The Knitty Gritty
First, let۪s drop some knowledge, and don۪t worry, we۪ll keep it to just the nitty-gritty. At it۪s most basic, champagne is white wine with bubbles. At it۪s best, it is light, refreshing, and surprisingly complex. While all champagne is technically sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is champagne. Strictly speaking, true Champagne must come from the, you guessed it, Champagne region in France, and is typically created using the traditional Methode Champenoise. (For a deeper, wine-geek dive on this, check out this article.) That being said, just because it isn۪t true champagne doesn۪t mean it isn۪t good. There are plenty of delicious and affordable sparkling wines out there to taste. Plus, between you, me, and Jay Z, we won۪t tell if you call everything champagne.
One additional thing, it۪s definitely important to know a little bit about the difference between vintage and non-vintage champagne. Like most traditional wine, vintage refers to a type of champagne that comes from grapes all harvested in the same year, for example, a 2001 Dom Perignon. If the champagne doesn۪t have a year associated with it (or listed on the bottle), it is a blend of grapes from different years (or vintages). Here۪s why this is important...typically vintage champagnes are more expensive and often times, of higher quality. For our purposes, and moderate budget though, the champagnes you۪ll want to look at are non-vintage for the most part. Bottom line, keep these ideas in mind if you see price differences, but don۪t let vintage versus non-vintage dictate your purchase decisions too heavily. Just keep it simple, there's a wealth of truly excellent non-vintage champagne at your disposal.
Spend, But Spend Wisely
Good champagne doesn۪t have to be crazy expensive. But, you do want to make sure you spend the right amount to get a decent bottle, especially if you are gifting. We recommend starting with a base budget of around $30 to $40. Something in this price range is going to ensure you۪re getting true champagne that۪s going to be not only delicious but also widely available. That being said, anything above $80 - $100 is probably going to be unnecessary unless you are truly trying to impress a wine geek. Plus, buying confidently above this price range and avoiding heavy and unnecessary markups is going to take more effort and knowledge. Your target sweet spot for a good bottle of true champagne should be anywhere from $30 to $80. In this range, you can buy easily and confidently.
When In Doubt, Go Big
Big name that is. If you۪re buying on the fly (like the uber is outside waiting) it۪s best to stick to larger, more well-known champagne houses. Not only are they more readily available, there۪s a certain level of quality you can expect with these wines. Certainly taking the time to dig deeper into smaller producers and talking to informed people can yield some excellent results and incredible values, but, depending on your situation, it may not be necessary. If, for instance, you۪re stopping at your local grocery store or wine shop on the way to the party, know a few names but don۪t sweat it too much. A few good choices to look for include: Perrier-Jouet, Bollinger, Nicolas Feuillatte, Taittinger, and Roederer Estate. All of these labels have delicious options in the $40-$100 range. The ubiquitous Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon aren۪t bad options and they۪re everywhere, but their popularity has made them overpriced. Finally, if you۪re ready to ball out like a champ, a bottle of Dom Perignon will never, ever disappoint.
Or Go Another Route Entirely
Try a non-champagne, sparkling wine. Banish your memories of crappy bottomless mimosa (not that we don۪t love that though) sparkling wine; good stuff does exist. Spanish sparkling wine, known as cava, or Italian sparkling wine, known as Prosecco, can be a great and very affordable way to go. It۪s easy to go wrong and get something crappy and overly sweet (instant headache anyone?), so visit a proper wine store, ask for a recommendation from someone knowledgeable, and enjoy the hunt. We highly recommend checking out these options out if you۪re after some affordable bottles or buying in bulk for a party. Excellent cava and prosecco can be had for $15 - $20 at the right establishment, and very few will be the wiser. California is even producing some excellent sparkling wines from highly regarded vineyards, though it is typically not as wallet-friendly as cava or prosecco.
Oh, and one more tip, don۪t pop that cork like a rookie and waste all those precious bubbles, this handy video will show you how to do it like a pro. Or, if you۪ve got a sword just laying around (a knife works too), you can try sabering it like a true bawse. Whether or not you then spray a pack of scantily clad young ladies after opening is entirely up to you.