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What's your favorite champagne? And a book review. [Moved from Not About Food]

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Has anyone else read Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, by Don and Petie Kladstrup?

The authors also wrote Wine and War, which I'm putting on my list next.

The book details the evolution of champagne (and rises and falls of the region, Champagne) from the days of Dom Perignon up to WWII. There are a lot of interesting anecdotes about all the most famous champagne makers, the perils of making champagne, which historical figures couldn't get enough champagne, what people did to get their hands on champagne, how champagne played a role in major wars, etc. A quick and easy read, but very fun.

Unsurprisingly, the book has me hankering for champagne.I love bubbly, but because I like to have it regularly I always pick an inexpensive prosecco, cremant, the Roederer Estate, or one of the $20 and under Gloria Ferrer bottles, but this time I want to go up a little just for kicks.

I can't afford Dom Perignon or a Grand Dame, but what are people's favorite $30ish bottles from the big famous champagne houses? The ones that feature prominently in the book are:

Pommery and Cliquot, which are the only two I've tried (and liked)
Moet & Chandon

Link: http://www.chezpei.com

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  1. Personally, I love to have Veuve Cliquot demi-sec on hand, but will accept brut. Bollinger next on my list of the regular brews of the big houses. I prefer a full-bodied champagne, not light. After all, it is one of the basic food groups (along with pasta, eggs, cheese, and chocolate).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S

      Another Demi-Sec fan here.

    2. I also like Cliquot, although I prefer the drier Brut version. If you like Cliquot, I agree with Karl that you will probably also like Bollinger, as both are the more full-bodied style with a higher percentage of Pinot Noir vs. Chardonnay. Another one of that same style is Pol Roger. The opposite end of the spectrum - the lighter, "flinty" style - is perhaps best typified by Taittinger.

      The other important variable is sweetness, which is determined by the amount of residual sugar in the wine. The driest is Natural, then Brut (probably the most common), then demi-Sec, then Sec. The sweetness will be denoted somewhere on the label. Natural can be a bit tough to get to like, and Sec will give you cavities, so most of the market is taken up with Brut and demi-Sec.

      A true "pink" Champagne (as opposed to all the imitators that give the genre a bad name) is made by using a good proportion of Pinot and allowing the must to ferment on the skins for a while. They can be wonderful, but the good ones are usually more expensive.

      7 Replies
      1. re: FlyFish

        It's probably around 98.5% Brut, 1% Demi-Sec and perhaps .5% for any others.

        1. re: FlyFish

          Thanks! I'm evolving towards liking a more full-bodied sparkling made with more pinot noir than chardonnay, and occassionally I'll want something with a lot of yeast just for a change. This is a big step from the sugar bombs I used to think were good but now find overpoweringly cloying. Brut is still usually too dry for me, depending on the brand, and demi-sec usually just perfect.

          I was gifted the Cliquot Ponsardin, which is sweeter, right? I'll have to try the demi-sec and Bollinger.

          1. re: nooodles

            The "Ponsardin" is part of the name of the Champagne house - Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Veuve means "widow." Barbe Ponsardin married into the Champagne-producing family of Clicquot and took over the business when her husband Francois died prematurely. You most likely have the non-vintage brut, one of the most common Champagnes on the market, which is usually referred to as "yellow label," though the label color is actually a bit orangey.

          2. re: FlyFish

            Many "pink" or Rose champagnes are in fact made with the addition of a small amount of still red wine to the cuvee.

            1. re: FlyFish

              To clarify, the levels of residual sugar in Champagne from the driest to the sweetest goes like this:

              Extra Brut (Brut Nature): Very, very dry
              Brut: Very dry
              Extra Dry: Medium dry
              Sec: Slightly sweet (Literally translates to "dry")
              Demi-Sec: Sweet
              Doux: Very sweet

              A little confusing at first. I'm in the Extra Brut camp, but usually drink Brut due to its availibility. Some Bruts are sweeter than others, like Moet's White Star. It calls itself Brut, but it's really Extra Dry, which means it's got a little more sugar. At the end of a special celebration meal, we serve an Extra Dry (or a Demi-Sec would work, too) for a celebration toast with cake or a fruit dessert.

              Bollinger, Louis Roederer, Delamotte, Gosset, Veuve Clicquot, really, I'm pretty happy with most well-made, quality champagnes. The most interesting to me now are the artisanal champagnes--Monday and dbird's recs are good.

