Some may argue that the best champagnes come from the Grand Marques, or the big houses - Krug, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger just to name a few. Others will say that the most interesting and exciting champagnes are coming from the smaller boutique producers like Larmandier-Bernier and Egly-Ouriet. Then there are those who will swear that vintage champagne is superior to NV (non-vintage) and that blanc de blanc (champagne made with only of white grapes) makes a better champagne than blends. Who knew the beverage of romance and celebration could be so polarizing?

Now we’re not prepared to settle the score. A) we already receive our fair share of hate mail, no need to beg for more; B) to say that one is better than the other is a matter of opinion and preferences and while we often think we’re right, we recognize that one man’s cupcake is another man’s brussel sprouts; and C) we pretty much like all aforementioned types of champagne (a lot). So what we did do, with hopes of burying the hatchet and drinking inordinate amounts of champagne, is taste all types together to better understand what everybody’s getting worked up about.

The Line up:

Grand Marques:
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, approx. $75
Taittinger Prelude, approx. $75

Smaller Producers:
Chapuy Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc, approx. $30

1996 Deval Leroy, approx. $45

Barrel Aged (tasted separately that week):
Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvee 225, approx. $90

We gathered a few friends in the wine biz to taste with us. We tasted these champagnes blind, so we weren’t lured by our biases. Not unexpectedly the tasting group was somewhat divided. A champagne that was loved by one was quickly dismissed with “I’d rather drink the San Pelligrino” by another. Two champagnes that tended to be overall crowd pleasers were the Taittinger Prelude and the 1996 Deval Leroy. The Taittinger had concentrated notes of nuts, spice and lemon on the nose and palette. The bubbles were tiny although not very persistent. This champagne was refreshing and has a kick. The 1996 Deval Leroy had complexity and intense flavors. This powerful champagne was balanced with a rich broad presence on the palette. The Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle was a bit disappointing. The nose and palate had medium intense notes of hazelnut and lemon but the length was fairly short and finished with a slight metallic note. The Chapuy was enjoyable, with a nutty, candied lemon nose but lacked intensity for it to stand out as a crowd favorite.

The Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvee 225 was largely responsible for us going on this champagne quest. At an earlier tasting we tried this unique champagne and it challenged what we thought we knew and liked about champagne. What makes Cuvee 225 unique is that 60% of it is aged in wood barrels. When we heard about the wood aging our concern was that would detract from what we love about champagne – the crisp acidity and lively effervescence. Turns out this champagne was a delicious change of pace. The nose had notes of vanilla, butter and apple and the pallet had a full body and a great structure that would make this champagne a great pair with food.

So what’s the mark of a great champagne? It’s that intangible that moves you with the first sip. The connection that happens when every tastebud is buzzing with flavor. That excitement that comes from a truly great glass of champagne. How can you argue with that?