John Szabo’s Year End Fizz Picks 2011

John Szabo, MS - Hard at work

John Szabo, MS - Hard at work

Although makers of sparkling wines, especially champagne, have been looking to spread consumption over the full calendar year, the holiday period still accounts for roughly one quarter of yearly sales. It’s impossible to contemplate New Year’s Eve without bubbles. So I’ve set out my Top Fizz Picks currently in stock at VINTAGES, as well as some extraordinary, and tremendous value, champagnes available through private importing agents that are not to be missed. Yes, that means you have to purchase by the case – 6-packs – but most will also have the wines delivered to your door so you can avoid the traffic crunch, and, in the unlikely event that there will be any left over after the midnight bell tolls, these are all wines that will also age magnificently. And then there’s Valentine’s Day around the corner, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and Sunday brunches on the horizon…

What, Champagne Values?

Yes, they do exist. I’ve made it my mission to taste as much champagne as possible, and I’ve made some interesting observations along the way. Although “great value” and “champagne” are rarely uttered together, there is indeed value in the champagne world. Considering that champagne grapes are the most expensive in the world at close to 6 euros/kilo at the top (compared to well under one euro/kilo in places like, say, southern Italy or Spain or Central Valley Chile), champagne is expensive to make. And with yearly marketing budgets surpassing 7digits for the largest companies, promoting champagne is high stakes, accounting for a fair slice of the price.

So my simple formula for finding value champagne is 1) avoid the companies who own no vineyards and thus have to buy in all their grapes (about 80% of champagne is made this way), 2) avoid brands with the flashiest marketing campaigns (designer bottles and packaging, major event sponsors, etc.), and finally, 3) seek out producers who farm their own vineyards, known as ‘grower’ champagnes (identified by the tiny letters “RM” on the label, which stands for “récoltant manipulant”) and who have no marketing budget, thus all the effort and expense goes into what’s inside the bottle. It’s important to taste, since not all good growers are also good winemakers, but here’s a running start: five exceptional, privately imported RM champagnes that shouldn’t be missed (click on each for agent details):

2004 Champagne Guy Charlemagne Mesnillésimé,Champagne France $110.00  95pts
NV Champagne Agrapart Terroir Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru,Champagne, France  $55.00  94pts
NV Champagne Laherte Blanc de Blanc Brut Nature, Champagne, France $55.00  93pts
NV Champagne Jacquesson cuvee 735, Champagne, France $65.00  93pts
NV Champagne Tarlant Brut Zero, Champagne, France  $49.95  93pts

 Champagne Guy Charlemagne Mesnillésimé 2004 Champagne Agrapart Terroir Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru  Champagne Laherte Blanc De Blanc Brut Nature  Champagne Jacquesson Cuvee 735Tarlant Zero Brut Nature Champagne 2008

Top Fizz in Vintages

But if buying bubbles by the 6-pack direct from agents might result in possible divorce, here are my Top Value Picks in stock at VINTAGES:

Lallier Grand Cru Grande Réserve Champagne, Ac Champagne, France $47.95  92pts
2004 R. DUMONT & FILS BRUT MILLÉSIMÉ CHAMPAGNE AC, France, Récoltants-Manipulant  $54.95  92pts
Marc Hébrart Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne, Ac, 1er Cru Champagne, France $41.95  91pts
Ayala Majeur Brut Champagne, Ac Aÿ, France Champagne, France $49.95  91pts

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne  Lallier Grand Cru Grande Réserve Champagne  R. Dumont & Fils Brut Millésimé Champagne 2004  Laurent Perrier Brut Millésimé Champagne 2002  Marc Hébrart Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne  Ayala Majeur Brut Champagne

Click here for a convenient shopping list.

Cheers and Happy Holidays,
John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier