What better signals the start of the holiday season than the happy sound of a Champagne cork popping?
Champagne can be a challenging wine – it often has a dark, yeasty, bready depth that makes it a less approachable than a softer sparkling wine like, say, Prosecco.
But there is another breed of Champagne out there that combines the wine’s classic depth and character with a bright, fresh feel that makes it particularly festive to drink.
At a recent tasting event, I made it my mission to find this lighter style of bubbly. Hey, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Here are some favorites, along with estimated retail pricing:
Renè Geoffroy Blanc de Rosé NV
This enticing wine is all earth, combining subtle notes of forest floor and mushroom with nutty notes of Manchego cheese. An equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it’s one beguiling bubbly. $114
Pheu-Simonet Champagne Blancs de Blancs Brut NV
This wine is 100% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru village Mesnil-sur-Oger. Flavors reminded me of fresh French bread. It is completely smooth on the palate and joyous to drink. $68
Egly-Ouriet Champagne Blanc de Noirs “Les Crayères” VV NV
This wine was really unexpected, with a nice depth and acidity. It kind of slaps you around, but in an appealing, 50 Shades kind of way. By the way, VV stands for vieilles vignes, or old vines. $156
L. Aubry Fils NV Brut
This estate is known for growing the ancient varietals still permitted in Champagne, and this wine is 45% Pinot Meunier, along with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Fromenteau. In the glass, the wine is sharp, but not overly so, with flavors of a crisp, fresh baguette. $40
In addition, there are two estates that had several contenders in the “fresh and light” category:
Vilmart & Cie
Frankly, any wine from this estate will knock your socks off. It was founded in 1890 by Désiré Vilmart and is helmed today by Laurent Champs, the fifth generation of the family. All vines are farmed organically, and the resulting wines are known for their crisp acidity, structure and richness. Three to try are:
Champagne “Grand Cellier” NV: Fresh and bright with notes of apple and yeast, with a nicely bready feel. I found this wine really comforting and really nice to keep drinking! $70
Champagne “Coeur de Cuvée” 2003: This wine earned three “gorgeous!”-es in my notes. It is earthy and wild, dragging you on quite the enjoyable bubbly ride! $144
Champagne “Coeur de Cuvée” 2004: The year-younger sibling, this wine is all toasty warmth, like soft dinner rolls straight from the oven. Really, really lovely wine. $147
This is another under-the-radar Champagne house that can seemingly do no wrong. Though the family has grown vines here since 1750, they did not start bottling production until 1923. Most of their plantings are Petit Meunier, which takes center stage at this estate. Everything I tasted from them was lovely, but these were standouts:
Champagne Blanc de Blancs “Opale” Brut NV: All Chardonnay, this wine is simply lovely and fresh, mingling notes of flowers and apples. It is quite yummy. $51
Champagne “Or Tradition” Brut NV: This wine is also delightful, showing a touch more complexity than the above. It’s not too sweet with a creamy roundness that made this bubbly very easy to drink. $46
Champagne “Special Club” Brut 2006: Crafted from 100% Pinot Meunier, this wine is at once creamy and sharp. It boasts notes of nuts, stones and minerals. Yes, there’s fruit in there too. Bottom line: delicious! $83
Champagne Rosé “Tradition” Brut NV: Whoa. This wine is a touch of Pinot Noir blended with 82% Pinot Meunier, a percentage of which was vinified still then blended into the bubbly. Forget tasting notes, I loved drinking this wine! $50