Whether shopping for a special occasion or simply looking to add some pop to this undeniably bleak year, finding the perfect bottle of Champagne can be intimidating. However, with Champagne sales on the mend after a particularly brutal first half of 2020, there’s never been a better time to continue showing the venerable region some love.
To celebrate Bubbly Week and help guide your quest for a sparkling treat, VinePair asked sommeliers for the bottles of Champagne that should be on every wine lovers list. From an enthusiastically recommended list of grower-producers, to several budget-friendly bottles to keep costs down, listed below are the pros’ picks for this year’s underrated Champagnes.
The Most Underrated Champagne of 2020
- Pierre Peters Reserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
- Frederic Savart ‘L’accomplie’ Brut Champagne – NV
- Agrapart 7 Crus Brut
- Gonet-Medeville 1er Cru Brut Tradition – NV
- Roger Coulon, Blanc de Noirs Millésime
- Domaine Jean Vesselle ‘Oeil de Perdrix’ Brut
- Doyard ‘Cuvée Vendémiaire’ Premier Cru Brut – NV
- Billecart-Salmon Brut Vintage
- Charles Heidsieck ‘Mise en Cave’ 1990 – NV
- Bruno Paillard Brut Première Cuvée – NV
- Hugues Godme Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru
- Rene Geoffroy ‘Expression’ Brut
Keep reading for details about all of the recommended bottles!
“For me, Pierre Peters Reserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is still my go-to when I want something to overdeliver for the money. [The] fact that it’s the same price as other entry-level Champagnes (a certain popular yellow-label Champagne in particular) is insane to me, because this wine blows it out of the water. This wine is for those who like their Champagne lean, crisp, linear, and racy. 100 percent Chardonnay, flinty, floral, with the perfect amount of nuttiness. Better yet, the fruit character ranges from tart citrus to stone fruit to tropical; they really do a great job blending. Hard to beat for $65.” —Vincent Anter, Host/Sommelier, V is for Vino Wine Show, Los Angeles
“I don’t know if they qualify as underrated, but I don’t think the average consumer is aware enough of grower-producer Champagne. Time and again, my guests will go for the big houses, which makes sense, as those wines are consistent and familiar, but they are missing out on some real gems. Grower-producer wines are high-quality, full of individual character, and often as affordable as the wines of the major houses, if not more so. My favorite producer is Frederic Savart, if you can find his wines. Otherwise, Agrapart is also fantastic. The 7 Crus cuvée is delicious and won’t set you back too much. Take a risk on grower Champagne; you won’t regret it!” —Greg DeForest-Campbell, Sommelier and Co-owner, DeForest-Campbell LLC, Finger Lakes, N.Y.
“Gonet-Medeville is by far the most underrated Champagne. The estate is run by husband and wife team Julie and Xavier, an incredible duo who are deeply passionate about quality Champagne. They own 1er and Grand Cru vineyards that border some of the most celebrated sites in the region. The ‘Tradition’ 1er Cru is a steal at around $35/bottle.” —Gabriella Macari, DWS and Director of Marketing, Distribution and Wine Education, Macari Vineyards, North Fork, Long Island, N.Y.
“Grower-producer Roger Coulon’s Blanc de Noirs from the 2012 ‘miracle vintage’ is the perfect example of why we should be commemorating simply what’s in our glass, and 2012 is known as the miracle vintage because climate conditions right from the start indicated it would be anything but smooth. … Producing only 90,000 bottles per year (incredibly small for a Champagne house) and aged five years before disgorgement, this wine is equal parts Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, with the Meunier coming from a carefully tended plot of vines planted in 1953. This is one of the most exquisite, refreshing, and authentic Champagnes out there today. If you normally reach for a bottle of rosé or other still wine with your dinner, elevate your meal and go for these bubbles instead. Whether you’re having sushi for lunch or fried chicken for dinner, this is your bottle.” —Walker Strangis, Founder/Owner, Walker Wine Co., Los Angeles
“Domaine Jean Vesselle Brut ‘Oeil de Perdrix,’ 100 percent Pinot Noir from a family-owned estate in Bouzy established in 1800. Powerful yet light on the palate, with hints of rose petal, orange zest, red berries, and fresh herbs.” —Roddy Kirschenman, Executive General Manager/Certified Sommelier, Cunningham Restaurants, Indianapolis
“My favorite Champagne this year has been a great grower bottling, Cuvée Vendémiaire Brut NV from the Doyard family. It is a blanc de blancs from estate vineyards mainly in Vertus blended with some Chardonnay, planted in grand cru villages of the Côte des Blancs. It has nearly five years of lees aging before release, which adds textural complexity and is really impressive for a Champagne at an ‘entry-level’ price point. I recommend this wine regularly, as it offers clarity, focus, and length on the palate; performs particularly well at its price point; and works fantastically on its own, but even better with food. At Nerai, I like to pair it with our shaved fennel and halloumi cheese salad, among the other great lighter Greek fare we offer. Cuvée Vendemiaire is always in the back of my mind as a little wild card for tricky pairings!” —Will Marengo, Sommelier, Nerai, NYC
“Right now, I am loving the Billecart-Salmon 2008. It was starting to show just a bit of maturity with some beautiful tart fruit as well. I was also given an incredible opportunity recently to taste some older non-vintage Charles Heidsieck [and] the Mis en Cave 1990 was a standout. While it was not a true vintage Champagne, they typically use about 70 percent of the harvest year in their base wines, so you get a beautiful idea of that specific vintage. It has also been aging 30 years and is still fresh and fabulous.” —Kat Hawkins, Sommelier, Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago
“I love Bruno Paillard because of the very fine bubbles and prettiness of the whole thing; I’ve found their NV to be lovely and delicate. I like that a woman is being primed to take over from her father (although women have long had influence in Champagne). This is an innovative house; they were the first to print disgorgement dates on their labels.” —Caroline Conner, Virtual Wine Teacher/Founder/Master of Wine Candidate, Wine Dine Caroline, Lyon, France
“Anything made by Hugues Godmé, a grower-producer based in Verzenay. His wines are so complex and expressive, even gone flat I would still enjoy them. The grand cru blanc de noirs is particularly gorgeous; it’s powerful and opulent, yet its richness is balanced by fantastic tension.” —Alexandra Stang, Beverage Director, Brendan McGill’s Hitchcock Restaurant Group, Seattle
“Rene Geoffroy Expression Brut: An untypical cuvée (28 percent Chardonnay, 31 percent Pinot Noir, 41 percent Meunier) from Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, a small grower with 14 hectares in Vallée de la Marne of Champagne, showcasing exuberant lemon candy fruit and sophisticated acidity. This is a special Champagne that will bring happiness to your 2020. —Jose Luis Betancur, Sommelier, Toscana Chophouse, Portsmouth, N.H.
Published: December 2, 2020