Champagne—real Champagne—has unequaled power. Perhaps it's the finesse, the blush of bubbles that carry mineral notes like a stream burbling over stones. The hints of lemon peel and brioche, tea and quince. It's the festive pop, too, that tells us we're celebrating. But this love potion really works because we associate it with happy moments.
I arrived at my apartment a few springs ago with a shopping bag full of cheese. As I headed to the fridge with my chevre, my boyfriend blocked the way. He didn't want me to open the fridge, where a bottle of Pierre Gimonnet Champagne was chilling. It would ruin the surprise. So I stood with my cheese, and he pulled out his great grandmother's ring.
When I sip a glass of champagne now, I am pulled back into that moment: grinning, laughing, the first bright sip fizzing on my tongue. It was good Champagne that night, full of crisp fruit and chalk and light, and it has to be good Champagne again; no, Prosecco does not transport me there.
Champagne isn't cheap—a bottle of solid Perrier-Jouët runs around $35, and that's the start. A half-bottle is one option if you're on a budget, but Valentine's Day, or any great moment, may be the time to splurge. What should you drink? Here are a few of my recommendations.
Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs is the one for me. 100% Chardonnay sourced from Grand Cru villages, based on 2007 but with 36% reserve wine. It's beautifully focused, taut but complex, mineral-driven with acidity that lingers, making your mouth water. There's a delicate peachy perfume and juicy green apple. We tasted chalk and lime leaf, plus a little salinity. Pair it with goat cheese if you must, but this wine has gorgeous clarity on its own. (Around $40, find this wine.)
Other Champagnes We Like
Champagne Gardet Pol Gardere Brut: This champagne balances a yeasty doughiness with pointed acidity (cushioned by a little vanilla). We tasted shale, almonds, orange zest, and lemon lozenges. It's crisp with spicy hints of ginger and clove. (Around $28, find this wine.) We also enjoyed Gardet's saignée-method Brut Premier Cru Rosé Champagne (2001), which is less festive and more intense, with a deep musty brooding edge, lots of toasty yeast, rose petals, apricot (including the fuzzy skin), lemongrass, and strawberry tea. This structured, savory coral-pink wine has stony minerals that call out for goat cheese, but it would also be lovely with a platter of sashimi. (Around $70, imported by Wineberry America.)
The acidity in Gosset Brut Excellence keeps things tightly attenuated: this wine is lively, backed up with nice minerality. Croissant, marzipan, lemon zest, and delicate tropical fruit spin on your tongue. Goat cheese picks up the slightly grassy notes, but this wine's also a star with gingery Thai food, if you decide to order in and get cozy. (Around $30, find this wine.)
Jacques Lassaigne Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (NV) is a rich, medium-bodied Champagne with quite a bit of earth and smoke. The scent reminded us of vanilla salt water taffy, but the acidity dries this one out. It's woodsy, with hints of hay, black pepper, lady apples, and honeydew. We detected a vegetal note—cucumber? This is a serious, savory wine wine, with sage and quinine notes and a long puckering finish. Definitely serve with food; chicken liver pate or foie gras, scallops or shrimp would work. No sulfites added, sustainable vineyard, in case you care about those sorts of things. (Around $45, find this wine.)
Louis Roederer Brut Premier: This rich Champagne reminded us of pear nectar spiced with ginger and cinnamon, with a hint of fennel, bay leaf, and elderflower cordial, and a streak of fresh acidity running through. There's a tension between the mineral and fruity side of this wine, and it's pretty rich stuff. Think buttered challah toast topped with tart marmalade and a dribble of honey. (Around $33, find this wine.)
Samples provided for review consideration.