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ʼTis the Season for Champagne

11 Dec

By Sharon Kapnick

Champagne is wonderful any time of year. It’s elegant, luxurious, sophisticated, festive, effervescent, exhilarating and delicious. It complements most foods beautifully. To me, it’s the ideal wine.

During the holiday season, Champagne is practically de rigueur. That’s when sales soar. In 2011 more than 19.4 million bottles found their way to the U.S., making the U.S. Champagne’s second-largest export market. Some 40% of them were sold in the last three months of the year.

It seems the only problem with Champagne is deciding which to buy–there are so many wonderful producers to choose from. Here are several I recommend. Some are favorites of royalty, others especially reasonably priced, yet others unique–made from rarely used grape varieties. Here you’ll find something for everyone.


Pol Roger Brut Réserve “White Foil” NV (SRP* $50) has been gaining new fans after it was served during the royal wedding festivities of Prince William and Kate Middleton last year. They chose well. Pol Roger, still owned by a family company, is one of seven Champagne houses featured in The World’s Greatest Wine Estates by influential critic Robert M. Parker Jr. It was a favorite of Princess Diana’s. This particular Brut NV (non-vintage) Champagne is a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir (for body and depth), Pinot Meunier (for freshness and exuberant fruit)  and Chardonnay (for elegance and finesse).

The Brits love their Champagne. The largest Champagne export market is Britain, which imported almost 34.5 million bottles in 2011. It’s always been the main export market for Pol Roger, which has long had a relationship with the British aristocracy.

Pol Roger first held a Royal Warrant in 1911. It’s well known as being the favorite Champagne of Sir Winston Churchill. The relationship between Pol Roger and Churchill dates back to 1928 and lasted until his death in 1965. So enamored of it was he that during World War II, he saw to it that cases of Pol Roger accompanied him to foreign war zones. He used to say, “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” He made a slogan of Napoleon’s his own, famously saying about his beloved Champagne, “In defeat I need it, in victory I deserve it.”

After his passing, black borders were added to all “White Foil” bottles sold in the U.K. In 1984, Pol Roger launched the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (SRP $280 for the 1999) to honor him. The grapes hale from old vines located exclusively in grand cru (i.e., the best) vineyards. Made only in the finest vintages, in the rich, mature, full-bodied style that Churchill favored, the precise blend is a family secret. They do, however, let on that it is mostly Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay.

Lanson, recently reintroduced to the U.S., is one of the top-selling Champagnes in the U.K. and a best-seller worldwide. Its rosé is the top-seller in the U.K. in its category.

Founded in 1760, Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne houses and currently the region’s second-largest producer. Popular among European nobility, by the late 1800s, Lanson was supplying Champagne by royal appointment to the courts of the U.K., Sweden and Spain. Lanson remains a purveyor of Champagne to the British royal family. It was served in June at Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

Lanson is more fruit driven than most Champagnes because, unlike most Champagnes, it doesn’t undergo malolactic fermentation (a process that changes tart-tasting malic acid to softer-tasting lactic acid). It’s the only major Champagne house that avoids this fermentation because it believes that malolactic destroys fresh fruit flavors and that skipping it creates elegant Champagnes with a purity of fruit; crisp, clean, fresh flavors; and the ability to age well.

This style has its fans. In the Dec. 31, 2012-Jan. 15, 2013 issue of the Wine Spectator, nine Lanson Champagnes scored 90 or above, including Lanson Black Label Brut NV (SRP $45) and Lanson Rosé  Brut NV (SRP $60).



One of the youngest Champagne houses quickly became one of the most popular. Nicolas Feuillate not only is the best-selling Champagne in France, it’s also one of the best-selling brands in the world, holding the No. 3 position worldwide.

In 1971, French-American businessman Nicolas Feuillatte founded the eponomously named company with the Centre Vinicole de la Champagne, the largest cooperative union in Champagne. (Today the union is called the Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillate.) The brand currently works with 82 cooperatives and more than 5,000 growers, almost a third of all growers in the region. Grapes are sourced from the whole Champagne area, giving the winemaker David Hénault an extraordinary number of choices to call upon when blending his wines.

Nicolas Feuillatte aims for broad appeal. It strives for “delicate harmony and joyful elegance.” NF likes to say its light, fresh style is simple because of its complexity. As NF sees it, complex means rich in aromas, which must be perfectly integrated. Then balance, elegance and simplicity follow.

Brut Blue Label NV (SRP $36) is fresh and fruity, a good basic choice that offers excellent value. More than 150 crus can be used in this blend. The delicate, fruity, easy-to-drink Brut Rosé NV (SRP $48) is also a great buy. As is the Brut 2004 (SRP $46). If you’re feeling more extravagant, you might seek out the top cuvée Palmes d’Or (SRP $135 for the 1999)–named after the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival–which has more structure, more body and therefore better complements food.



Most Champagnes rely on three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. But four ancient varietals—Fromenteau, Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc—are also permitted though rarely used.

L. Aubry Fils, one of the grower Champagne producers in superstar importer Terry Theise’s portfolio (see my Time story on grower Champagnes at,9171,998804,00.html  for more about these individualistic designer Champagnes), blends some of these ancient grapes in several of its wines. “La Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites” Brut (which means “The old vines of the countryside”) (SRP $63 for the 2005) uses all seven varieties to re-create what Aubry calls the Champagne of Yesteryear. “La Nombre d’Or Sable Blanc des Blancs” Brut  (SRP $82 for the 2007) uses the white Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Arbanne and Pinot Blanc. Both Champagnes are unique.

There’s controversy over the value of these grapes. Some think that since the varieties were planted at one point, they add value because they must have been planted for a good reason. Others think that since they were uprooted at some point, they were uprooted for a good reason.  Aubry gives you the opportunity to try them and decide for yourself.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out to get an idea of actual prices.

Note: I tried these Champagnes at wine tastings for the media and/or was sent samples of them.