              1. re: FlyFish

                Krug and Taittinger are my absolute favorites - to me they have such amazing complexity - there's so much to savour there. I see what you mean about flinty on the Taittinger with that great minerality from the high proportion of Chardonnay - and it's definitely got finesse - but I don't think of it as "light" at all. Definitely got a lot more going on than the yellow that's become everyone's standard. I've found it helpful to reference wine reviews as a bit of a guide - that's actually how Taittinger and I met! Agreed, Bollinger's good stuff too. So many wonderful bubblies, so little time!

                1. re: FlyFish

                  Flyfish, there is also extra-dry between brut & demi-sec.

                2. I like the American Schramsberg champagnes, e.g. Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, etc.

                  Link: http://www.schramsberg.com/purchase.htm

                  1. I read the book a couple of months ago and it had the same effect on me: I really want to try some expensive French champagne. I was also fascinated to read about how champagne has changed to satisfy its various markets over the years.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jillp

                      Do report back when you get your hands on some!

                      1. re: Bearnaise

                        Like Churchill and you, I love Pol Roger....Vintage is wonderful,but the NV is great too. Hold on. I love any champagne! :)

                        1. re: troutpoint

                          ...and the winemaker from Krug is now making Pol Roger..... so..........

                      2. Wine and War is a great book.

                        1. Look for some small-producer wines. They often don't have the advertising budget that a house like Cliquot does, and that value is reflected in the wine. I absolutely love the whole line of wines from Bruno Paillard. The rose is exquisite. Some other producers I like: Henriot, Dampierre, Ruelle-Pertois, Pierre Moncuit, Paul Bara and Charles Heidsick. Cheers!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: monday

                            I have only had the yellow label but like more toast that Veuve offers. I do concur with Monday above about small grower-producers, especially like Bruno Paillard and also recommend Raymond Boulard and Camille Saves. Jacquession & Fils, Paul Goerg, and I don't get to drink champagnes over $40 or maybe $60 for special occasions so my preferences are limited to that range but I once received a Dom Perignon 1990 as a gift and it was really transcendent.

                          2. Regardless of what Champagnes you enjoy could we all learn to spell Veuve CLICQUOT correctly. and for what it is worth I also love Bruno Paillard, one of the newer houses in Champagne.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Winemark

                              I'm cool on the spelling...but please help me on the PRONUNCIATION!!!

                              1. re: fooddiva

                                klee-ko, with the syllables stressed equally and the vowels purer, less diphthongized, than in English.

                                1. re: carswell

                                  i've got the klee-ko...how do you pronounce "vueve"?

                                  1. re: fooddiva

                                    I was afraid you were going to ask that.

                                    The problem is the vowel, which doesn't exist in standard English. It's usually transcribed *oe* and is the same sound as the *oe* in French *boeuf* or the *ö* in German *Hölle*. Probably the closest we come to it in North American English is the *i* in bird, though the lips are more rounded. With that in mind, *veuve* is pronounced *voev*. Outside France, you can probably get away with saying it so that it rhymes with *hoove* (i.e. hooves, the plural of hoof, but with no *s*).

                                    1. re: carswell

                                      Thanks a bunch...I'd rather mess up an attempt at an accurate pronunciation than miss it completely! shhh, don't tell anybody, there was a time I pronounced it Vweeve...YIKES!!!

                                    2. re: fooddiva

                                      Make your mouth in the shape of a "O": and say :"eee"

                              2. Billecart Salmon- delicious brut, blanc de blancs and rose from a small family house.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: bogie

                                  Check out the NYTimes review of Champagnes under $30 (in the archives of Wines of the Times). That's how I found Nicolas Feuillat, which is one of my favorites ever. I can get it for $22, reminds me of Bollinger, better than VCP IMO.

                                  For American, J winery (Sonoma) makes a delicious Brut Rose.

                                  1. re: kenito799

                                    Agree with the Nicolas Feuillat, also like Pol Roger

                                    1. re: kenito799

                                      My favorite America sparkling is Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée. You might also enjoy reading Joy Sterling's (Iron Horse) book, Vintage Feasting," about life in a California vineyard.

