By Celine Bossart
Jan 18, 2022
YOU MANY HAVE NOTICED that we at T+L don’t believe drinking bubbly is just for special occasions. Or, put another way, we believe that on most occasions when it’s worth drinking, it’s worth drinking bubbly! But even for an AOC luxury product, there are so many options out there — especially when you move away from the big-name houses — that it can be hard for Champagne enthusiast looking to be surprised and delighted to know the best to buy.
So, we’ve turned to some of our favorite experts. There are few more exciting places in the world to drink Champagne than Air’s Champagne Parlor in New York City. I’ve been writing about wine for nearly a decade, and I mean it when I say that everything about this place is special — the energy, the wines, and most of all, the people who make the experience what it is, focusing on the joy of drinking bubbles without the stuffiness that so often comes with the territory.
“Champagne is such a baller thing to drink,” says Benny Ogando, whose warm smile has become a fixture behind Air Champagne Parlor’s white marble bar. “It makes you feel loved, beautiful, fun, and sexy — basically, Champagne is something we should be drinking every day.”
And who am I to argue? Here, we dive into the nitty gritty of all that makes Champagne great, according to Ogando and fellow industry experts, along with top bottle picks and the invaluable insight they’ve picked up over the years on the job. Without further ado, the best Champagne to buy right now (and what you need to know about each).
Laherte Frères Rosé de Saignée Les Beaudiers Extra Brut NV
Part of the Air’s philosophy is going beyond the mainstream labels we as consumers know and love— though these certainly have a time and a place — and exploring wines from smaller (and often family-owned) houses that grow their own grapes. “The people that are on our list are moms, dads, sons, and daughters,” says Amanda Echevarria, who has worked at Air’s since 2017. For Echevarria, supporting growers throughout her career has been important from both an economic and social perspective, and some of her most meaningful experiences along the way have revolved around Champagnes from small purveyors. Picking favorites can be tough, she tells me, but she’s always had a soft spot for pinot meunier grapes (one of the three main grape varieties used in Champagne, alongside chardonnay and pinot noir).
“There’s more to Meunier than meets the eye — this grape is so versatile, and that’s the very reason I adore it. You can expect flavors [from] crisp, poached pears and graham cracker to earthy, cheesy mushrooms or jammy prunes, currants, and cherries. This grape is a giver.” Both Echevarria and Ogando are die-hard fans of this bone-dry rosé by Laherte Frères, an embodiment of all there is to love about pinot meunier that’s relatively easy to find, says Echevarria. Ogando describes the flavor profile: “This wine taunts my palate with white chocolate-covered cherry and lightly dried herbs. It’s a vivacious and slightly creamy delight — an absolute must-have.”
To buy: US$75, winex.com
Alexandre Filaine Cuvée Spéciale Brut Champagne NV
“This bad boy is a culmination of knowledge, love, playfulness, and excitement from the Champagne house of Fabrice Gass (Bollinger), so you’ll see some of that finesse and detail to attention played out with the Champagne released here,” Ogando says of this non-vintage brut Champagne produced by Gass at his own small estate. “It’s just delightful and reminds me of a blueberry açaí bowl on a fluffy buttery piece of brioche.” A pinot noir-heavy blend, Filaine’s Cuvée Spéciale is filled with precision and tension, he adds, opening up a unique world of flavors that’s nothing short of exhilarating.
To buy: US$72, vervewine.com
Vincent Couche Champagne Extra Brut Sensation 199
A few blocks down from Air’s Champagne Parlor is sister restaurant Niche Niche, where sommelier Hugo Wai pours from a rotating list of idiosyncratic wines — often organic, biodynamic, or sustainable in some way — selected by guest wine pros to accompany tasting menus from various chefs-in-residence. His favorite Champagne of all time? Vincent Couche’s Sensation 1999 vintage.
“I tasted this Champagne for the first time back in 2019 when it had just been released after chilling and hanging out on the lees for 20 years,” says Wai, who has long since been an avid fan of Couche’s work. “I am a true believer that tasting notes are subjective, and that you get what you get, but here’s what I took from this vintage: honeyed yellow apple, the faintest hint of mushroom, lemon meringue, lemon yogurt, freshly baked brioche, and wow, the acid — it’s as zippy as Kramer’s hair from Seinfeld (a good thing),” he shares.
