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Along with almost every major celebration comes a call to pop open the bubbly. Champagne has a long-standing reputation for being the go-to drink to celebrate or toast to any special occasion and is even a defining drink for New Year’s Eve. But there’s more to Champagne than the big countdown or that rare milestone. After this year, a lesson worth taking away is that you shouldn’t wait for the special occasion. Instead, make the occasion special on your own. Champagne is a sublime way to do that.
First, let’s get a few requirements out of the way. Remember: For Champagne to be true Champagne, it has to be produced in the eponymous northeast region of France. Everything else is simply sparkling wine—although there are many, many equally satisfying and sophisticated sparkling wines out there that go by other names, such as Crémant (made in the same style as traditional Champagne but produced in other regions within France), Cava (Spain), and Franciacorta (Italy). And word to the wise: Officially, there is no such thing as “American Champagne” or “California Champagne.” It’s simply sparkling wine here, too. Anything else is just marketing.
And then there are three primary grapes used to produce Champagne: white Chardonnay grapes and red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes; a blend of the three is what makes up most classic nonvintage bottles.
But there are many more styles of Champagne that deserve to be enjoyed just as often as any other wine. For those who are interested in the terroir (soil), a Blanc de Blancs is made using only Chardonnay grapes, a grape considered to be one of the most expressive of its terroir. While rosé has risen astronomically in popularity in the past decade, rosé Champagne has been produced since the 18th century. For the collectors, the Champagne houses also offer prestige cuvées, the finest Champagne the house produces and perfect for aging.
Here is a selection of certified Champagne wines in a variety of styles to consider popping open anytime this winter.
Beau Joie: Beau Joie specializes in zero dosage (no added sugar) Champagnes, aiming to appeal to a more health-conscious consumer. (That said, remember this is still an alcoholic beverage, and there is no such thing as a “clean wine” or a purely “healthy wine.”) Zero dosage allows the purity of the fruit to shine through without being masked by the addition of sugar. While it’s not easy to create such a delicately balanced bottle without adding sugar, as is common in the industry, consumer demand for this low-sugar approach has been on the rise for the past few years. Beau Joie’s bottles are extra special on the outside, too, as they are encased in an intricate suit of armor made from second-generation scrap copper, a functional design element that helps cool the Champagne quicker (ideal for impromptu celebrations) and keeps it colder for longer without the need for an ice bucket, which, shockingly, not everyone has at home. SRP: $69.
Many wine lovers keep old bottles around for home decor, but Champagne Henriot takes it to the next level with its limited-edition Garden Box Rosé Kit: It not only includes a bottle of brut rosé but also can be used as a flowerpot. This copper pink–hued rosé blend showcases Pinot Noir grapes from the Montagne de Reims while retaining the fresh minerality of Chardonnay, with a palate of red berry fruits. SRP: $75.
Valentin Leflaive is the culmination of prolific Burgundy producer Olivier Leflaive and Erick de Sousa of Champagne de Sousa, from Avize in la Côte des Blancs. The result is a Champagne with unique minerality and complexity thanks to the Burgundy barrels. This Champagne rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from the Montagne de Reims. The base wine (70% of the blend) is aged for seven months in stainless-steel vats. The 30% of reserve wine added was aged in Burgundy barrels, those used to make grands crus wines from Olivier Leflaive. Following the secondary fermentation, the wine was aged for 20 months in a cellar. Elegant and bright with red fruit flavors, the Champagne offers a fine mousse that supports the fresh and complex citrus notes with distinct hints of lemon, cherry, and strawberry. SRP: $75.
The boutique maison, led by chef de cave Caroline Latrive (one of the only female cellar masters in the region), produces Chardonnay-focused wines that deliver immediate pleasure, freshness, and elegance. Ayala is, for the most part, an under-the-radar Champagne brand. But the 2013 Blanc de Blancs could change minds on that one. Produced only in exceptional years, this 100% Chardonnay wine is the ultimate expression of Latrive’s winemaking style. It offers remarkable minerality and roundness. And the flavors build as it sits in the glass—becoming almost velvety—with notes including passion fruit, citrus, white peaches, and honey. SRP: $110.
Pol Roger is one of the few Grande Marque (most prestigious) Champagne houses that remains family-owned and operated. It is known for its tradition of aging and hand-riddling every bottle in the 4.66-mile-long cellars under the estate’s château, situated on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, France. The house’s rosé exhibits a deep salmon-pink color with a fine stream of small bubbles. The nose has aromas of ripe fruit with elements of citrus (blood orange), pomegranate, and small wild red berries. On the palate, a deep mineral character; a fine, creamy ripeness; and a hint of vanilla. The wine is tender and smooth, with a balance of delicate freshness and refined elegance. SRP: $123.
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