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Champagne Tasting Party

Hello All!

I thought I'd tap into your combined expertise for a Champagne (actually Champagne/Sparkling Wine) tasting I'm planning for my birthday.

I thought that, heading into the holiday season, it'd be fun for my friends to get to taste one of the "important" vintage champagnes and then discover some reasonably priced alternatives by doing a blind tasting with notecards and everything. I thought it'd be fun to include wines from a variety of regions, trying to pick a wine that would "do justice" to each.

I've never tasted a vintage Champagne and haven't had much experience with the non-vintages outside the occasional glass of Veuve at a party.

After doing some research online about the possibilities (mostly via the NY Times, but hitting some blogs as well) I'm a little overwhelmed with choices and have to narrow it down to 6 bottles (8 guests total).

So far, I've looked at:

Vintage Champagne: Dom Perignon (the idea is to try one "once in a lifetime" bottle)
Non-Vintage Champagne: ????? so many choices!
Cremant: Lucian Cremant d' Alcase or Boyer Blanc d' Blancs
Prosecco: Col Vetoraz
Cava: ???
California: Domaine Carneros
Nevada: Gruet

I'm wondering if I should impose some some limitations, like trying to keep them all in a certain range of dryness, or exclude Rose's.

I've budgeted $250 for wine, much of which I expect will go towards the two Champagnes.

Thoughts? As you recommend a wine, it'd be nice to hear why: what you like about it and where it fits into the tasting as a whole. If you're discouraging me from a particular wine, I'd also love to hear your reasons.

Many thanks for chiming in!

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  1. I think you are on the right track. But first and foremost, I would expand the guest list to more people if you can, because 6 bottles for 8 people is a lot of bubbly. Second, skip prosecco, cava, USA for the most part...there's a lot of discovery to be done with France alone for the typical wine consumer.

    I'd think about two rounds of blind tastings featuring matched bottles, such as:

    Tasteoff 1 -- Vintage Champagne Stars - Dom and another vintage 'grower' champagne that your trusted wine retailer tells you is as great or better than Dom at a fraciton of the price. Purpose of this one is to show friends that there are MANY great Champagnes that you don't have to spend $150 to enjoy.

    Tasteoff 2 - 2 Cremants vs. Korbel Natural NV vs 1 Champagne NV- get Veuve Cliquot orange label and put it up against Jean Louis Denois ($15). Purpose here is to show your friends that drinking well branded bubblies will cost you 2-3x more than it should. Well chosen Cremants usually win in blind tastings. And meanwhile, Korbel Natural ($9) usually stands up to any Champagne NV in a blind tasting.

    Finally, be sure to fully consider the food you serve around sparkling wines. That should be half of all the thought that goes into this.

    People usually are intimidated by pairing food to sparkling wine, when in fact is one of the easiest pairings to do...

    1 Reply
    1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

      1. The budget isn't going to buy 6 bottles of champagne, including a bottle of Dom. Half bottles would work.

      2. I thought the purpose was taste wines blind and see what their real preferences are? In this case, it's important to have non-champagne sparkling: to see if they prefer the higher priced one. You might skip the cavas and proseccos and, as Brad states, to stick to France. In fact, that's an excellent list, though depending on where you are, Crémant de Limoux may not be so easy.

    2. if you want to learn a bit about small producer champanges, which can offer excellent quality and value, check out Terry Theise catalog: http://www.skurnikwines.com/msw/docum...

      Gruet is from New Mexico by the way. The Lucien Albrecht is generally a pretty good value wine.

      You might also want to check out a sparkling Vourvray.

      1. I've done many Champagne and sparkling wine tastings. I like the idea of

        Champagne
        Cremant d'Alsace
        Cremant de Bourgogne
        Cremant de Limoux
        Cremant du Jura
        Cremant de Loire or Brut Loire or Vouvray Petillant
        Cremant de Bordeaux

        1 Reply
        1. Vintage: Forget DP - WAY overpriced and not particularly fabulous. Look for 1995 or 1996 Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs - it will save you some money and is a better wine. (In any case, go 1995 or 1996 for BdB, go only 1996 for Champagnes with Pinot in the blend)

          NV: Again, unless you have access to small grower-producers like Boulard, I'd go with Heidsieck.

          CA: Domaine Carneros is a good choice. If willing to spend slightly more, then Schramsberg.

          2 Replies
          1. re: whiner

            Wow!

            Great ideas all around. I think I will skip the prosecco and cava... I'm just now finding out about the existence of Cremants so I'd like to explore more there.

            I like Brad's list: I'll try to fill it in with Eric Asimov's recent(ish) picks from those regions - who else should I consult?

            I'm reading the intro to the Terry Theise catalog now: inspiring! I'll see if I can find some "farmer fizz."

            I kind of know I should skip the DP: but I guess when you've never tried the "super premiums" you want to see that the emperor has no clothes for yourself. Although maybe I'll wait 'til I've got money to burn for that particular experiment!

            I'll look for the '95 or '96 Heidsieck: (found it for $122 at Beacon Wines, which is in subway distance -- any other suggestions)?

            Yes, absolutely will expand the guest list. Should be easy enough to find people willing to play along :-)

            kaysyrahsyrah: I was thinking classic/retro: water crackers with brie & chevre, crudite (cucumber, endive, daikon, celery) grapes & kiwi, crab crostini: sort of a white & light green fantasia! Is that too boring? I was told that spicy can compete with and overwhelm the subtleties of the wines.

            Hurray! too much fun. Thanks again for all the wonderful suggestions!

            1. re: CCeliaS

              Something else you might want to consider is serving two Champagnes from the same house, a non-vintage and a vintage. For example, Bollinger's Spéciale Cuvée (NV) and Grande Année (vintage) or Henriot's Brut Soverain (NV) and Brut Millésimé (vintage), but there are plenty of others. The two bottles would probably cost less than a bottle of the overrated Dom Pérignon. Note that if you're set on the notion of a higher-end bottle, many houses also make luxury cuvées: Bollinger's R.D. and exceedingly rare and breathtakingly expensive Vieilles Vignes Françaises, Henriot's Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, etc.

              BTW, here's an earlier thread about food pairings for Champagnes. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/347066

          2. I really like DP (Cristal is better)...so I would include it. I also really like La Grande Dame and Diamanti Bleu. You can always find some less expensive Champagnes from smaller producers to try. My "everyday" Champagne is Korbel and it is tasty but not anything to "savor"or take notes on. It is nice to have a Champagne that really IS stellar to compare to. Check out Wine Commune (if you have time) and you might be able to buy some unique items at a reasonable cost.