For years, sommeliers have championed the notion that Champagne is not just for celebrations, hailing the virtues of high-low pairings like blanc de blancs and fried chicken or rosé Champagne and pizza. Surely, few among us would turn down the opportunity to drink more French fizz, but compared with most styles of sparkling wine, the barrier for entry remains unavoidably high. Is there a happy medium for those of us who love the stuff but can rarely afford it?
While Champagne’s association with celebrations stretches back centuries, the hiked-up price of bubbles is built on more than reputation. Everything from the region’s tricky climate to the hands-on nature of Champagne production ultimately adds to its bottom line. Still, that doesn’t mean we need to limit our intakes to one or two special occasions per year.
With the rise of more affordable (if harder to find) grower-producer bottles, and the consistent quality offered by many larger houses, there are relative bargains to be found in Champagne. While not everyday sippers, this list contains 15 bottles of bubbly that won’t break the bank and don’t compromise on quality.
From delicate blancs de blancs to standout vintage wines, here are 15 of the best Champagnes under $100, tasted and ranked.
Pol Roger Réserve Brut dances between ripe and fresh fruit, with a garnish of nutty brown butter. Its medium body and well-rounded profile are kept in check by zippy acidity, while the finish is a dead ringer for warm cinnamon and raisin rolls. It’s an indulgent wine — but isn’t that the very reason for Champagne’s being? Average price: $45.
This vintage bottle from a grower-producer has all the hallmarks of non-vintage blends from large-scale houses, in the best possible ways. The nose is “classically” Champagne, with delicate fruit notes and a seasoning of fresh pastries. The palate is well balanced and velvety, with electric acidity. The finish lands without a hint of bitterness. Average price: $62.
Red grapes (Pinot Noir) account for 55 percent of the blend of this rosé Champagne, and the strawberry and cherry notes of the variety shine, complemented by just the right amount of vanilla pod. The Chardonnay that makes up the rest of the blend kicks in with steely, mouthwatering acidity. Average price: $89.
Known for its cherry-red label and ties to the red carpet (Piper-Heidsieck being the official Champagne of the Oscars), Piper-Heidsieck presents a textbook example of non-vintage Champagne. Fruit arrives in the form of green apples by the bushel, and there’s no shortage of buttered, toasted bread notes. This is a timeless classic that’s priced for the people. Average price: $44.
Despite its youth and singular varietal, this 100 percent Chardonnay Champagne delivers remarkably concentrated character. More impressive than its energetic fruit core is the intense mix of acidity and minerality, which adds intrigue to each sip and makes this the perfect aperitif. Average price: $67.
Taittinger Brut Reserve shares a similar profile to Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (No. 12 on this list), but dials up the nuances of flavor and aroma. Building on a foundation of orchard fruit, its aromas recall citrus oil and Parmesan rind, while the palate is racy, fresh, and lures you back in for sip after sip. Open a bottle to kick off a meal or serve with a green salad with heaps of Parmesan shavings. Average price: $51.
Blanc de blancs is usually a signifier for light, delicate Champagne — but not this one. The intensity with which this Champagne’s aromas and flavors land is a stark but welcome surprise. Peach, cooking apple, and lemon peel notes make fruit the star of the show. There’s a hint of proving bread dough, too, and a lengthy, mineral-rich finish. Average price: $94.
This vintage Champagne is now really beginning to hit its stride. The pear and cherry notes from the equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend shine bright, while lively acidity and delicate minerality add to the occasion. At this price, and having tasted this Champagne several times over the past 18 months, we’d be tempted to buy two — one to drink now and one to age for a few more years. Average price: $65.
With irresistible white peach and biscuit aromas, this is an enticing Champagne from the get-go. The palate delivers with rich, creamy character and an impressive array of fresh and dried fruit flavors. Burly, but not without nuance, this vintage Champagne is singing right now. Average price: $89.
Vintage, blanc de blancs Champagne always commands a premium, but this bottle justifies its price with delightful evolution, both from nose to finish and with time in the glass. Crisp orchard fruits begin the celebration, before the palate takes a heady turn, serving generous helpings of pastries and sweet oak. This is an elegant, polished Champagne that promises to only improve with more time. Average price $87.
Delamotte’s blanc de blancs Champagnes continually impress us in both vintage and non-vintage forms, and this is a fine example of the latter. Sweet but fresh apple aromas kick things off and set the tone for the palate, a beautiful example of acidity “driving” a wine without becoming disjointed from the flavor or textural components. Enjoy this with fresh fish from the raw bar. Average price: $56.
This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has the opulent feel of much more expensive bottles, and tastes two or three times its price. Dollops of honey coat crisp fruit on the nose, while the velvety palate serves buttered croissants and a sprinkling of sea salt. Meanwhile, bright acidity keeps everything alive and lightens the body of this Champagne, which performs well above its price tag. Average price: $66.
More than any bottle on this list, this grower Champagne will appeal to those seeking a rich but balanced mix of toasted brioche and luxurious vanilla notes. Don’t think that it lacks tart fruit, though. Each sip is a bite of perfectly ripe green apple and finishes with a spray of Meyer lemon oil. Though lavish and full of flavor, this Champagne allows what is clearly high-quality fruit to shine. Average price: $63.
While a single producer rarely appears twice in our rankings, two bottles from Louis Roederer are on this list because it was impossible to ignore the brand’s quality across the board. The Brut Premier provides everything we look for in a “classic” style of Champagne: piercing fresh fruit, yeasty bread notes, and a lean, zesty finish. This isn’t just a bottle to buy for Champagne occasions. Louis Roederer Brut Premier is a must-buy for whenever you see it. Average price: $51.
Bruno Paillard’s Première Cuvée is an extra-brut bottling, meaning less than 6 grams of sugar per liter is added as dosage. But this bottle extends beyond dry, sparkling white with laser-beam acidity. The cuvée includes grapes from more than 30 of Champagne’s 320 crus. There are layers of citrus fruit flavors and hints of nuts and brioche that add concentration. Each sip is flavorful but also incredibly refreshing. Pair this with practically anything, but especially crispy fried foods. Average price: $54
Published: December 10, 2020