Making Champagne Part of Everyday Celebrations
Why Champagne is worth the splurge more often than at the year end countdown.
Okay, so that famous quote about deserving Champagne in victory and needing it in defeat might actually have been inaccurately attributed to Napoleon (or Churchill. But the takeaway still holds: there is always a good excuse to open a bottle of Champagne. Yes there was a time when many people saved it for New Year’s Eve, job promotions, wedding anniversaries and their ilk—occasions that seemed to be fully marked only by the clinking of flutes—but these days wine lovers are uncorking a bottle just because it’s Tuesday. (A great example of when you might really need one.) After all, you don’t blink about opening up that high-end red even to pair with takeout, so why should you hem and haw about the night not being worthy enough to untwist the foil on that Brut or Blanc de Noirs?
“Bubbly has always maintained a reputation for being a celebratory beverage, [but] compared to a decade ago Americans are undoubtedly consuming a lot more,” says Kalkidan Lemma, lead bartender at Kingbird restaurant at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. He attributes this attitude shift in part to somms and wine directors being more apt to recommend sparkling wine with food. For sure, a culinary philosophy that partners Champagne with everything from fried chicken to sushi to ethnic cuisine has opened our eyes to the fact that there is a bottle out there for every dish. Champagne is also one of these rare chameleon wines that can hold its own with pretty much everything on the table—or with nothing but a handful of rosemary-scented Marcona almonds or handful of popcorn.
Champagne standouts on Kingbird’s menu include the Billecart-Salmon Rosé Champagne ($80 SRP), which blends all three of the region’s permitted varietals and makes for a well-structured wine with a light and elegant finish, Lemma says. The mostly pinot noir-based Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée Champagne ($79 SRP) is pairable with fish, poultry or other white meat. “The velvety bubbles, the structure, the length and the spicy aromas make this Champagne a great selection for food or to simply enjoy with friends,” he adds.
Here are four other houses and bottles to explore right now and (just in case you need one) a reason to open each one:
The house: Founded in 1947 by seven grower families with top tier vineyards, this house today has more than 1000 acres under vine, half of which are classified as Premier or Grand Cru. Champagne Palmer is pursuing the Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne Certification, a demanding action plan that encourages biodiversity.
The bottle: Champagne Palmer & Co. Rosé Réserve ($80 SRP) is produced from a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier enriched with forty-year-old solera of pinot noir from Les Riceys, which add depth and spice. “An intense nose is dominated by zesty aromas of wild strawberries combined with lively, ethereal notes of red and black currants overlaying a delicately spicy vanilla and cinnamon base,” says CEO and winemaker Rémi Vervier. “Delightfully fresh to the palate, its fine bubbles are invigorated by a discreet touch of tannin.” It’s full-bodied, flavorful and elegant.
Open it when: You are sinking your teeth into grilled filet mignon or ribeye but still have a hankering for bubbles. (Yes, you can drink Champagne with meat and this layered, complex bottle is the perfect Exhibit A.)
The house: This on-trend producer that dates back to 1843 has a storied history of being poured in some of Paris’ most famous establishments including the Louvre, Orsay and L’Élysée and luxury department store La Samaritaine; in 1978 it was named the official Champagne of Air France’s Concord fleet. The brand promotes “Frenchytude,” that laissez-faire, laid-back attitude exemplified by Saint Tropez circa 1960s.
The bottle: Besserat de Bellefon Blanc de Blancs ($90 SRP), made with 100% chardonnay, this wine is vivid yellow in the glass and tempts with aromas of brioche, sea brine and yellow plums. The palate has verve and angularity with notes of minerals, chalk, tart apples and lemon zest, followed by a clean finish.
Open it when: You are “enjoying moments of conviviality with friends, watching a sunset with your boyfriend or girlfriend, cooking at home with your love ones, playing pétanque and noshing on fingers foods,” says head of Besserat de Bellefon Godefroy Baijot. “People are realizing that simple moments are more enjoyable with Champagne.” Indeed.
The house: Founded in Reims in 1760 by vineyard owner François Delamotte, it’s now the fifth oldest house in Champagne. In 1988 Delamotte joined Champagne Salon under parent company Laurent-Perrier, and today both are under the direction of president Didier Depond.
The bottle: Champagne Delamotte Brut Rosé ($92.99 SRP) is made using the saignée method with 80% pinot noir and 20% chardonnay. Aromas of cherries, strawberries, brioche and smoke are joined by a round and structured palate that still remains fresh. “The rosé is the perfect mix between the power of south-facing Grand Crus of La Montagne de Reims and the finesse and precision of Les Mesnil sur Oger chardonnay,” Didier points out.
Open it when: You are brunching on a sunny patio with close friends and whipped cream-topped strawberry crêpes.
The house: Founded as Pommery & Greno in 1858 by Alexandre Louis Pommery and Narcille Greno as primarily a wool trading company, this house evolved to bubbly thanks to Alexandre’s widow Louise. Under her guidance Pommery became one of the region’s largest Champagne brands and in 1874 it was the first one to release a commercial Brut.
The bottle: Champagne Pommery Apanage Blanc de Blancs ($67 SRP) gets its strong aromatic strength and purity from chardonnay (mostly 1er Cru grapes from Montagne de Reims and Côte de Blancs), says chef de caves Clement Pierlot. “The wine is fruity and zesty with exotic fruit flavors and has a hint of floral notes and white fruit.”
Open it when: You’ve procured a bushel of fresh, icy cold oysters that need nothing more than shucking, a squirt of lemon and acrylic glasses of this precise, lean yet balanced sparkler.
Other bottles to try:
Champagne de Collet Blanc de Noirs ($50): While a rosé might not be for everyone, blanc de noirs is a happy medium, using the juice of pinot noirs without the skin contact. This dry, tangy wine is made from 85% pinot noir and 15% pinot meunier harvested half from Grand Cru and half from Premier Cru vineyard sites. Enjoying some pizza on the lawn? Can’t go wrong with this bottle that won silver in the 2019 NY International Wine Competition.
Champagne Cheurlin Brut Spéciale ($45): This is an ideal “house” Champagne for everyday. It’s balance of citrus and toasty notes make it an ideal pairing with a variety of foods from Asian takeout to pasta to fried chicken or smoked fishes. The bubbles are a pleasant size too, offering a delicate mousse. Cheurlin is the Brut Champagne Producer of the Year in the 2019 NY International Wine Competition.