The fermentation of the grapes follows the same path as any
other wine. First, carbon dioxide resulting from the transformation of
sugar into alcohol is allowed to escape. This is when the blend, or
cuvee, is assembled, using wines from various years to create a
"A blend of different years is necessary because it permits the
producer to maintain a consistent style," Wolff says. "If you buy a
bottle tomorrow, it will taste the same as one you tasted two years
The blended wine is then put in bottles along with yeast and a small amount of sugar and finally, corked.
Champagne's effervescent quality is born out of the secondary
fermentation, during which the bottles are stored horizontally in a
wine cellar. The carbon dioxide formed in this process becomes trapped
inside the bottle, keeping it dissolved in the wine. The amount of
added sugar will determine the amount of pressure inside the bottle.
The champagne is then aged for a span of a year and a half to
three years, after which the bottles are rotated a small amount each
day and gradually moved toward a vertical position in a process called
Some smaller companies take pride in doing this process by hand
(which can become quite tedious), while large producers have machines
that can duplicate the process with more bottles in a much shorter
amount of time.
During this period, sediment gathers in the necks of the
bottles. This is removed in a process called disgorging: The producer
will freeze a small amount in the bottle's neck and then remove the
small amount of ice containing the sediment and recork the bottle.
Champagnes are aged in cellars for three years or more before
disgorgement, but most top producers exceed this minimum requirement,
holding bottles for six to eight years before disgorgement. After
riddling and disgorging, doses of wine and sugar are added, helping to
determine the sweetness of the champagne. A final cork is then
inserted, topped with a wire cage to secure it in place.
Paying the Prix
Prices of each bottle can range from several dollars to several
hundred, so choose a label that will work best for what you need.
However, it should be noted that any bottle of Champagne that isn't at
least $18 isn't of worthwhile quality, according to Wolff.
However, "you don't get better quality with price necessarily," Wolff says. "The differences aren't that quantifiable. You can pay double the price, but that won't mean double the quality."
And keep in mind where the bottle hails from. "Small producers,
or the mom-and-pop ones, are more conscientious," Wolff points out.
"You tend to get a better value, on an artisan level. The care is
lavished. It's more personal."
Ready to tickle your tongue? Try one of our expert picks below.
And if you can't find these champagnes at your local liquor store, try looking online at WineAccess.com.
Not only can you browse through an immense collection, there are also
helpful notes on each to guide you in your selection process. Cheers!
Pierre Brigandat, $23.99
This inexpensive selection has fruit aromas layered with the scents
of almonds and toast. Don't let the price fool you on the Brigandat;
it's an excellent value.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose Premier Cru, $30
This pink champagne has great complexity and layers of flavor. "We
love this one for its berry notes balanced with the aroma of freshly
baked bread," Wolff says.
Pierre Gimonnet Cuvee Gastronome, $32
Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve
The citrus notes and acidity act as a perfect compliment to many
hors d'oeuvres, making it an excellent choice for a small party or
This choice is a more complex champagne, with layered aromas and
flavors. "You can taste a range, which keeps it more interesting," said
Wolff. "It's not a static, monolithic taste."
Larmandier-Bernier Cramant, $45.99
While a little pricey, this selection has the perfect balance of baked bread, lemon and fruit notes in the bubbles and aroma.
Egly-Ouriet brands, $45-$85
Considered to be a great (albeit pricey) champagne, it gives a
rich, complex, beautiful balance that is still intense. "It's a
high-quality champagne by all the parameters," explains Wolff.