Choosing a sparkling wine can be overwhelming with so many choices. Toast to happiness, love and good health with these suggestions for all budgets.
The small details about weddings are what brides remember years later, and those memories often include the champagne and the toasts that were part of the event. I’ll never forget a bottle of French champagne we received as a wedding gift — a Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut — and how the effervescent blend with aromas of pears and golden apple tickled my palate. Years later, when we could afford to splurge, my husband and I would buy Piper-Heidsieck for our anniversary.
Wine has been a part of wedding sacraments long before crystal flutes were invented. From Greek mythology to Old Testament scriptures, wine has symbolized life, vitality and abundance — all things that newlyweds hope to have throughout their marriage. The French made wedding toasts even more fun when they dropped toasted bread into the wine goblets just as the ancient Romans did. The Romans were trying to temper the taste of acidic wine, but in France the bride and groom were racing to get to the soggy lump first. The winner, supposedly, would rule the household.
Luckily, champagne has come to epitomize romance more than who will be the boss. I cannot recall ever attending a wedding where the bride and groom did not toast each other, whether it was with champagne or some other sparkling wine. A picture perfect moment is born when the couple, with arms twisted like pretzels, sips their beverage of choice from a flute. If it tastes “like the stars”, as the famed Dom Perignon supposedly described, then it’s all the better.
To be legally called “champagne,” the wine must come from the Champagne region in eastern France. Sparkling wines from any other French region are known as “crémants.” These wines also can be produced from grapes other than pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier (the standard grapes for champagne), and crémants are usually much less expensive.
Regional specialties are also excellent choices for weddings and special occasions. If budget is a concern, consider Spain’s sparkler, called “Cava,” or Italy’s aromatic “Prosecco.” Italy’s Piedmont region also produces a sweeter, low alcohol Asti Spumante that is typically used as a dessert wine. Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. also produce some delicious sparkling wines at exceptionally competitive price points.
With more than 4,000 champagne producers in France and even more sparkling wine producers worldwide, it’s hard to know which one to choose for your special day. Most experts agree the way to go is to buy from a reliable producer whose consistency has been proven year after year. The following suggestions are by no means comprehensive, but these producers have excellent reputations:
Domaine Chandon Brut, about $35 and up. The best French traditions and methods are combined with New World innovations to create this California sparkling wine.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut, about $12. A full-bodied cava from Spain, the exceptional taste of apples, pears and citrus belies its reasonable price.
ELEGANCE FOR UNDER $100
Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial, about $65. A romantic and sensual French champagne that is fresh and fruity.
Veuve Clicquot Non Vintage Brut Yellow Label, about $45. Refreshingly smooth and creamy, this French champagne is not too sweet for the wine connoisseur or too dry for the novice wine drinker.
Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut, $40 to $55. Highly rated by both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines, this full-bodied champagne is composed mostly of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes from the region around Reims, France.
Dom Perignon, $165 and up, depending on vintage. Considered the “champagne of champagnes,” Dom Perignon is a classic that is highly coveted and only produced from certain vintages. Some vintages can be cellared for many years. Wealthy parents have been known to buy a vintage from the year their child was born to serve at a wedding years later.
• All champagne was sweet until about 1850.
• The label “extra brut” means the champagne is even drier than “brut.”
• The late Marilyn Monroe drank and breathed champagne “as if it were oxygen,” according to her biographer George Barris. She supposedly once took a bath in 350 bottles of champagne.
• Vintage champagne must contain 100 percent of grapes from a single vintage year.
• Non-vintage champagnes are blends from several years of harvests; more than 80 percent of champagnes produced are labeled non-vintage.
• Drink non-vintage champagne right away; vintage champagne can be kept 10 to 15 years.
• Wedding cake pairs best with sec and demi-sec sparkling wines. The brut and extra-brut are better as apéritifs or throughout the meal.