                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                        My problem is that -- IMHO -- the finest American sparkling wine is Equinox, but the production is so small, it is exceedingly difficult to find. It's expensive, but -- like l'Oréal, apparently -- it's worth it! Absolutely stunning.

                                        Of the mainstream houses, my three favorites are Roederer Estate Brut, Gloria Ferrer Brut BdB, and the Iron Horse.

                                    2. re: bogie

                                      I second that Billecart Salmon. Also, Agrapart et fils. They are both small Champagne producers that are definitely worth trying. I discovered them by going to my wine merchant when I budgeted for a case of champagne for NewYear's 2000. I asked for a mixed case of really great champagnes averaging about $25 per bottle. It was one of the best purchases I ever made. And I made friends with the staff there, too.

                                    3. Absolutely agree with Nicolas Feuillate, my absolute favorite champagne - when I can't afford Veuve Clicquot.

                                      Also, for around $20, Mumm Cuvee Napa Valley is a very lovely sparkling wine.

                                      1. Veuve is a standard of sorts. I do however second the Billecart Salmon.

                                        1. My question: As I learn more I find that Champs houses actually often have English names as principles on the labels. So should you "Frenchify" the pronunciation of these names because they are Champagne?

                                          1. I disagree strongly and will give you examples. In fact many houses were founded by families of German extraction.
                                            Moet- pronounce the "t" it is German
                                            To name a few. What houses are you refering to?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Winemark

                                              you got me. I made an assumption, considering the traditional appetite of the British for Champagne........thanks for the correction.

                                            2. I couldn't even post, I had to go to Amazon first and buy that book, sounds great!!!

                                              My everyday favorite is Chandon Blanc de Noir Sparkling, for inexpensive Cristalino Cava, I add a little pommagranite juice for parties. people love it.
                                              Just tried Veuve Cliquot Rose- LOVED IT!!
                                              Another one is Chandon Etoile Rose- the Brut is good too.


                                              I also love the Montaudon Brut and one of my friends said the rose is out of this world..

                                              Way off on a different subject, have you tried Gloria Ferrer pinot noirs? I think there are four, fantastic and Chandon CA makes a pinot meuniere, it is what dreams are made of.

                                              1. "Moet" is actually Dutch, not German. Claude Moet was born in France, but the name is of Dutch nationality.

                                                1. In the 30 dollar range, my absolute favorite is Billecart-Salmon. The best champgane for the price to me is Pomeray. Also, the best blanc de blanc, methode champagnoise, is called Saint Hilarie. It runs about 18 dollars a bottle and the house, run by monks, is older than some champagne houses. Not in Champagne of course, but a true bang for the buck.

                                                  1. I've been drinking a lot of Paul Bara lately. Excellent, esp when on sale for $40 at my local store.

                                                    1. we've run the gammut here (or pretty close to what mortals can afford) my sister and her husband throw their new years eve get together each year with the request that each guest bring a "good" bottle of champagne. add to that our other events and occasions and much champagne has been consumed...cristal, tattinger brut cuvee, winston churchill, pommery's louise, vive's grand dame but our favorites seem to be california tattinger's la reve, roerderer estate, or l'ermitage, schramsberg and mum's dvx . (please note i've lumped california sparklers in among the champagnes...i know they're technically not).

                                                        1. Billecart-Salmon (the regular brut should be available for $40ish)

                                                          Favorites in the absolute sense?

                                                          Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth
                                                          Billecart-Salmon Grand Cuvee
                                                          Krug Vintage
                                                          Krug Clos du Mesnil
                                                          Salon Le Mesnil
                                                          Bollinger RD (although the '95 is underwhelming)

                                                          and slightly less

                                                          Taittinger Comtes du Champagne
                                                          Veuve Clicquot "La Grande Dame" (although the '90 is sublime)

                                                          1. I love the sparklers from Schramsberg. The reserves are great as is the J Schram, especially the Brut rose. Join the club and get great library wines. Technically not champagne but Champagne got nuthin on Napa.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: SeanT

                                                              I have to partially dissagree with SeanT. I agree that at $28 the basic bottlings are very good and the Blanc de Noirs is both similar in flavor and better than some value Champagnes. I also agree that their reserve stuff is very good and on occasion even exceptional.

