French champagne makers like to repeat a disputed quote from Napoleon Bonaparte who allegedly said,
“In victory, you deserve champagne. In defeat you need it.”
Even if the quote is unconfirmed, it certainly works in 2020.
It has been reported that champagne sales skyrocketed after the presidential election. One Brooklyn, N.Y., retailer told the Robb Report that once the election was declared, there was a line outside his wine store. Champagne sales were up 600 percent — and he ran out.
Alice Paillard, who co-manages the champagne house of Bruno Paillard with her father, said the same is true in French elections, except that more people drink bourbon if they don’t get the result they want.
Even without an election, champagne sales soar in the last two months of the year when consumers pop a cork to celebrate the holidays. That’s certainly going to be the case this year when people are eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. Alas, it’s a shame to reserve champagne for just the last two months of a year. Paillard said champagne can create a celebration when there isn’t one.
“You can bring some joy into your life without having to wait for an exception to open a bottle,” she said.
Prices for the best cuvees are high because the labor to produce them, but in many cases the prices are not that different from some of the California sparkling wines we’ve tasted. You can buy Pommery, Moet-Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte and others for under $40. We’ve seen many West Coast sparkling wines priced at more than $50 a bottle.
Champagne producers are reporting another exceptional harvest – the third in a row. In anticipation of tariffs, distributors stocked up on champagne before prices changed. Paillard predicted the sales will end the year higher than those in 2019.
If you are willing to open the wallet to ease into 2021, celebrate life or bring people together, here are some suggestions for luxury in a bottle:
- Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee ($60). Using pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes from 30 crus, this balanced champagne spends three years on the lees and another five months in the bottle after disgorgement before it is released. Lively with citrus and cherry notes.
- Champagne Bollinger PN VZ15 ($120). New to Bollinger’s stellar lineup, the non-vintage PN showcases the pinot noir from Verzenay. It is the little, and less expensive brother of Bollinger’s vaunted Vieilles Vignes Francaises, which is also made entirely of pinot noir. Twenty percent of the PN VZ15 is from reserved wines aged in magnum since 2009. It is complex and luxurious with cherry and stone fruit notes.
- Champagne Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($100). Nothing says luxury like Billecart Salmon. One our favorite champagnes year after year, it is exquisite and refined to perfection. Creamy texture with citrus, almonds and mineral notes.
- Champagne Lanson Black Label Brut ($40). A good value, this creamy champagne coats the palate with blackberry notes and a persistent finish.
- Ruinart Blanc de Blanc ($78). Floral aromas with stone fruit and citrus flavors. Lively on the palate.
- Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Bouzy Grand Cru ($40). This is a tremendous value year after year. Lots of red berry flavors, a bit of minerality and a long finish.
- Champagne Ayala Brut Rosé Majeur ($72). Owned by Bollinger, this boutique maison deserves discovery. This rosé is blended with some still red wine from the best crus of the Montagne de Reims. Very expressive aromas with raspberry notes and persistent finish. It is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
- Champagne Boizel Brut Reserve ($50). A blend of all three Champagne grape varieties, this bubbly outperforms. Pear and peach notes with a hint of lime.
- Moet & Chandon Rosé Imperial ($60). The pinot noir in this classic blend is pronounced with strawberry and raspberry notes. Elegant and refreshing.
Chile has always struggled to gain notoriety in the premium cabernet sauvignon market. Many of the wines have been mediocre but a good bargain. Since 1999, Baron Philippe de Rothschild has lent his name and Bordeaux know-how to Escudo Rojo, a label we just recently discovered. With his daughter at the helm, the producer has tapped into Maipo Valley’s terroir for expressive cabernets.
We enjoyed the 2018 Escudo Rojo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($18). It has a generous and precision-focused bouquet of ripe dark fruit and blackberry, cherry flavors with a hint of coffee and significant tannins.
The 2018 Gran Reserva ($22) is a more layered and complex blend of cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, syrah cabernet franc and petite verdot.
- Geodesy Eola Springs Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($75). This luxury chardonnay is the doing of winemaker Megan Baccitich and grower Scott Zapotoky who worked together at Paul Hobbs Wines. It is owned by Judy Jordan who sold J Vineyards to Gallo in 2015. The talented team has created a textured wine with juicy pear and citrus notes.
- Alma Rosa El Jabali Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay ($48). Once this wine came to room temperature, it was teeming with pear and melon aromas. Citrus and apple flavors with a touch of spice and mineral.
- Yao Family Wines Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($120). Yao Ming, one of the most well-known players in the NBA, launched his winery in 2011 after developing an appreciation for Napa Valley and wine in general. One of several region-designated cabernets, the producer draws from some of the best grape sources in the appellation. Packed with delicious dark fruit flavors and dosed with interesting nuances of spice and vanilla, there is a velvet texture underlying it all. Although there are many California celebrity wines that sell only by their names, this one sells by its quality too.
- Morgan Metallico Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2019 ($22). Un-oaked chardonnay is a great match with poultry because the often-ladened oak flavors don’t overwhelm the entrée. No oak means lower prices, too, so this is a great value from the prized Santa Lucia Highlands. Ripe tropical fruit and pear flavors.
- MacRostie Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2018 ($25). Whole-cluster grapes were gently pressed to create a lively tropical fruit component to this soft and easy chardonnay.
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Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.