How To Choose a Champagne

Stay clear of the big-name champagnes this New Year's Eve

Saber Substitutes: What Else Opens Champagne?

Keywords: ChampagnesaberFlute


As a working sommelier, I am often asked what I drink during the holidays. Although it is hard for me to answer the question simply during Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s easy for New Year’s Eve: champagne!

I know you might be thinking, “Gee, thanks buddy, I didn’t need you to figure that out.” But stick with me — unlike many of my wine-loving peers, I am not a champagne freak 365 days a year. I do love some bubbles when the time is right, and ringing in a new year is the perfect time in my book. But it has to be done the right way or it shouldn’t be done at all.

Many party-goers drink inexpensive sparkling wines being touted by cheap party-throwers as “champagne.” Let me be clear: there is nothing you can drink that will ensure a raging headache the next day more than a $2 bottle of slightly sweet sparkling wine. I should also be fair and say that it doesn’t have to be champagne to be quality, but in this case, half the fun is the fact that you are splurging. After all, we are celebrating making it to another year and in my opinion, that should not be taken lightly!

Now that we have waited all year for the right moment for some bubbly, we can plan to drink some champagne from Champagne, the glorious region in northern France — also known as the mecca of bubbly wine. This is where a little knowledge and possibly a little effort can go a long ways. 

What many people don’t know is that there are many family-owned, estate-bottled champagnes that fly under the radar in most parts of the wine-drinking world. I support, sell and drink some of the finest Champagne producers in the world and my money says you have never heard of any of them. The best part is that often they are much less money than the “big brands,” and usually much better quality.

Another amazing thing is that many of these wines are bottled in magnums or larger, and are readily available for purchase. All you have to do is get online and find who has these beautiful bubbles in stock. This year, we at Restaurant Marc Forgione will be pouring the 2000 Gaston Chiquet out of a three-liter bottle, and I cannot wait. The top importer for these wines is Terry Theise; you can ask your retailer who his local importer is. Here are a few of my favorite producers to share with family and friends to ring in 2013:

• Pierre Gimonet
• Gaston Chiquet
• Pierre Peters
• Vilmart & Cie
• René Geoffroy
• Doyard

Of course, your local liquor store is stocked with Veuve Cliquot and Moët & Chandon. There is nothing wrong with those brands of champagne, if you want your party preparation to be easy. But remember this is the one time of year we pop a cork to celebrate the coming year, so live a little!

Matthew Conway is the creator of www.underripe.com, a wine-focused website geared towards the under ripe millennial generation. He serves as general manager / sommelier at Restaurant Marc Forgione. Conway is also a writer currently on the editorial advisory board for Boulder, Colo.-based Sommelier Journal.


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