21 Champagnes for all budgets, tastes and occasions

Having conducted an extensive tasting of all major Champagne styles from a broad range of producers from famous brands to little-known labels in September this year, we bring you a rundown of the best recommendations for value, blanc de blancs, vintage, rosé and prestige cuvées, among other categories of this fine French fizz.

As you can see from the list of top-performing Champagnes below, the highlighted bottles have been ordered according to type, starting with two Champagnes that I’ve picked out for their impressive quality-to-price ratio. Importantly, all the Champagnes below were rated by myself and two other Master of Wine judges in a professional setting, using high-quality glassware, and, crucially, all the assessments were done ‘blind’, with the tasters only aware of the price band and broad style of the sample in front of them. This removed the risk of there being any prejudicial influence from knowing the name of the producer. One final point, because the selection below was generated by considering the top-performers from this years Champagne Masters, to feature in the list below you had to be part of the competition. If you would like to enter next year, giving you the chance to feature online and in print, then please email Sophie Raichura at sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com, or you can find out more about the tasting at the bottom of this list.

Best for value

Bearing in mind that much Champagne is bought in batches for celebrations, finding a good deal is key. While many are tempted to search long and hard for a discount on a famous branded bottle, and then buy in large quantities, such an approach can be limiting – you may have to compromise if you preferred label is not on offer, or you may struggle to acquire the stocks you require. And in any case, there is great-value Champagne available, even when sold at full price, it just requires you to look beyond the grandes marques, and consider less famous names. If you are happy to stray from the well-known, then I have two options that I recommend highly, both of which can be yours for around £30 a bottle, while tasting as good as fizz costing 50% more.

These are both grower-cooperative Champagne brands, which mean that they have been made by group of growers blending the product of their collective vineyards to sell under one brand. There are plenty of them in Champagne, but my top two best-value sources are Champagne Castelnau and Champagne Palmer & Co. I recommend highly their vintage offerings, and blanc de blancs, but below I have picked out their Brut NV offerings.

Champagne Castelnau, Brut Reserve (NV)

  • Grape(s): Chardonnay (40%), Pinot Meunier (40%), Pinot Noir (20%)
  • Price (UK): £29.50 (Through The Wine Society)
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

This was the only fizz in 2020’s Champagne Masters to get a Gold medal in the sub £30 price band, which it just squeezed into with a headline price of £29.50 per bottle (although it’s a sub £25 bargain if bought by the case in the UK). Even at this low price by Champagne standards you get an amazing amount of flavour, with aged notes of honey and beeswax, along with a lovely hazelnut character, a result of the fact that this Champagne spends on average five years ageing in contact with its lees. While it’s quite rich in style, it does have a lemon zest edge, making it a refreshing aperitif.

Champagne Palmer & Co, Brut Réserve (NV)

Palmer & Co is another great grower-cooperative for those in the know, and famous for a particular style of smoky, fresh fizz, with aromas of freshly grilled nuts mixed with citrus zest. Although this Brut Réserve has a higher headline price than the one from Castelnau, and hence the Palmer fizz was judged in this year’s Champagne Masters with samples priced from £30-50, I have since found it for sale in the UK for an incredible £27.99. It really is a bargain at this price, with a wonderful combination of flavours from creamy coffee to roasted hazelnuts, tangy lemon and baked apple, providing you with a layered, bright, dry, nutty style of fizz.

Best for bone-dry Champagne

Whether it’s for the intense refreshment, or the marginally reduced calorie content, some Champagne drinkers insist on something bone dry. While most Champagne today has very low levels of sugar in it, if you drop that figure to almost nothing, then this fine French fizz can take on a hard sensation, removing some of the creamy-textured pleasure of drinking top sparkling. However, there are producers who have managed to craft a Champagne with almost no sugar that is still an appealing drink, and such names range from Louis Roederer to Pol Roger, Philipponnat to Laurent-Perrier.

But from this year’s Champagne Masters, where everything was tasted ‘blind’, I have picked out two cuvées that proved that it’s possible to create a delicious fizz with almost no added sweetness.

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, Essentiel, Extra Brut

A few year’s ago, Piper-Heidsieck added an Extra-Brut to its range with 5g/l of sugar, around half that found in your standard Brut NV Champagne. But in a bid to make sure the fizz didn’t taste tart, it gave the blend an extra 18 months lees-ageing time to impart additional nutty richness, and the result is an almost uncompromised Champagne – it just finishes a touch sharper than its Brut sibling. So expect something with plenty of toasted brioche and fresh pear and ripe lemon fruit, along with a clean, zesty, chalky, and yes, very dry aftertaste.

Champagne Brimoncourt, Extra Brut, Grand Cru

Brimoncourt is an impressive newcomer to the world of long-established Champagne brands, and one of its best cuvées is this extra brut. With almost no dosage at all  – it has just 2g/l of sugar – it is an extremely dry Champagne, but because of the great ‘grand cru’ vineyards used to source the grapes, it has plenty of fruity richness to compensate for the lack of sweetness. In terms of taste, it’s pristine, with masses of just-sliced lemon fruit, and appealing notes of chalk dust and freshly-roasted coffee, along with a bright, bone-dry finish.

Best for sweeter style Champagne

With the launch in 2011 of Moët Ice Imperial, a demi-sec Champagne with more than 45g/l, designed for serving over ice, sweet fizz has become cool, and, as a result, a raft of newcomers have swelled the options for those who desire something a bit fuller. Among those are Lanson’s White Label Sec (32g/l) and Veuve Clicquot’s Rich, a doux style of Champagne launched in 2016 with a dosage of 60g/l, specifically created for cocktails.

