Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

Champagne Smackdown

Whether you’re ringing in the New Year at midnight or enjoying a New Year’s Day meal, an excellent choice for either celebration is non-vintage Champagne.

Champagne because it’s “the real thing” (don’t tell Coca-Cola), and non-vintage because it is an outstanding value. Generally speaking, a “NV” sparkler is going to be significantly less expensive than a vintage-dated Champagne, but will be comparable in quality. That’s because Champagne producers strive to create a consistent bottling with their non-vintage — for most, it is representative of the “house style”, and serves as an introduction to their more expensive vintage bubblies. Chances are, if you like the non-vintage bottling from a particular Champagne house, you’ll also enjoy their vintages.

But which to choose? Hard to say, because there are so many different styles and everyone’s palate is unique. My suggestion is to try as many as you can until you find one you really like — and then try a few more! After all, what’s bad about tasting Champagne? Luckily, many NV Champagnes come in half-bottles or “splits”, so you don’t have to shell out big bucks to buy and try several different sparklers.

To get you started, I blind-tasted three non-vintage Champagnes that are found nearly everywhere. I didn’t love all three, but that doesn’t mean you won’t — again, everyone is different. Pommery Brut Royal NV non-vintage Champange bottleHopefully you’ll get something out of my brief notes to guide you toward or away from a particular bottle. (The numbers are not rankings, but rather how they were tagged when I tasted them blind.)

#1 Pommery Brut Royal NV

Lightest in color – pale straw. Nose is toasty, with mild apple and pear. On the palate it has good mousse, very ethereal – light, mild flavor of citrus, apple and a touch of mineral. Acidity is low at first, becoming more pronounced in the finish. Finish has some mild tart green apple and is pleasant, with decent length.

Tasted alone (without food), I liked this one the best out of the three. Though the acidity began low, it increased toward the finish, which helps it with food matching. Enjoy it to ring in the New Year, as an aperitif, or with light appetizers.

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#2 Bollinger Special Cuvee NV

Champange Bollinger Special Cuvee Non-Vintage NV bottleJames Bond prefers the vintage-dated Champagnes of Bollinger, but I can’t afford them. This NV is the aged the longest among the three in this tasting — for three years.

Darkest in color, a golden straw.
Nose is more exuberant, somewhat advanced and mature. Ripe apple, pear, caramel, some toast.
Lots of foamy mousse on the palate. Good weight in the mouth. Flavor is ripe pear, a hint of lime citrus and mineral. Acidity is medium. Finishes with some bitter fruit.

By itself, I wasn’t particularly fond of this Champagne. However, it was somewhat better when matched with food — I had it with mildly sauced chicken and Chinese vegetables. This makes sense, as the acidity level lends itself to the dinner table.

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#3 Veuve Clicquot Brut NV

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label NV Non Vintage Champagne bottleThis is the famous “yellow label” that is prevalent in nearly every wine shop.

Second darkest in color, a golden straw.
Nose has distinctive but ethereal ripe pear, hint of white peach.
Palate has good mousse. Fairly light in flavor – touch of pear. Almost reminds me of a lager beer. Acidity is medium. Finish is somewhat bitter, with a touch of lemon rind.

Not my favorite, but not terrible, either. I may want to taste this one again, as the particular bottle could have been off in some way. I expected to get more pronounced aromas and flavors.

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Bonus Tasting: Pommery Brut Royal “Apanage”

Pommery Brut Royal Apanage NV Champagne bottleThe Pommery Brut Royal mentioned above is aged for two years. Pommery also makes this “Apanage”, which is also a non-vintage but is aged for three years. I didn’t taste this one blind because I ran out of Champagne flutes (they break easily … my original set of five is down to three … oops, make that two, as another one broke after the tasting!).

Dark golden straw color. Nice foamy mousse. Mild nose of pear, butterscotch. Full flavor of ripe pear, apple, a touch of citrus and mineral. Acidity is low, getting toward medium in the finish, which is mostly tart red apple.

The Apanage is a few dollars more than the “regular” Brut Royal, but if you prefer a more complex, fuller-flavored Champagne, then it’s worth every penny. Similar to the “regular” Brut Royal in that the acidity starts out nearly nonexistent, then builds as you get toward the finish. It’s ideal as a companion to food — try it alone and with first courses.

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