Champagne Tips: How to Choose a Great One

Staff Writer
Don't let the bubbles intimidate you: simple tips for buying champagne

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

For many, selecting a good bubbly is one of the more stressful activities of the fall/winter holiday season, second only to participating in the annual family political "discussion." Here are three easy ways to make sure your bottle — be it destined for Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, or just a fun evening — is a palate-pleaser, guaranteed to impress your date, host, friends, or family.

1. Look for the phrase "Méthode Traditionelle" on the label. Thanks to the Treaty of Madrid (1891), only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called "champagne." But if you want high-quality bubbly without the accompanying price tag, look for "Méthode Traditionelle" on the label. This means the wine was made using the same rigorous methods by which champagne is made. And when it comes to sparklers, the better the method, the better the bubbles.

2. Lighten-up with blanc de blancs. If you like your sparkling wine light and dry, look for "Blanc de Blancs" (white of whites) on the label. Most sparkling wine, including champagne, is made from a blend of grapes, usually chardonnay and pinot noir. Blanc de blancs, however, is made exclusively from chardonnay, which results in a crisp, lighter-style bubbly.

3. Seek out Grower champagne. Most champagne houses do not grow their own grapes. The logic is that the best bubbly is made in the cellar (as opposed to on the vine) because, for many producers, the goal is to maintain the "house style," and make sure the wine tastes the same from year to year. The trade-off, however, is a loss of terroir — flavors that reflect the place where the grapes are grown. In contrast, Grower champagnes are artisinal sparklers made mostly using grapes from the growers’ own estates. As a result, the wines are often more interesting, more complex, and display more character. Also, Grower champagnes are often cheaper because these producers typically focus less on marketing. Look for "RM," which stands for Recolants-Manipulants (harvest makers), usually hiding in ridiculously small letters on the label.

— David Snyder, The Drink Nation

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