                                                              What I dissagree with is the value of their higher priced wines. At $60-$90 their mid-range wines are bested by several Champagne houses... Off the top of my head, NV Billecart Blanc de Blancs, NV Billecart rose (although the current blend isn't up to snuff), vintage Charles Heidsiek, vintage Charles Heidsiek Blanc de Millenaires, Bruno Michel Cuvee Millesimee, vintage Bruno Paillard, Rene Collard Cuvee Reserve, vintage Roederer, Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs, Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs all come to mind as being better. (From the US I would say that Soter Beacon Hill Sparkling Sparlking Rose of Pinot Noir is also better.)

                                                              The most expensive Schramsberg wines easily clear $100. I think they are $120 or $130. That is more than you can find Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Billecart Cuvee Elisabeth, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, 1985 Charles Heidsiek Champagne Charlie, NV Krug, Dom, Bollinger RD, etc etc for. And it is not in the league of most of those. (I'm not a huge Dom on NV Krug fan, so maybe it could tangle with those, and the '95 Bolligner RD is not up to their standards, but I think the others would all smoke the $100+ Schrams in equivelantly good vintages.)

                                                            2. Champagne is as essential to my well being as sunshine, and lately I'm into trying to find some of the smaller houses' offerings...

                                                              My very favorite is Krug, but I have to drink that on someone else's dime. Nicolas Feuillatte makes some very tasty and not unaffordable Champagnes. His Brut is $25 at the store I frequent, and the Brut rosé (I think compares to anyone else's) is $28.

                                                              I like Clicquot when I can find a vintage one on special, and I love Pol Roger and Taittinger, of the big names. never turned down a Bollinger, either.

                                                              thanks for the heads up on those booke! Just added them to my shopping cart on amazon!

                                                              1. My favorite used to be Mumm Cremant de Cramant. Very austere packaging; the label was a simple white strip on the bottle. I haven't had it in years. It was renamed Mumm de Cramant and got fancier packaging. I also liked Salon Le Mesnil, unfortunately very expensive. I tend to prefer blanc de blancs.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Timowitz

                                                                  It had to be renamed when the CIVC reached an agreement with the INAO to give up use of the term "crémant" in exchange for the producers of other bottle-fermented, French sparkling wines giving up the use of the term "méthode champenoise." Very few Champagne houses -- Mumm being the prominent exception -- produced a wine in the true "crémant" style, so it was a relatively easy agreement to reach. Thus, you have appellations such as (e.g.) Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant d'Alsace -- produced according to the "méthode traditionelle."

                                                                  As for the *old* Crémant de Cramant, I always thought it was Mumm's best wine; the Mumm de Cramant was (IMHO) never as good, but then again the entire house suffered a decline in quality at the same time. (Their n.v. Cordon Rouge has shown a marked improvement over the past five years, but it's still not my favorite.)

                                                                  You might like to try the n.v. Brut Blanc de Blancs from Pierre Peters . . .

                                                                2. I would encourage you and all to branch out and try the smaller producers than to stick with the big houses. It's like sticking to Mondavi and Beringer for still wine. Sure, you'll get a safe consistent champagne, but there is more exciting stuff out there to be found. Check out Claude Carre, Fleurry or Paul Bara.

                                                                  1. Montaudon Rosé
                                                                    Nicolas Feuillate Brut Rosé

                                                                    Am a big fan of the Blanc de Noirs style...incl. Gloria Ferrer. Looking fwd to trying Schramsberg.

                                                                    Anyone notice many of the great Champagne names are German? (Krug, Deutz, Roederer, Taittinger, Heidseick, Bollinger....etc)

                                                                    Also love the small house bottlings of R. Dumont & Fils (esp. Rosé) and Dieboldt-Vallois, tho' my all-time faves were NV Krug and 1996 Dom Perignon.

                                                                    1. Try Gruet--especially the blanc de noir. It is under $20 and made by a French family in Albequerque, New Mexico. Otherwise, try grower champagnes. Nearly all of the big, well known houses buy their grapes from Champagne's grape farmers. Many of these farmers make their own. Unfortunately only the better wine shops ever carry them. For names there is an importer named Thierry Thiese who brings several of them to the states. I'm sure he has a website out there. Most grower champages aren't that much less expensive than the Champagne houses but often the quality is much, much better.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: toogoaty

                                                                        Yes, yes, yes...I had forgotten about the excellent, affordable Gruet