels before the champenization. Finished Brut. Gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Complex and developed with red fruit and citrus along with toasted bread and an earthy mineral terroir character. This is a richer, more food friendly Champagne for everything from “salty snacks” (potato chips, popcorn, parmesan cheese, etc.) to seafood including salmon, oysters, caviar, and even snails. Spec’s Score: 92.
CASTELNAU Brut Reserve, Champagne, NV ($36.99)
This fully sparkling, methode champenoise, blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Meunier (formerly known as Pinot Meunier), and 20% Pinot Noir, including 17% reserve wines (for richness and complexity) stuns with its depth and complexity. Pale gold straw in color, dry and in a fresh balance with just a hint of phenolic content. Richer toasty-biscuity bubbly offering citrus and tree fruit with red fruit essence and subtle mineral earth notes. Richer and more satisfying than expected or than its price would indicate. Fine food friendly fizz. BearScore: 92+
BONNAIRE Brut Variance Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, NV ($42.69)
A 100% Chardonnay Champagne with 70% of the grapes coming from Cramant (Grand Cru) and 30% from Bergères-Les-Vertus (Premier Cru), fermented and aged in oak barrels with full malo-lactic fermentation prior to methode champenoise. 68 months on the lees before disgorgement. Finished with a dosage to bring it to a dry brut level of 6 grams of sugar per liter. Seems almost a combination of fine bubbly and fine White Burgundy. The fruit is more in the lemony citrus range (typical of Blanc de blancs) but the mineral and oak are there as well. The mineral is Champagne’s chalk (The Cote de Blanc is the heart of Champagne’s chalk) rather than the Cote d’Or’s limestone. The oak is not new but the character of the barrels is there as a complement. The whole is a delicious, fresh but satisfying Champagne with a unique appeal. Delicious. Due to its depth and richness, this is a blanc de blancs that transends aperitif status and can be used with food at the dinner table. Recommended serving temperature is 50-53°F. BearScore: 94+.
ANDRE CLOUET Brut Rosé, Champagne, NV ($47.49)
A cuvee of 92% Pinot Noir fermented as white Champagne blended with 8% Bouzy Rouge (the famous but rare red wine from the village of Bouzy). Decidedly pink (as opposed to orangy-salmon)in color and fully sparkling. dry and fresh with light but present phenolics (from the red wine component). Supple and juicy with red fruit accented with subtle earth. It hints at exotic spice with fine perfume and a balancing core of citrus and red fruit acidity. Its toastiness emerges in the mouth. Great feel. Yum. Excellent. BearScore: 94.
HENRIOT Rosé, Reims, Champagne, NV ($64.59)
A blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir with 25% reserve wines aged 30 months on the lees. Pale-salmon-orange in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-ight-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Supple, lovely, fresh, lighter-style rosé. More red fruit than citrus but both are there. Lots of freshness but complex and still satisfying with mineral and plenty of toasty yeast. Champagne for food. Yum. BearScore: 94+.
TAITTINGER Brut Millesime, Champagne, 2006 ($74.99)
An all grand cru blend of 50% Chardonnay from the Cote des Blancs and 50% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims aged 5 years en tirage (on the yeasts). Golden-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics. Supple, rich, toasty earthy, ripe vintage Champagne offering developed ripe citrus and earthier red fruits with lots of toasty yeast character balanced and focused by its mineral-earth component. Complex, rich, and delicious; complete. Develops beautifully as it warms in the glass. BearScore: 95.
ANDRE CLOUET Cuvee 1911 Grand Cru Brut, Champagne, NV ($75.99)
This 100% Pinot Noir (so it is a Blanc de Noirs) estate-bottled cuvee comes from the grand cru village of Bouzy. The blend is 50% from the 1996 vintage, 25% from 1995, and 25% from 1997. Some of the component wines were fermented in used Sauternes barrels and some were aged in older oak barrels. The wine was laid down in early 1998 and disgorged on 06/05/2014 – so it has 16 years on the lees. Gold-straw in color, bright and clear and fully sparkling; dry, medium-plus bodied with a rich texture, still fresh acidity, and scant phenolics. This is a stunningly good, beautifully developed sparkler with depth and richness to go with a perfectly integrated mix of mineral, toast, and developed citrus-tree-red fruit. Lovely, delicious, satisfying. BearScore: 98+.
BARONS de ROTHSCHILD Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Champagne, NV ($94.99)
A fully sparkling 100% Chardonnay all from crus in the Cote de Blancs (Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-Sur-Oger, Oger and Vertus) utilizing 40% reserve wines. Aged on the lees 36 months with at least an additional 9 moths on the yeast after disgorgement. Pale-gold-straw in color; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity. Classic Chardonnay Champagne with lots of freshness. Elegant mostly citrus fruit but with real complexity and depth (from the high proportion of reserve wines). Fine elegant texture. Really holds the interest. A sort of Blanc de Blancs version of Krug’s Grand Cuvee. BearScore: 95+
Jean-Pierre MARNIQUET Prestige Brut, Champagne, 1995 ($99.74)
A cuvee of 60% Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay laid down in 1996 and disgorged in 2015. Gold-straw and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with still fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Rich and toasty with the pure rich developed flavors of long aging. Deep mix of toasty red fruits and yeast notes with elegance from the Chardonnay and chalk. Brilliant, delicious. Gets deeper and better as it opens, breathes, and develops in the glass (use a wine glass). A masterpiece. BearScore: 100.