Get To Know the Great Champagne Brands
It is always a good time for Champagne. That's why we love champagne of the month clubs. As you likely know, Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Sparkling wines from other regions can still be made with the Methode Champagnoise, but they cannot be marketed as champagne.
While we love popping the top on sparklers from California to Italy, there is no equal to the bubbly wines from Champagne. You are likely familiar with a few of the top Champagne brands, either from movies, the liquor store, or from hearing people speak of them with reverent curiosity.
You may wonder which Champagne brands are of legendary status, and why? While there are many great wines to be found at lesser-known houses, there will always be a huge market for the big Champagne brands. Below is a guide to Champagne’s “great” houses:
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Moët & Chandon/Dom Pérignon
“Come quick, I am tasting the stars!” This quotation is attributed to the monk Dom Pérignon who it is often said “discovered” Champagne. While the latter is certainly not true and the former is just the stuff of lore, Dom Pérignon did have a hand in improving the quality of Champagne wines, including introducing the now-ubiquitous technique of blending.
Dom Pérignon is not its own brand, technically, but is the “prestige cuvée”, or top wine, of Moët & Chandon, and they only produce vintage Champagnes. Their bottlings have included brut, rosé, and the late-release P2 and P3 (formerly Oenotheque).
Here are a few things you should know about the most famous Champagne brand in the world:
- They only release a bottling of Dom Perignon when the cellar master is convinced the wine is age-worthy. That means there are several years each decade when no new vintage is released.
- The wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The percentages change from year to year in order to produce the highest quality Champagne possible.
- Back in the days of monk Perignon, bubbles in your wine were not considered classy or even wanted. Instead, bubbly wine was considered a sign of poor winemaking. How times have changed!
- No one, outside of a few high placed members of the Moet / Dom Perignon staff, knows how many bottles are produced by the iconic Champagne brand in a given year. Most guess it's around 2M bottles.
Despite its prominence and accessibility, we still consider Dom Perignon Champagne the pinnacle of sparkling wine worldwide. There are few wines that elicit the same reaction when received as a gift.
While many high-end Champagnes will be vintage, Krug is equally known for its legendary “MV” or multi-vintage bottling, the Grande Cuvée. Eschewing the standard “NV” or non-vintage terminology, the Krug family decided multi-vintage more accurately reflected their careful blend of several distinct vintages.
Krug also sets themselves apart by fermenting their wines in oak casks as opposed to stainless steel, adding a rich, caramelly-toasty quality to the wines. In addition to the Grande Cuvée, Krug makes extremely rare single-vineyard Champagnes from the Clos du Mesnil (made from Chardonnay) and Clos d’Ambonnay (made from Pinot Noir) vineyards, as well as a vintage and a rosé bottling.
While owned by LVMH, the Krug family still plays a crucial part in the decision-making of the house.
Here are a few interesting facts about this historic champagne brand:
- Krug uses three grape varietals in their Champagne. They are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meuniere
- The winery was founded as the House of Krug in 1849. How about that longevity?
- The tasting panel at Krug spends five months to judge the various wines that will end up in the final blend.
One of the most unique producers in Champagne, Jacques Selosse was brought to prominence by Anselme Selosse when he took over his father’s Domaine. Anselme took cues from the Burgundy region of France, where he had studied winemaking from some of the great Burgundy producers, and placed emphasis on the expression of terroir or sense-of-place. As such, the Selosse wines are made using native yeasts and "dosage", or sugar addition, is minimal.
While all of the Selosse wines see extended aging, Anselme is most well-known for his Substance bottling; the wine is aged in a solera, or fractional blending system, commonly used to make sherry. This incorporates up to 20 vintages and expresses the true character of the land. That's what makes this one of the most exciting Champagne brands.
Champagne Salon is only one wine: the vintage, blanc des blancs Champagne Salon. While many people refer to Salon as the prestige cuvée of Delamotte, the two are more accurately seen as “sister” houses—they are operated as the same house with the same chef de cave, and in years Salon isn’t made the grapes will go into Delamotte. Salon is only made in the best vintages, usually about four per decade, and are aged ten years before release.
Perhaps you have heard the quotation: “I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” This quotation is attributed to Lily Bollinger, who married into the family and expanded the brand in the mid-2oth century after her husband, Jacques Bollinger, passed away.
While Bollinger makes a NV Special Cuvee and a vintage Grande Année, they are particularly noted for their R.D., or “recently disgorged” Champagne, which sees extended aging on the lees, and the Vielle Vignes Françaises, their Blanc des Noirs vintage prestige cuvée made from old ungrafted vines. Added time on the lees (dead yeast) creates a creamy mouthfeel in wine that is a true pleasure to experience.
You may also know of Bollinger because of their long partnership with the James Bond film franchise. This marketing partnership has allowed Bollinger to become one of the most recognizable Champagne brands in the world.
They also produce a still red wine called Couteaux Champenois La Côte aux Enfants.
Interested in a bottle of Bollinger? Check current prices.
Perhaps the most often-noted Champagne in popular music, Cristal gets its name from the crystal-clear bottle in which it is packaged (originally requested by Tsar Alexander II so he could see the beautiful color of the wine; also made with a clear flat bottom so assassins could not insert explosives into the bottle!). Cristal is the prestige cuvée of Louis Roederer and is made in a brut and rosé style.
With its distinctive yellow label, “Veuve” is one of the most recognized brands in Champagne. Veuve translates to “widow”, referring to Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, widow of François Cliquot. The first woman to helm a Champagne house, Madame Cliquot also revolutionized the industry by inventing the riddling rack—used to help collect the “lees”, or spent yeast, into the neck of the bottle to be more easily removed. Veuve Cliquot produces the ubiquitous non-vintage “Yellow Label”, as well as the prestige cuvee “La Grande Dame”.
Any list of the “great” champagnes must include Ruinart, not only because they still make amazing Champagnes, but because they are the oldest running Champagne house, founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart. Ruinart makes an NV blanc des blancs and rosé, as well as the vintage Dom Ruinart blanc des blancs and rosé.