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Blending in with Champagne

Alison Napjus
Posted: December 30, 2011

While vintage Champagnes are often the darling wines for revelers who go shopping to ring in the New Year, this year non-vintage blends offer great opportunities—especially for last minute shoppers on a budget.

That’s because many of the non-vintage Champagnes now available at retail and in restaurants are based primarily on blending two outstanding vintages—2006 and 2008—with the variable wines of 2007.

And the promise of marrying such good vintages has  realized exemplary results. Eighty-seven percent of the more than 230 non-vintage (or NV) Champagnes recently reviewed in Wine Spectator scored 90 points or more. Of those wines, several were notable for their balance and refined textures, often offering good value for such high quality.

On the heels of Krug's 95-point, non-vintage wines, Gosset stands out for its Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Celebris NV (94, $208), a beautiful Champagne with fine definition and detail. At just a notch below, 10 wines in the non-vintage category received scores of 93 points, representing a mix of different styles—brut, brut blanc de blancs and brut rosé—and a variety of houses: Henri Billiot & Fils, Bollinger, Diebolt-Vallois, Alfred Gratien, Charles Heidsieck, Henriot, Jean Laurent and Piper-Heidsieck.

Among these estates, Henriot made a particularly well-priced bubbly, the fresh and juicy Brut Souverain NV ($50), while sister-houses Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck delivered a one-two punch with the former's vinous Brut Rosé Sauvage NV and the latter's finely woven Brut Réserve NV, both at $55.

Other terrific values include two bottlings available for less than $40, the focused Brut Blanc de Blancs Réserve NV from Guy Charlemagne (92, $39) and the creamy Brut NV from Nicolas Feuillatte (92, $36). Also worth searching for are Ayala's Brut Majeur NV (92, $40), firm and minerally, and G.H. Mumm's rich, flavorful Brut Cordon Rouge NV (92, $40).

Here are my picks for non-vintages Champagnes that not only have great taste, but extreme bang for the buck:

CHARLES HEIDSIECK
Brut Champagne Réserve NV
93 points in Wine Spectator, $55

This elegant Champagne seamlessly weaves together its elements, with rich flavors of toast, patisserie fruit and lemon zest.

HENRIOT
Brut Champagne Souverain NV
93 points, $50

Firm and toasty, with hints of tropical fruit mixing with notes of quince, lemon zest, smoky mineral, ginger and white pepper.

PIPER-HEIDSIECK
Brut Rosé Champagne Sauvage NV
93 points, $55

There's lovely texture to this vinous rosé, with grilled plum, black cherry preserves, cream, toasted brioche and smoke flavors.

AYALA
Brut Champagne Majeur NV
92 points, $40

Minerally, with mouthwatering flavors of candied lemon peel, green apple, crystallized honey and biscuit.

NICOLAS FEUILLATTE
Brut Champagne NV
92 points, $36

Rich and creamy, showing the dried fruit, nut and spice notes of fruitcake, with lemon meringue, quince and honey flavors.

GÉRARD LORIOT
Brut Champagne NV
92 points, $40

Ripe flavors mix with whole-grain toast hints. The exuberant flavor profile is held in check by the vibrant acidity.

G. H. MUMM
Brut Champagne Cordon Rouge NV
92 points, $40

Very harmonious, this is full of dried apricot, orange peel, nut and smoke flavors, but still elegant and light-weight.

BEAUCHAMP
Brut Rosé Champagne Carte Rubis NV
91 points, $38

Ripe blackberry, black cherry and currant flavors mix in this dry, creamy, very refined rosé.

GUY CHARLEMAGNE
Extra Brut Champagne NV
91 point, $35

Crisp, with a stony mineral undertow to notes of pippin apple, lemon zest, ginger and smoke. Lightly juicy and well-focused.

DUC DE ROME
Brut Champagne Prestige NV
91 points, $36

Balances lightly chalky acidity and finely tuned texture with focused flavors of orange peel and quince paste, with creamy minerality.

LAURENT-PERRIER
Brut Champagne L-P NV
91 points, $40

Refined, with a sweet, smoky undercurrent to the flavors of glazed pear, candied lemon zest and golden raisin.

MONTAUDON
Brut Champagne NV
91 points, $35

Crisp and juicy, with a pretty floral note winding through flavors of Fuji apple, apricot, anise and candied orange peel.

JACQUART
Brut Champagne Mosaïque NV
90 points, $37

More about its fine texture and balance than its flavor, this wine still offers hints of Gala apple, citrus peel and smoke

PHILIPPONNAT
Brut Rosé Champagne Réserve NV
90 points, $32

Lightly toasty, this balanced rosé shows creamy hints of black raspberry, strawberry, licorice and spice, with tangy acidity.

Alison Napjus is a senior tasting coordinator for Cigar Aficionado’s sister publication Wine Spectator. She specializes in the Champagne region of France. For more on the current crop of its sparkling wines visit winespectator.com

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