Last-Minute Champagne Guide

by Sarah Bonneau

December 16 - December 22, 1999

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What makes champagne so special? The bubbles! Effervescent wines are made all over the world, but the highest quality sparkling wine is made by the méthode champenoise in the Champagne region of northeastern France. Only sparkling wines made in this region can technically be called champagne, although wines from other regions and countries may be made and labeled as méthode champenoise. Wines made by this method have undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, which produces their characteristic fizz.

You may have seen or heard of champagne grapes. These are actually the tiny Zante grapes that are used to make dried currants; they're called champagne grapes because a few of them dropped into a glass of champagne will rise and fall hypnotically with the bubbles. Champagne is generally made from a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but variations in soil composition around the Champagne region and in the way the three grapes are mixed together will give each Champagne a different taste. This is why a Moët et Chandon tastes different from a Mumm.

When choosing a bottle, remember that valuable information about the contents can be found on the label. Many are labeled, from driest to sweetest, as brut, extra dry, demi-sec and sec. Your taste will dictate what you prefer. If you see a date on the label, for example, 1990, that means you have a vintage bottle that contains champagne made from grapes that were harvested in 1990. If there is no date on the bottle, then you are purchasing a non-vintage (NV) bottle that contains a champagne made from grapes harvested in different years. Remember, a non-vintage bottle will still contain a wonderful tasting product.

Other terms you may see on the label are "Blanc de Noirs" and "Blanc de Blanc." A bottle of "Blanc de Noirs" contains a champagne made from only the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. A bottle of "Blanc de Blanc" means that the bottle contains champagne made from only the chardonnay grape. Again, if you experiment you will determine what suits your taste best. Usually these bottles are more expensive than those that contain a blend of all three grapes, because these champagnes are produced in a much smaller quantity.

OK, you didn't buy into the hype and you have no champagne on hand yet for Christmas or New Year's. Shame on you! You missed the magnum of 1989 Krug for $375 (only one store had three, and they sold them in 48 hours!). All is not lost. There is plenty of bubbly to be had in Albuquerque, at a variety of prices to fit everyone's budget. Consider spending a little bit more than you normally would. It's worth it to drink a wine you'll never forget. Here is a general guide to some of the brands available, but be sure to call around for prices and availability.

Big Spender

  • Cuvée Dom Pérignon, 1990, 1992 ($97.99 to $249.99)
  • Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, La Grande Dame, 1990 ($119 to $149.99)
  • Louis Roederer, Cristal, 1993 ($170)
  • Salon, 1988 ($110)
  • Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, 1988 ($115)
My recommendation from this list is a personal favorite. I have had several bottles of the 1990 Veuve Clicquot, and it's delightful. If you must have Dom Pérignon, shop around for a good price, because at least one store I surveyed is overcharging.


  • Ayala, Blanc de Blanc, Brut 1990 ($45.99)
  • Moët et Chandon, Brut Imperial 1992 ($46.99)
  • Schramsberg Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine (nv) ($28.99)
  • Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin (nv) ($34.99-$42.99)
  • Moët et Chandon (nv) ($35.99)
  • Chateau Montebello (nv) ($25.99 -- highly recommended best buy)

Magnum & Jeroboam

A magnum is equivalent to two bottles in one, and a Jeroboam is three liters or the equivalent of four bottles. Getting both will make a big impression and will assure that everyone in your party can have a glass. If you'll be buying a quantity of champagne, why not go for a couple big bottles? These are truly bottles to save -- have everyone at your party sign the bottle. Here is what's available:

  • Deutz, Blanc de Blanc, Brut (nv), Jeroboam ($233.99)
  • Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin (nv), Jeroboam ($250)
  • Tattinger (nv), Jeroboam ($175)
  • G. H. Mumm, Cordon Rouge (nv), magnum ($75.99)
  • Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin (nv), magnum ($75.99)

Value Priced (and home grown!)

  • Gruet Sparkling Wine (nv) ($8.99-$13.99)
  • Gruet Millennium (nv) ($18.99-$22.99)
  • Gruet, magnum (nv) ($23.99)
Gruet truly is the best buy in sparkling wine, for both the price and quality. Gruet Blanc de Noir (nv) is a great choice for any taste. With well-rounded, balanced bubbles, this straw colored, easy to drink sparkler will still be available New Year's Eve. I do not recommend any of the budget-priced brands available in grocery stores. These sparkling wines are almost never made in the méthode champenoise, but are merely still wine with carbonation added. They will taste bad, leave you hungover, and you'll never want to drink champagne again. So hit the town and get yourself a bottle of bubbles to remember. If there is ever an excuse to drink champagne, this New Year's will be it.

Sarah Bonneau and her husband Philippe have a personal collection of over 110 bottles of vintage champagne representing over 35 champagne houses. For New Year's Eve they have purchased a magnum of 1989 Krug.

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