“As you can imagine, these wines are very limited — truly unicorn Champagnes — so if you happen to see this on a wine list or at a wine store, please do yourself a favor and get it.”
To buy: US$143, sipfinewine.com
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Right now, it’s impossible to talk about Champagne without acknowledging the industry shortage that’s arisen as a result of the global buying freeze restaurants and bars endured during the height of COVID-19. This deeply affected wine businesses everywhere, but according to Paola Embry, wine director at Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix, Arizona, buying “farmer’s fizz” (or grower Champagnes, which are Champagnes made specifically by families who grow the grapes on their land) can make a significant impact on the economy.
“If you find a wine you like, buy a whole case. Support those businesses and wineries you love. The industry is still hurting as we navigate this new normal, and a little goes a long way,” Embry says, sharing the story behind Wrigley Mansion’s current by-the-glass Champagne offering. “When I tasted this entry-level Champagne from Pierre Larmandier, I immediately bought 15 cases so that we could offer it by the glass. It’s biodynamic and so delicious for [the price]. It’s medium-bodied, offering lots of stone fruits, white flowers, and chamomile aromas, with zingy acidity and chalkiness.”
To easily identify a grower Champagne, she adds, simply look for the “RM” (récoltant manipulant) signature on the bottom right portion of the label.
To buy: US$67, vivant.eco
Champagne B. Stuyvesant Rosé
“I love supporting women-owned Champagne brands that are carving out their overdue space in the industry,” says Erica Davis, CEO and co-founder of The Sip, a sparkling wine subscription concept based in Oakland, California. Davis counts this rosé Champagne by B. Stuyvesant, a new Champagne label created by Brooklyn native M. Robinson, among her current favorites. “Complex and beautiful, and made by a Black women-owned brand, this Champagne is a blend of my two favorite grapes, pinot meunier and pinot noir. It’s literally a party in your mouth and pairs great with any seafood dish,” Davis says.
To buy: US$68, stuyvesantchampagne.com
2008 Krug Vintage Brut
While small indie Champagnes are a major focus today, you’d be hard-pressed to see any Champagne professional or enthusiast turn down a glass of Krug — it’s an iconic house synonymous with some of the finest Champagnes in history. Like most Krug fans, celebrated pianist and recording artist Chloe Flower recalls her first taste vividly:
“I had told Aldo Sohm at Le Bernardin that I didn’t like Champagne and wanted to skip that part of the wine pairing, and I’ll never forget his response: ‘Well, then you’ve never tried Krug.’ He poured me my first glass and ever since, Krug has been my one and only go-to Champagne.” Flower (née Won) recently composed two pieces for the house around its 2008 vintage, a beautifully complex wine with incredible depth that spent 12 years in the house’s cellar prior to release.
To buy: US$739, vinfolio.com
Pierre Péters “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne
If you’ve never paired Champagne with sushi, it’s safe to say you’re missing out. Luckily, it’s never too late to change that, according to Sang Yoon, chef and owner of Lukshon and Father’s Office in Los Angeles. “To me, there is no greater pairing than Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs and toro sushi. Blanc de Blancs (100 percent chardonnay) is like sunshine: bright and energetic, and a great juxtaposition to the most decadent and luxurious cut of tuna. The richness of the tuna is beautifully balanced by the Champagne’s minerality and acid, while both elements have a saline quality. Perfection!”
To buy: US$55, klwines.com
Champagne Dumangin x COUP Champagne ‘Coup de Sade – After Hours Edition’ Brut 2009
To buy: US$200, coupchampagne.com
Champagne Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2006
To buy: US$170, sagesociety.com
Cuvée Rare Brut Millésime 2008
To buy: US$165 (originally US$205), esow.com
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature
To buy: US$94 (originally US$110), plummarket.com
Champagne Lallier Brut R.016
To buy: US$55 (originally US$65), plummarket.com
Drappier Grande Sendrée 2010
To buy: US$118, millesima-usa.com
Champagne Gosset Celebris Rosé Extra Brut 2007
To buy: US$200 (originally US$220), wine.com
Dom Pérignon ‘Plénitude 2’ Vintage 2003
To buy: US$442, vinsetmillesima.com
HRLM Champagne Brut Réserve NV
To buy: US$45, boweryandvine.com
Laurent-Perrier Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature
To buy: US$90, wine.com
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Second Skin
To buy: US$95, premierchampagne.com
All photos courtesy of Respected Retailer.