Champagne is the most recognized type of sparkling wine.  And while all bubbly is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is champagne.

If the bottle of bubbly you’re popping says “champagne” on it, it was made in the Champagne region of France. While it’s not a law, it is common practice (and the right thing to do) to only call a sparkling wine made in Champagne, France, champagne. There are a very few exceptions to this rule, but in general, the only, true champagne is that which comes from Champagne, France.  

Celebration Effect

Too many people think that champagne should be saved for special occasions.  And if you have been around here long enough, you know that we are so against that belief.  

There is always a reason to celebrate and quite frankly when you embrace the everyday moments and celebrate them, you will find so many more moments deserving of celebration. We call this the Celebrate Effect.

Because there's always a reason to celebrate, we raise our glasses in celebration.

So we understand you might want to save your best champagne, the $100+ bottle  for something other than “I worked out today and rocked it!” but please, don’t wait too long.  Put that date in your calendar and make it a priority.  

And in the meantime, while you’re waiting for that date in your calendar, pop open a different bottle and celebrate the moment.  After all, two celebrations are always better than one!  

So grab yourself a bottle, pop that cork and let’s learn a little bit about champagne, shall we?

Champagne is made using the traditional method and primarily uses the three most common grapes you’ll find in bubbly: pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Méthode Champenoise – The Traditional Method 

This method is a rather lengthy process but the wait is well worth the results. This method is not exclusive to champagne, wineries all around the world that use the Traditional Method to make their sparkling wines. 

The Champagne Making Process

Harvest the grapes: When grapes are harvested for sparkling wine depends on the conditions of the environment that season. Typically sparkling wine grapes are harvested earlier in the season.The earlier harvest gives them lower sugar and higher acid levels than other grapes harvested later in the season. Once harvested they are pressed to extract the juice. 

Pinot noir grapes on a grapevine being harvested by hand.

Fermentation: This is done the same way as any wine. If this bubbly is going to be a blend of grapes or a non-vintage bubbly, the other wines are added now. 

Second Fermentation: The base wine, yeast and sugar are put into a bottle and sealed with a crown cap (same type of cap as a bottle of soda or beer). The bottle is stored on its side while second fermentation is underway.

Aging on Lees: The wine will age on the dead yeast cells (lees) for a period of time. This time period depends on the type of sparkling wine and ranges anywhere from months to 3+ years. 

Riddling: Bottles are now placed on a special rack which has them tilted downward at about a 45 degree angle. It is then someone’s job to turn each of these bottles 1/4 quarter turn from several times a day to several times a week. 

Riddling racks where champagne or sparkling wine ages until it's ready for the finished product.

Fun Fact: this process used to have to be done one bottle at a time and now they make racks that you can rotate the entire rack 1/4 turn. 

Now it’s quite heavy so you will need multiple people, but is a lot less time consuming than turning the individual bottles. 

Disgorgement: This is the part where they will freeze the neck of the bottle in order to get rid of all the sediment that is sitting in the wine.  Once the crown cap is “popped” (think of how you would use a bottle opener to open up a bottle of soda or beer), the sediment and maybe some wine comes out. 

Discorging my own bottle of cava in Spain by hand.

Dosage: Often times to replace the lost liquid, they will add dosage back to the bottle. This is a sugar mixture that determines the sweetness level of the bubbly. 

Corking: And then the bottle is corked and with a wire cage that is turned 3 full turns to secure. 

The final step in the champagne making process is putting the cork in and securing it with the metal cage.

Fun Fact:  The most common grape varieties found not only in your glass of champagne, but many other sparkling wines are:  pinot noir grapes, chardonnay grapes and pinot meunier grapes.

Best Champagne Recommendations from the Experts

When you’re grabbing a bottle of champagne for any ceelbration wither it’s New Year’s Eve, an amazing new life event, crushing a goal or just because, you have so many options.  From grower champagnes to the big champagne houses, sometimes you just need the guidance of an expert to help you pick the perfect bottle of champagne.  

Now, you know I spend most of my time sharing sparkling wine and cava, so I turned to some experts to get their top champagne recommendations just for you. I did scour the grocery store to find the best champagne brands that are easy to find like Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon.  

But I know you might be looking for something more unique than just the popular champagne brands you find on the grocery store shelf, so I brought in two experts to help.

