Something I get asked all the time (especially from my champagne rookies) is…
“I saw this champagne and it was only $40. I was tempted to buy it but I don’t know if it’s any good and I don’t want to waste my $40 when I could just buy Mumm/Moet/Piper and know I’ll enjoy it. What do you think of it?”
I get it – no one wants to waste their hard earned cash. But what’s even worse is being disappointed with an ordinary wine!
While I haven’t tried every champagne in the world but because I am SUCH a selfless, thoughtful person AND a problem solver, I decided to do a road-test.
I went on a shopping trip to Dan Murphy’s, Vintage Cellars, BWS and First Choice Liquor. And I bought every untried champagne I could find for $50 or less. I road-tested only untried champagnes, not the big brands I assumed most people would know and trust to be a good solid, affordable option.
I chose my stand outs using just one simple criteria. I imagined I was in a blind tasting and if I was 100% confident I could pick it as a ‘champagne’ in a blind tasting, the champs made the cut.
Remember, I love champagne and I write a champagne blog, not a sparkling wine blog. And sparkling wine can be lovely… but I love champagne because I love the way champagne tastes. So naturally, I want to drink champagne that tastes like champagne. And if I can’t recognise a glass of champs as being champagne then it’s not going to make my cut.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed I didn’t pick more champagnes out of the line-up. I actually tried 18 champs all counted, including the three rosés (pic below and they all made the cut – see I am TOTALLY biased!). There were a half dozen border-line options BUT the point of the road-test was to help my friends make reliable choices for champagne under $50 that I enjoyed and hope they would too. So I stand by my picks. But remember this is just me and my tastes and my palate… it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to enjoy the others, and I am not saying the others are rubbish. I’m just saying for the ones that didn’t make the cut, I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and declare – ‘this is champagne as I know and like it to be’!
Here’s everything I tried FYI … I don’t want to focus on the champs I didn’t pick (I am a glass-half full kinda girl), but just to show how thoroughly I did my homework!
But let’s start with what I think makes champagne taste champagne-y?
There are two things which I think make champagne taste champagne-y. I elaborate on YouTube in the videos (see links below) but the super-short version is..
- Time on lees
It’s a requirement for non-vintage champagne to be cellared on lees for a minimum of 15 months. During this time on lees, flavour is imparted to the wine (read more here). Most large houses will cellar NVs for up to 3 years, more than twice as long as mandatory, which does increase the flavour factor significantly. Smaller houses and growers struggle with longer time on lees because they have less storage capacity and produce less wine and operate on different business models.
- Region of origin which (more or less) = terroir
There are 5 different districts in the Champagne region, which have different soil characteristics. And across the 5 regions, 318 villages which are rated from 100% – 80% under the historic system called the Échelle des Crus (which literally means ‘ladder of growth’). 17 Grand Cru villages are rated at 100%. All the grand cru villages are in the three most highly regarded districts – nine in the Montagne de Reims, six in the Côte des Blancs and two in the Vallée de la Marne. Then 44 Premier Cru are rated 90-99% and the remaining 257 villages in Champagne France are rated between 80 and 89%.
The system is controversial and originates from the setting grape price per kilo and there is more to a high quality champagne than the village the grapes are from BUT… I do find, champagnes from Grand and Premier cru villages are more distinctly ‘champagne’.
Is video more your thing? Scroll down and you can hear all the same stuff over at my YouTube channel!
The top picks from my champagnes under $50 road-test
With all that in mind, my stand outs are…
Mercier is quite a big house located in Epernay (Côte des Blancs). While Mercier doesn’t publish where sources its grapes or their cellaring time, based on how it tastes and the size of the house, I am willing to bet it’s cellared for three years and includes some Premier Cru grapes.
This champs is a blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay and is lovely, and instantly recognizable as ‘champagne’ with just one whiff. I happily place this champs alongside my list of party champs, with the likes of Moët & Chandon, Lanson, GH Mumm, & Piper-Heidsieck.
Henri Laurent Brut
This champagne is actually produced by Champagne Charpentier in the Marne Valley.
What I love about this champagne is that it’s a blend of 80% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir. I didn’t know this until after I tasted it (and had already placed it firmly in my top 3) but that is a really high Pinot Meunier blend. Other houses known for high Pinot Meunier blends are Moët & Chandon, and Piper-Heidsieck and Billecart Salmon.
Charles Orban blanc de blancs
Champagne Charles Orban is located in the Marne Valley in the village of Troissy. This champs is 100% chardonnay and this would have to be the first time I’ve seen a blanc de blancs for less than $50 … so I was skeptical BUT pleasantly surprised. I also tried a blanc de noirs from the same house in my road-test and thes only one reason I didn’t include it here was because blanc de noirs is a very distinct style of champagne. It is quite different from the usual NV blends and if you’re a happy champer looking for a bargain champs under $50, you’re not looking for different, you are actually looking for ‘safe’, so I left it out of this list but it was a good quality surprise also if you do want to experiment with your champs sampling.
Champagne Duperrey Brut Rosé
I have raved about this baby before (read ALL about it) so this was the ONE champs in my tasting that I had tried and knew I rated.
It’s produced from around Reims, which is Champagne central and the heart of the Montagne de Reims.
The colour is a little intense and put me off at first BUT it smells and tastes instantly and distinctly champagne-y, berries and bright bubbles, just enough cherry to give it an edge but not be overpowering. TOTAL crowd pleaser, I’ve had 100% success serving this over a few years now.
The Brut NV from Duperrey was also in my tasting but didn’t make the cut. I am going to champagne July 2018 and plan to dig up more info but there must be something different about the blends. I really highly rate the Dupperry 2006 and 2008 vintages (loads of it around last year until I bought it all haha!) but the house jump straight from 2008 to 2011 (the current vintage) which is just too young for me and nowhere near as rounded. If you do the maths, I suspect they significantly reduced the cellaring time for the current 2011 vintage…. most houses currently releasing 2008. #homework
Aubert Et Fils Brut Rosé Champagne & Champagne Moutard Prestige Rosé
I put these two together for a good contrast. If you are new to champagnes drinking these two side by side is affordable and will highlight pretty clearly the difference between floral and fruity.. try them and see!
They are both enjoyable champagnes (though not as distinctly champagne-y as the Duperrey). The Moutard is from the Cotes des Bar and has a nice floral smell in contrast to the Aubert Et Fils’ fruitier style. I served the Aubert Et Fils a few weeks ago and we sold out of six bottles so it went down well with the crowd.
Again the Brut NV from both houses were in the road-test but neither made the cut… it could be the blended still red wine smooths out the champagne and makes it more appealing to my palate.
If you can’t be arsed reading that much today (I get it, takes concentration and it’s sooooo much easier to drink and WATCH than it is to drink and read!), check out the links to my YouTube channel where I pretty much say everything I write here 🙂
The video tasting for the bruts and the blanc de blanc is here
The video tasting for the rosé champagnes
If you are super keen for some more rosé champagne-nerd stuff, check out my other two rosé vids….
Here I get my geek on how they make Rose champagne …
Here I ‘nerd up ‘about what I think makes a ‘champagne-y champagne’. Yep, such a nerd with all the tech talk 😉
Santé happy champers!
Up for some homework?
Try any of these champs and let me know what you think! Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #champagnehomework
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