New Year's Eve: The Ultimate Guide To Champagne

by Lucas Brockenshire

Champagne toast

Just picture it: the chilled bottle sitting in the ice bucket, the signature pop of the cork, the explosive fizzing, the clinking of glasses. For centuries, this drink has been the preferred choice for celebrating the biggest events of the year, and it’s safe to say that no New Year’s Eve party is complete without it. After all, Champagne is to New Year’s Eve as breathing is to life.

This December 31st, most of us will be holding up our glasses to toast 2016, so make sure you’re not stuck without a glass of your own when the clock strikes twelve. Choosing from among thousands of brands of Champagne, Italian sparkling wines, and Iberian Cavas can be a daunting task. To make it easier for you, we’ve put together this comprehensive list of the best-tasting Champagnes on the market to help you choose the perfect bottle of New Year’s Eve bubbly. But first, let’s take a look at some facts you probably didn’t know about Champagne.

History of Champagne

Champagne in a cellar

Image courtesy of Joan Grífols (Flickr)

The 350-year history of Champagne is littered with unique moments, untold special occasions and romantic soirées. Champagne, the king of all wines, is the ultimate celebratory drink, and has held pride of place in ballrooms, weddings, rooftop bashes and yacht parties across the globe for hundreds of years.

The origin of Champagne goes all the way back to the 17th century. Monks in France’s Champagne region were unhappy with the amount of carbon dioxide in their wine, and called in Dom Perignon, a cellarer, to bring the issue under control. The result? The world’s first sparkling Champagne wine, custom produced to accentuate the aromatic and effervescent properties of the region’s highly carbonated wine. Dom Perignon’s innovation delighted the French and English aristocracy and went on to become a staple at fetes and parties across Europe.

Of course, by law only wines cultivated and bottled within the Champagne region are entitled to be called “Champagne.” Wines grown elsewhere, such as in the US, Canada, or Germany, are simply called “sparkling wines.” While purists will hold that only French-made bubbly will do, the truth is there are a number of excellent Champagne alternatives currently available on the market.

Tips for Drinking Champagne

Champagne flute glasses

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There are a few tips to keep in mind next time you pop out a bottle of bubbly. Firstly, make sure you serve your champagne cold, but not ice cold, in order to get the most out of your wine’s aroma, taste, and effervescent fizz. The ideal drinking temperature is between 6 and 8°C, but Champagne can be drunk at a lower temperature in hot settings.

Next, make sure you’re serving your Champagne in the right kind of glass. While Victorian wide-rimmed coupes are nice on the eye, they allow bubbles and aroma to fizz away quickly. For best results, pour your Champagne into tall flute glasses. According to wine connoisseurs and oenophiles, these glasses accentuate aromas and are visually dramatic, allowing bubbles to flow up the narrow sides of the glass.

Champagne is the perfect accompaniment to all kinds of cuisines, but every Champagne producer has their own wine-making techniques, favorite blends and sugar-content levels. Needless to say, there is a Champagne for every occasion, with prices ranging anywhere from $10 to $350. So, where do you begin?

Champagnes and Sparkling Wines

Drinking champagne

Image courtesy of Bernat Casero (Flickr)

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore (Italy)

This superior white sparkler is a shining star in the world of high-end Italian Prosecco. Zesty, crisp and fizzy without being overpowering, this award-winning bubbly is the perfect alternative to your favorite Champagne. Prosecco has become one of the fastest-growing sparkling wines in the world in recent years and is constantly winning over new fans. This December 31st, pour yourself a glass of this ambrosial wine, retreat into the comfort of your private cabana, and prepare yourself to be wowed. Priced at just $10, this sparkling wine offers great value for money.

Loosen Bros. NV Dr. L Sparkling Riesling (Germany)

Dr. Loosen Riesling

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Grown and bottled in Mosel, Germany, this sweet sparkling Riesling wine will enthrall your senses and have you hankering for more. Light and low in alcohol content, Riesling wines are world-famous for their sweet floral notes and balanced acidity. The Mosel region boasts some of the steepest wine-growing slopes in the world, and all of its grapes are handpicked to ensure only the best flavors make it into the wine. Take note, because a bottle of the blessed stuff will set you back as little as $15.

Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut (Spain)

Rosé cava

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Of course, no guide to Champagne and sparkling wines would be complete without a Spanish Cava. With this Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut, you get a wonderful rosé Cava that is made from a blend of garnacha, a world-famous varietal, and trepat, an indigenous grape that grows uniquely in northeastern Spain. This burly bubbly is known for its intensity, berry-like flavors, and sharp finish, and dovetails perfectly with a range of different cuisines. At just $12, this rosé is an absolute steal.

Gruet Brut (New Mexico)

This highly-rated sparkling wine hails from New Mexico, but you wouldn’t know it in a blind tasting. Rated “Highly Recommendable” by Wine Spectator Magazine, this low-sugar sparkling wine is pungent and palatable and has a close resemblance to the white wines grown in the vineyards of Champagne. This wine is redolent of fruit and yeast, and has a lovely tart finish. At just $14 a pop, make sure you pick up a bottle or two before New Year’s Eve.

Domaine Ste Michelle Brut (Washington)

Domaine Ste Michelle Brut

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This American-made sparkling wine is every bit the equal of its more expensive French cousins, but is available at just a fraction of the cost. Aroma-wise, this brut boasts hints of spring dew, fresh bread, honeysuckle, and about a gazillion other tantalizing fragrances. This $11 Brut will go with just about everything ranging from crock pot turkey chili to vanilla cream meringue cakes.

Bollinger, “Special Cuvée” Brut (Champagne)

Grown, made, and bottled in the northeast of France, this one-of-a-kind sparkler is famous for being the favorite Champagne of both James Bond and the Queen of England. This non-vintage sparkler is chock full of yummy citrus and fruit flavors, with undertones of apple, honey, and a whiff of yeast. You’ll find this premium wine goes for anywhere between $50 to $80, so be prepared to part with some serious cash if you’d like to give it a try.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut (Champagne)

Champagne

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One of several new Champagnes to break into the elite circle of must-try bruts, Piper-Heidsieck Brut is a wonderful sparkler that packs a pure blend of apple, citrus, and peach aromas. Light on sugar and full of citrus undertones, this spirit is a great option for those with an eye on their waistlines, as a glass of this love potion can contain as little as 70 kcals. You’ll find that this citrus-scented sparkler retails at around the $45 mark.

Dom Perignon 2003 (Champagne)

Dom Perignon 2013

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In the pantheon of Champagne, Dom Perignon has always stood at the top. Named after the monk who perfected the drink, this wine is both amazing and luxurious. At a cool $160 a bottle, this elixir doesn’t come cheap, but what great things ever do? Dom Perignon’s 2003 vintage is ripe with notes of honey, freshly-baked croissants, and vanilla, with undertones of peach and apricots on the finish. If that doesn’t make your body tingle in expectation, we don’t know what will.

Perrier Jouët 2004 Belle Epoque Rosé (Champagne)

Perrier Jouët 2004 Belle Epoque Rosé

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This strawberry-scented bad boy represents the creme de la creme of New Year’s Eve Champagnes. Flush with coppery hues and notes of bread and berries, Perrier Jouët’s 2004 Belle Epoque Rosé is encased in a beautiful, eye-catching bottle and retails for just under $350. This year, impress your friends and your loved ones by splurging on a bottle of this high-end sparkler.

So there you have it, an in-depth guide to Champagne and some of the best bubbly on the market. The holiday season is almost upon us, so if you want to take part in all the festive fun, a glass or two of chilled champagne is the way to go.

About the author

Lucas Brockenshire

Born in Santiago, Chile, to Canadian parents, I spent most of my childhood living all over Southeast Asia and South America. I'm an independent publisher and writer with a passion for fantastic art and those who create it.