Gina Lyons and her Top Champagne Picks

First, let me introduce you to Gina Lyons.  I met Gina in 2020 at a virtual tastings I attended.  Gina brings the world of champagne to her followers in a fun and approachable way.  

If you are wondering where to start with champagne, check out Gina’s list here…you’re bound to find a great one to try.

Best champagne recommendations from Gina Lyons.

For the Savant

Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny Premier Cru

The name alone carries a reputation no champagne connoisseur can argue.  This cuvée is the expression of a “family style” a fruit-rich and seductive 100% pinot meunier.  Yes, you read that right- just shows you how unique and memorable the champagnes of Egly-Ouriet are.  The estate is located in Ambonnay, and Francis Egly is its most renowned grower.  His endless pursuit of the ripest fruit can only happen because of the quality in his vineyards.  

If you have never had Egly-Ouriet Champagne before, you can compare them to Krug or Bollinger champagne, big, powerful, full of depth, but with less make-up, lower dosage, and a purer expression of fruit.

For the Botanist

Vouette et Sorbée Blanc d’Argile Brut Nature

I may not believe in ‘clean wine’, but I do believe in Biodynamic Champagne, an exciting movement happening in the region.  Tucked into the southeast corner of Champagne is the Aube, which over the past decade has emerged as a source for some of the region’s most distinctive and exciting champagnes.  Many of today’s best growers from Aube were lead by Bertrand Gautherot, the man behind Vouette et Sorbee. Gautherot’s estate is named after his two primary vineyards: Vouette and Sorbée.  

Blanc d’Argile is 100% chardonnay Blanc de Blancs (white grapes) Brut Nature, with no dosage (no added sugar). Mineral, nutty, salty and long –  basically a Grand Cru Chablis with bubbles.

For the Epicurean

Champagne Frerejean Frères Cuvée des Hussards 2012

You will see Champagne Frerejean Frères countlessly on my Instagram because I absolutely love this house, the family AND the champagnes.  I also like the fact that it is small, boutique and harder to find.  After all, you can only get this cuvée from one wine store in New York, Acker Wines.  

Cousins of the Taittinger Champagne Family, Rodolphe Frerejean Taittinger and his two brothers run this luxury style, Michelin Star Gastronomy partner Champagne House based in the Grand Cru Village of Avize. The Cuvée des Hussards is named after the light cavalry of Napoléon Bonaparte, in which the soldiers were the first to use the art of sabring.  

It is powerful and expressive. It is 85% chardonnay and 15% pinot noir coming from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards older than 40 years old. For vintage Champagne lovers, 2012 is regarded as the vintage of reference of the last decade, and this is a bottle to get your hands on!

For the Value Seeker

Marie Copinet NV Brut Extra Quality

Marie Corpinet’s NV Brut is my pick for Best Value.  This classic example of a Non-Vintage Champagne Blend: 1/3 chardonnay, 1/3 pinot noir, 1/3 pinot meunier and is a great choice.  

Located in the Marne Valley, in the tiny village of Montgenost, the estate is run by Marie herself, along with her husband and cellar master Alexandre.  No herbicides or pesticides are used. The estate is certified by Terre Vitis.  

This wine has a deep ripe cherry, nutty, honey, with refreshing citrus and chalky aromas.  It’s full-bodied and complex on the palate, allowing this to drink much more expensive than it actually is.  

For the Bon Vivant

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut is not only an iconic champagne and should be on every bubbly lover’s “Champagnes to drink before you die”, the bottle screams special occasion! 

The bottle is adorned with the legendary spray of Japanese white anemones created by Emile Gallé in 1902, and the one I have even lights up.  It adds the perfect touch making it worth celebrating any occasion.

This is Perrier Jouet’s Prestige Cuvée, only produced in the very best vintages, mainly blended with equal parts chardonnay and pinot noir.  This is an exclusive champagne, aged for 6 years before release, and less than 30 vintages ever produced.

Gina Lyons with her top champagne picks for any type of connoisseur.

Carolyn Holt and her Top Champagne Picks

Carolyn and I met on Instagram and bonded over things like being former teachers.  And Carolyn has a super fun Champagne bar called POP Culture Champange bar just ouside of Seattle.  You need to go visit it!

Here are Carolyn’s very fun top champagne picks (in no particular order):

Pop Culture Champagne Bar coming in Spring 2021 to Seattle area.

