Your first experience with champagne is a bit like your first experience with music. That inaugural sip stays will you and informs what you drink for the rest of your life. You’ll try more bottles but you’ll always find yourself gravitating back towards that first taste. Ain’t nothing like the old school, as the saying goes.
The seemingly simple concoction of grape juice, water, and yeast create an effervescent miracle in a bottle. There’s a dryness to champagne that balances a fleeting sweetness that goes straight to your head. At the end of the day, it really is just sparkling white wine — yet the Champagne region’s terroir (literal dirt and climate) adds an edge of uniqueness that cannot be replicated. It’s special, unique, and, yes, expensive.
When it comes to a bottle of champers, you’re paying for hyper-specific rows of grapes that are grown, sorted, and treated with the utmost care. The juice is then fermented, bottled, and stored in cellars. That last part is expensive and time-consuming which jacks up the price of the good stuff. So, what’s the best? Well, we’ve got your back. Below are the bottles we love and vouch for.
Henriot is a small, family-owned operation that puts out a complex yet inviting champagne. There are hints of tropical fruits, savory quince, citrus zest, and the slightest echo of spicy fresh ginger. All of that makes this the perfect starter bottle of champagne — to give you an idea of what the really good stuff can taste like.
Taittinger is another great bottle that’s perfect for easing you into the world of champagne. The complexity goes up a notch here with tiny bubbles (size does matter) racing to the top of the glass. There’s a feeling of honey here that’s underpinning ripe peaches, wildflowers, fresh vanilla, and an almost fresh-baked bread essence at the end. This bottle will transport you to France on a sunny morning outside a bakery as the bread starts coming out of the ovens. It’s magical.
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut
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Perrier Jouet is a big step up when it comes to flavor. The expert use of yeast gives this one a note of buttered toast that just works. Then there’s the savory yet sweet quince flourish that leads to a sharp pickled ginger edge. It’s a complex bottle that’s straight delicious.
Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut
Heidsieck Monopole is one of the most accessible champagnes on the market and this list. This one has the most “white wine” feel to it — with a nice minerality that’s mildly acidic. There’s a candied zest taste that is nicely complemented by sour cherry and fresh apples. It’s very light and very tasty.
Louis Roederer Brut
Louis Roederer is a fantastic bottle to have on hand for any occasion: a birthday, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, a random Friday night. The dry wine has tiny bubble action, giving it a light and airy feel. The acidity is super low here — so you can drink a lot of this one without worry. There’s a mellow sweetness that almost feels like a buttered croissant with stone fruit jam. That’s followed by an echo of spiciness that’s captivating and delicious.
Seriously, this is a great bottle that legit feels like it should cost twice as much.
Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial
Moet & Chandon puts out a lot of bottles of the ol’ champers. Their Nectar Imperial is one of the more special bottles in their line and 100 percent worth the extra cash. This one has a sweetness that balances nicely with the bubbles and almost non-existent acidity. Then comes the feeling of ripe pear, fresh vanilla, and roasted almonds. It’s so interesting and refreshing that you’ll kill a bottle before you even realize.
Bollinger Special Cuvee
Bollinger is a great bottle of booze. This complex flute of goodness has a nice mineral edge that’s balanced with a mild acidity. That’s followed by a sunny orchard full of ripe pears, quince, and peach. Be transported to a field full of verbena in full bloom in all their purple glory with each sip. This is a serious drink for anyone looking to have a great time with a bottle of delicious champagne in hand.
Okay, okay … spending over $100 for a bottle of anything is a real investment. You should never drop that cash lightly (especially for alcohol). This is one of those rare occasions where a c-note is needed. Joseph Perrier is a delight. It’s pure butteriness tempered by slightly spicy goodness. Dried fruit and sun-ripened citrus follow the initial flavors, making this a delectable champagne. If this bottle doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.
Dom P is a baller choice. Look, this bottle is so iconic that you know it’s great. The latest Vintage (2009) is a worthy investment that’s good to the last drop. The main reason for Dom P’s greatness is the vastness of the drink. There’s a brininess that gives way to a stonefruit brightness, which is then followed by a sharp spice and an almost tree sap sweetness. It’s thought-provoking and delicious. That’s a great combination all around.
Louis Roederer Cristal 2009
A bottle of Cristal is never a bad choice — though it damn sure better not be for 1/4 of a grand. Any wine that comes wrapped in gold foil as though we’re still living in the Belle Epoch is going to be top shelf, right? There’s a deceptive simplicity at play here. The wine is almost too perfectly balanced between mild white wine acidity/minerality and stone fruit sweet and sour.
The big question with a bottle this pricey is: Will you feel it? The answer, unless you really know champagne, is probably “no.” That’s not to say it’s not extraordinary, it absolutely is. There’s just diminishing returns on how much a neophyte can appreciate the small touches that differentiate a $75 bottle and this one. Still, there’s a depth here that makes this one silky smooth on every single sip. It’s bright and fresh and… if you can have it on someone else’s dime, pour a flute post haste.