On your next celebratory occasion, skip Dom Perignon and Cristal, those grossly overrated, mass-produced, factory-manufactured, overhyped, big-name brands leveraging decades of clever corporate-driven global marketing and hype.
Instead, try a smaller-scale, hand-made, family-produced Grand Cru Champagne from a single vineyard — which offers far more distinctive taste and unique character, often at less than half the price.
It’s time for Americans to demystify Champagne.
We tend to view Champagne as a once-a-year luxury. We drink champagne mostly on special occasions — like New Year’s Eve and at weddings.
In this country, Champagne is largely associated with celebration. Order champagne in a restaurant sometime, and the first question you’re likely to be asked is, “what are you celebrating.”
Actually, Champagne is a treat for all occasions. In fact, Champagne deserves to be experienced year round. It should be enjoyed by everyone. Champagne and its close cousin sparking wine are both accessible and affordable to drinkers on all budgets.
Unfortunately, Champagne is widely perceived as expensive. Indeed, some rare vintages can cost thousands of dollars. But there are also some wonderfully drinkable and affordably-priced Champagnes worth trying which are indistinguishable to everyone except those with the most sophisticated palates. Of special note is sparkling wine, deserving far closer attention than they’ve been given.
Don’t be fooled by the distinction between the classic “Champagne” versus “sparkling wine.” The only difference lies in geography. The grapes are mostly the same. Sparkling wine uses identical production techniques as Champagne. While the world’s supreme bottles tend to be from France, far more economical options are readily available from Spain, Italy, California, and other regions of the wine-making world.
Fact is, I’m a budget-conscious drinker. I’ve enjoyed plenty of delicious sparkling wines costing under $10 a bottle. I like to get the most taste bang for my buck.
Here are two very affordable recommendations which are widely available just about everywhere:
Rondel — This is a Spanish-made Cava offered in Brut, Semi Seco, Rosé, Gold and Platinum styles. It’s a fantastic buy for the money, typically about $8 a bottle. It’s a perfect Summer refreshment.
Segura Viudas — Here’s another Spanish Cava with a much wider range of price points. However, the simple $9 bottle (Brut) is every bubble as enjoyable as the costlier options.
When it comes to bona fide Champagne, which is always made exclusively from grapes produced in the region of France with the same name, we’ve largely been fooled. We’ve been led astray. We fell for the hype. So now, let’s clear up some gross misperceptions and try and set the record straight.
Ask most Americans to pick the best Champagne, and Dom Perignon or Cristal always are the odds on favorites. They’re certainly the best-known brands in the U.S. and throughout the world. Truth is, however, Dom Perignon and Cristal are grossly overrated, mass-produced, factory-manufactured, overhyped big-name brands which leverage decades of clever corporate-driven global marketing. They are coasting purely on reputation.
In other words, you’re forking over big bucks for the label, paying a premium price just for the popular name. Please, quit buying the hype. Stop it. Quit being a sucker for overpriced Champagne.
Dom Perignon, manufactured by Moet Chandon, produces about 5 million bottles annually. Five million. Hence, there’s nothing exclusive about it. Grapes are grown in multiple vineyards (most not even on the Moet Chandon estate) and processed inside a mass factory. All production is automated. The first time most of these expensive bottles have been touched by any human hand is the time you open it. Each bottle of Dom has about as much independent character and personality as a can of Coke.
Cristal, the other well-known premium Champagne, is made by Louis Roederer. Production levels run about one-million bottles per year. One million bottles. That’s not exclusive. That’s Pepsi with a cork. Cristal was originally the favorite drink of Russian royalty during the mid-19th Century. More recently, it’s become associated with Hip Hop culture. It’s the “go to” beverage at bottle service in nightclubs. Ordering a bottle of Cristal is a calling card announcing that you’ve made it big. Actually, it shows you’re a chump who knows next to nothing about Champagne.
It’s all hype, folks.
Admittedly, Dom Perignon and Cristal do buy the very best grapes grown by growers in the Champagne region. Their standards are exceedingly high. Accordingly, these Champagnes are always outstanding. But they’re also way too pricey. The average bottle runs about $150 to $250 — double that figure in fine restaurants and then quadruple the retail price at nightclubs. They’re a rip-off. Let me put it even more bluntly — if you’re ordering Dom Perignon or Cristal, you have more money than brains and are demonstrating zero Champagne appreciation.
Here’s my suggested alternative.
Instead, try a smaller-scale Grand Cru Champagne that’s hand-made from a single vineyard — which is far more distinctive, usually at less than half the price. You’ll also be supporting a private, independent grower. So many are marvelous!
There are dozens of phenomenal Champagnes priced at less than $100 a bottle. Some are much cheaper, scanning at around $30 to $50. Many of these tasty Champagnes are family-run businesses dating back more than a century. Each bottle in the vineyard is stored away and hand-turned. Grapevines are decades old and cultivated with great care. Each and every bottle is different.
A few weeks ago, I tasted the very best bottle of Champagne in my life. I’d like to share this moment of pure bliss. My epiphany took place at a special tasting consisting here in Las Vegas consisting of eight Grand Cru Champagnes. All of them were absolutely wonderful. This one particular vintage was off the charts.
Pertois Moriset Camille is a golden, honey-sweet single vintage Blanc de Blanc Champagne made with 100 percent Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes. It’s from a small scale vineyard with a limited production of only about 5,000 bottles annually. Five thousand bottles. Not five million. Now, that’s what I call — exclusive.
Regarding the taste, this is a slightly darker, richer, fuller body than we’re customarily used to experiencing with most Champagne. One can even taste the yeast in the bubbly. You can almost chew it. It’s fabulous. Breathtaking for the money and a steal of a buy.
Price: $62 per bottle.
I can’t stress enough how much better, how much more interesting, how much more enjoyable a tasting experience the Pertois Moriset Camille was versus the more popular Dom Perignon and Kristal, which were 3-times and 4-times the price of the smaller, more exclusive production. To me, the Pertois Moriset Camille — hand grown, produced by a family, made individually, and far rarer — should command the $200 per bottle price. The Dom and Kristal should be $50 a pop. Our perceptions of Champagne are upside down and inside out, turned on its collective ass by mass marketers and pop culture.
One more reason to buy the smaller production labels: Most of these vineyards are co-ops. They grow their own grapes and share the facilities of production. Meanwhile, Dom and Kristal are multi-national corporations. You tell me which bottle likely has more character.
So, here’s my final plea: Stop ordering the Dom and Kristal. Next time you want to celebrate a special occasion or have to pay for the big wedding, go the far more creative route. Superior taste and great stories rest within frosty bottles from Pertois Moriset Camille and all the small independent producers of Champagne. And please — pour me a glass!