Here are Carolyn’s very fun top champagne picks (in no particular order):

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ~ I have been a Billecart fan for years. There is something about this rosé that just makes me beyond happy. It has a gorgeous mouthfeel, and oh so fresh! Well-balanced light strawberry on the palate with notes of pink lady apple. Sip Sip Hooray!

Top Champange Pick Bellecart Salmon

Gaston Chiquet Premier Cru Brut Rosé ~ It’s very clear I am a HUGE fan of rosé champagne. I just love all the feels of a rosé champagne. This one again understands me and my bubbly needs.

Smuckers strawberry jam with layers of spice and limestone. With its salmon-cooper hue, this wine is ripe with such perfect acidity. It pairs perfectly with almost every meal. It’s mostly pinot meunier but the chardonnay and pinot noir round out it’s elegance. This is definitely a party champagne. 

Champagne Wafflart-Antoniolli Rosé ~ An off the beaten path champagne that many people don’t know about. A blend of pinot meunier and pinot noir, this wine has explosive flavors of strawberry and cherry, But the pinot meunier brings so much richness to this Champagne.  Sip Me Baby One More Time!

Best champagne pick from @popculturechampagne

Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV ~ An oldie but goodie…this wine never disappoints. It’s consistent, well-balanced and attractive. You get that meyer lemon on the front, but it melts away into a fresh red apple and peach. This is a crowd pleaser if there ever was one… Pop It Like It’s Hot! 

A selection of champagne from Pierre Paillard.

Pierre Paillard Les Maillerettes Bouzy Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut ~ It’s hard for me to pick a favorite from Pierre Paillard. I just love the acidity and minerality his wines bring to the table. However, I am a sucker for a Blanc de Noirs. I find these wines a spectacular blend of minerality, floral notes and a hint of raspberry. This one in particular just gets me 🙂

Does Champagne Have to Cost A Lot?

And let’s wrap up with a question most people are concerned about when it comes to champagne. Many people believe that the best champagne has to be expensive. And that’s actually not the case at all.  

There doesn’t have to be a hefty price tag attached to your bottle of champagne.  The price range of champagne may seem quite large.  You certainly can treat yourself to an expensive bottle of the very top champagne that ranges anywhere from $100-$10,000. Additionally there is quite the selection under $50 per bottle and everything in between.

I know for a fact that there are many great choices of brut champagne (you know brut, extra brut and brut nature are my favorites) for under $50 and have made it my mission to find those to share with you.  

The following list is made up of non-vintage champagne choices that I have personally enjoyed:

  • Inspiration 1818 Brut Champagne by Charles le Bel-This bottle is blend of Chardonnay 37%, pinot meunier 30%, Pinot Noir 33% and we were so sad when we poured that last glass of champagne from this bottle.  
Inspiration 1818, my favorite non-vintage champagne perfect for any celebration at under $50.
  • Champagne Laherte Freres Ultratradition Extra Brut- This bottle is a blend of 60% pinot meunier, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Noir.  I love an extra brut champagne and one that is pinot meunier forward, so this bottle was a must try for me.
A bottle of Champagne Laherte Freres Ultratradition Extra Brut that I truly bought for the label showcasing the beautiful color in a tulip glass beside it.
  • Louis Nicaise Brut Reserve Champagne-This brut reserve is made up of the 3 most common grape varieties, 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% pinot meunier. We enjoyed this with appetizers and it paired well with the all the goodies on the charcuterie board.  
A bottle of Louis Nicaise Brut Reserve Champagne poured into a champagne tulip glass.
  • Louis Roederer Champagne Collection 243-This is a chardonnay and pinot noir blend that we enjoyed at a dinner party where we paired this with fried chicken.
A bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne Collection 243 photographed outside before our amazing fried chicken dinner celebration.
  • Champagne M.Haslinger & Fils-This is a blend of 46% Pinot Noir, 37% pinot meunier and 17% chardonnay and was the perfect aperitif.   
A bottle of Champagne M.Haslinger & Fils on a pedestal next to my favorite Press for Champagne print.

Go visit a local wine shop and chat with them. They are a great resource to find for you high quality champagne at any price range.

What is your favorite bottle of champagne that we need to try at our next celebration?

Whether you are hosting New Year's Eve, Christmas, a Bridal Shower, or Birthday - here are the best champagnes for your celebration! #champagne #party