New Year’s Eve is fast approaching, which means it’s almost time to pop some bubbly. When it comes to buying champagne, choosing the perfect bottle for your tastes (and wallet) can feel intimidating.
The good news is that Laura Maniec, master sommelier and co-founder of Corkbuzz in New York City, assures that it doesn’t have to be.
Vintage versus non-vintage
For starters, understand that champagne can only come from Champagne, France. Fizzy drinks like Prosecco, Cava and Cremant (while tasty) are technically not considered champagne. Once you’ve got that down and are browsing bottles, deciphering the label is key. For example, you’ll likely notice some bottles with an NV on the label.
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“The initials NV would be non-vintage,” says Maniec. This means it was created using a blend of vintages.
In champagne talk, vintage refers to the year it was made. If you see an actual year, like 1999 for instance, then the bottle only includes grapes that came from the harvest from that particular year. On the other end of the spectrum, the NV label indicates that it’s a blend.
“Vintage champagne is made maybe once every four or five years because the climate is a little bit difficult to ripen grapes to perfection every year,” says Maniec. “So producers kind of blend wines from multiple years to get a finished product that’s really delicious.”
But don’t let the NV label fool you – non-vintage champagne is still an extremely desirable, high-quality product. If you’re looking for an inexpensive but pleasing blended bottle for New Year’s, Maniec suggests Brut Premier by Louis Roederer.
Blanc de blanc champagnes
Only three types of grapes can be used to make champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. (Yes, red grapes can be used to make wine wines and champagnes. It’s actually the skin of the grape – not the juice – that gives red wine its color.) If you come across a champagne bottle labeled blanc de blanc, it means that it was made using only the chardonnay grape.
“Usually this adds flavors like citrus that are very crisp, clean and more refreshing” says Maniec, who adds that if it’s a tart, lighter bubbly you’re after, a blanc de blanc is your best bet.
While blanc de blancs traditionally pair well with lighter foods, Maniec says that she enjoys champagne most with aged cheese or fried bites like French fries.
Blanc de noir champagnes
The opposite labeling would be blanc de noir, which literally means white from black. In other words, this type of champagne is made without the chardonnay grape. Some bottles are made up of a blend of both red grapes, while others may be 100 percent one or the other.
“A blanc de noir is a little bit fuller bodied and has a little more red fruit like red berries and cherries,” says Maniec. “When they do a significant amount of pinot noir in a blend, it’ll add really floral tones like red flowers and potpourri.”
When it comes to coupling blanc de noirs with food, fried poultry and smoked salmon are solid choices.
Rosé champagne represents a fresh departure from the traditional.
“Rosé is a style that’s made when you either take white wine and a little bit of red wine and blend it, or you take those red grapes and you bleed a little bit of the color from the skins intentionally to make it a rosé,” says Maniec.
Rosés are characteristically richer, and slightly more textured and astringent. Maniec says that tart flavors reminiscent of pomegranate and cranberry naturally come to mind. According to experts, this famously pink champagne pairs nicely with raw or lightly cooked shellfish. Maniec recommends Ruinart’s non-vintage rosé as a sure-to-please bottle with a reasonable price tag.