This is the real stuff right here. Unapologetically expensive, unbelievably great. Champagne—a name that has become the object itself, like Kleenex or Post-Its—carries a certain mystique. Ordinary mortals need not apply. This is the drink of Gods and Kings. Something happens when we drink it—it’s a buzz but no ordinary buzz. It’s the bubbles and the foam (which the French call mousse) that make us feel like we can grow wings and fly. The bubbles make us happy—no, not just happy but giddy. We kiss underneath the mistletoe. We witness a vow of marriage. We celebrate turning 60. We clink our glasses in the elation of the birth of a child.
Champagne: it’s there when we celebrate beginnings; never there when we come to a sorrowful ending. No doubt about it, this sparkling wine is special.
Here are five glorious Champagnes:
VEUVE CLICQUOT “La Grande Dame” Brut 2004 ($120–$135)
One pour and you know instantly why this is one of the most beloved brands on the wine planet. The question on people’s minds, however, is whether or not it’s worth it to dish out the extra cash reserve for their flagship La Grande Dame when their non-prestige cuvées already raise the bar so high for their particular price points. The answer is, unreservedly, yes. That is, if achieving the top heights of fashionable elegance is a selling point. Very floral and smooth, with exotic notes of bergamot and jasmine, its mousse is lively and energetic, dancing the foxtrot. Bouncy, delightful—nothing stuck-up here, just incredibly pretty but friendly and accessible. A sparkling wine to fulfill any Cinderella fantasy. 96 pts search direct
RUINART “Dom Ruinart” Blanc de Blancs 2004 ($130–$150)
The “other Dom” is one very serious, austere dude. After all, Dom Ruinart, of whom this wine is made in honor, was a Benedictine monk from the 17th Century. The rock-solid structure of the Chardonnay wine is monolithic, like standing before the statues of Easter Island. Because of its austere and pristine depth, this is meant to be aged for a long time—perhaps best if not touched until at least 2019. Its frothy bubbles will lose none of their energy; its rustic perfume will be unleashed; and its bittersweet profundities, currently simmering beneath surface, will rise to the moment of revelation. Made for caviar, and in a class of its own. 97 pts search direct
ASPASIE “Cépages d’Antan” Brut NV ($100)
Unmistakably a grower champagne. Unlike the big-name houses whose grapes are sourced across the Champagne region, the exotic and rare grapes (Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc) used to make this cuvée are grown in the vineyards of the Estate, which has been family owned and run through five generations. In a time when there is a hunger for artisanal food products, “grower champagnes” fit the farm-to-table trend. Toasty, yeasty, mellow and warm with enveloping sweet melon and citrus, this is a gentle and sunny champagne in contrast to the dry and bitter prestige Bruts that big-name houses are known for. This is bubbly wine that lets nature do the talking. Wonderful with sushi. 95 pts search direct
HENRIOT “Cuvée des Enchanteleurs” Brut 1998 ($130–$165)
Bold, forward, unreserved and unabashed—counterbalanced only by a light bitterness and minerality on the finish—this is the champagne equivalent of a naked selfie. What compels a beautiful object of desire to display every intimate part of themselves without inhibition? Who can say, and it’s probably pointless to ask. In this case, might as well indulge unreservedly. Buttery elegance, juicy voluptuousness, and honey essence. Sophisticated enough for a black tie affair, but you won’t stay dressed for long. 96 pts search direct
KRUG “Grande Cuvée” Brut NV ($140–$175)
There’s a reason why Krug is the king of Champagne, but no explanation suffices. Krug is an experience in its own universe. The non-vintage Grande Cuvée is the best ticket for one’s interstellar journey into this universe. In outer space no one can hear you scream, and when fans speak of Krug it is in reverent silence. We cannot speak of its infinitely elegant, crystalline structure. Nor its luxurious mousse or clear-as-a-lightbeam crispness and finesse or otherworldly beauty that evolves through to the finish that lasts for minutes. This is Krug, and words cannot explain. This is unspeakable pleasure. 98 pts search direct
One of the best places to sneak in an afternoon wine tasting on Saturdays in Los Angeles is at K&L Wine Merchants in the heart of Hollywood. We keep you up to date on the greatest wines we sniff out at these tastings.