When it came to this year’s Champagne Masters, however, there were two other producers that scored brilliantly with sweeter offerings. One was a demi-sec from Piper-Heidsieck and the other a sec rosé from Champagne Collet – a brand from a quality-minded cooperative grower like Palmer and Castelnau mentioned above.

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, Cuvée Sublime (Demi-sec, 35g/l)

The standout sweeter sample in this year’s Champagne Masters was from Piper-Heidsieck. Called Cuvée Sublime, it has a dosage of 35g/l, and a pleasing combination of flavours, from yellow fruit, creamy coffee and grilled nuts, while it finishes with a soft, gently candied character on the finish, making it an indulgent apéritif or a fantastic accompaniment to fruit-based puddings.

Champagne Collet, Rosé Dry Collection Privée (Sec, 25g/l)

  • Grape(s): Pinot Noir (50%), Chardonnay: (40%) Pinot Meunier (10%),
  • Price (UK): £32-40 (£32 with allaboutwine.co.uk)
  • Medal: Silver – The Champagne Masters 2020

This ‘sec’ rosé from grower-cooperative Champagne Collet was an exciting sweeter find in this year’s Champagne Masters, gaining high scores from all the judges for its mix of flavours from candied crushed strawberry to brioche, with a touch of lemon zest to refresh. It would make a fun finale to any meal, or a richer style of serious pink fizz.

Best for blanc de noirs

One niche aspect to the Champagne offer that appears to be on the rise is blanc de noirs, which are those blends made as white wines, but using only with red grapes. And it seems as though more producers are embracing the style, with a number of recent launches. For example, Champagne Gosset created a Blanc de Meunier to signify the fact it is not just made with 100% red grapes, but only with Pinot Meunier, while this year, Pommery has unveiled an Apanage Blanc de Noirs to complement its Blanc de Blancs, and Bollinger, the brand behind one of the rarest and priciest Blanc de Noirs of all – Vieilles Vignes Françaises – has this year added a baby brother to this legendary cuvée, called PN VZ15 (standing for Pinot Noir, Verzenay, 2015).

From this year’s Champagne Masters, we had two excellent examples, both of which provided a relatively affordable chance to try the style.

G.H. Mumm, RSRV Blanc de Noirs 2012, Brut

  • Grape(s): Pinot Noir (100%)
  • Price (UK): Around £40
  • Medal: Silver – The Champagne Masters 2020

Taking Blanc de Noirs more mainstream is a brand such as Mumm, which owns 170ha of Pinot vineyards in the Montagne de Reims, covering Grand Cru sites such as Aÿ, Bouzy and Ambonnay. Under it’s RSRV label – a shortening of ReSeRVe – for more niche Champagnes in the Mumm stable, it has a brilliant 2012 vintage Blanc de Noirs expression with plenty of fresh apple fruit, pastry and chalk that sells for just under £40.

Champagne Beaumont des Crayères, Grand Meunier NV, Extra Brut

  • Grape(s): Pinot Meunier (100%)
  • Price (UK): Around £30
  • Medal: Silver – The Champagne Masters 2020

Also impressing in this year’s Masters was a pure Pinot Meunier from grower-cooperative Beaumont des Crayères, which offers a different but still delicious experience to the Mumm Pinot Noir. The Beaumont fizz has ripe, soft fruit flavours and a honeyed edge, but, being extra brut, a fresh, very dry finish.

Best for blanc de blancs

Without considering those prestige cuvées based on purely Chardonnay, such as Taittinger’s reliably excellent Comtes de Champagne, or the always delicious Amour de Deutz from Champagne Deutz, the vintage and NV sector of blanc de blancs offers a creamy-crisp style of fizz that’s understandably popular.

A consistent level of greatness was seen in this year’s Champagne Masters, with standouts from Charles Heidsieck and Collet. At the top in terms of average scores was Mumm, a house better known for the quality of its Pinots, but also the source of a fantastic pure Chardonnay fizz from the Cramant Grand Cru, newly labelled RSRV (an abbreviation for ‘reserve’). Closely following this, however, was Champagne Henriot.

G.H. Mumm, RSRV Blanc de Blancs 2014, Brut

  • Grape(s): Chardonnay (100%)
  • Price (UK): Around £40
  • Medal: Master – The Champagne Masters 2020

This is a delicious, benchmark, relatively affordable vintage blanc de blancs mixing flavours of citrus, hazelnuts and chalk, with a lingering, zesty finish.

Champagne Henriot, Blanc de Blancs NV, Brut

  • Grape(s): Chardonnay (100%)
  • Price (UK): Around £54
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

A wonderful pure Chardonnay fizz with creamy cappuccino characters, along with roasted nuts and a long, refreshing lemon-zest finish. A benchmark non-vintage blanc de blancs.

Best for vintage Champagne

As for the top picks from this year’s Champagne Masters, both Piper Heidsieck and Palmer offer a fantastic chance to enjoy all the wonders of the 2012 vintage at a lovely stage in its development, while another fizz from this same harvest that wowed the judges in 2020 was from Charles Heidsieck. While the results from the competition this year highlighted the quality of these aforementioned houses, it also shone a light on the qualities of the far-from-easy 2012 harvest, which is undoubtedly a vintage that’s drinking beautifully now, although, should you like a more evolved, honeyed style of fizz, certainly has the potential for cellaring too.

Champagne Charles Heidsieck, Vintage 2012, Brut

  • Grape(s): Pinot Noir (60%), Chardonnay (40%)
  • Price (UK): £75-100 (cheapest at Bernabei.co.uk)
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

A brilliant single-harvest fizz at a lovely stage for drinking right now with flavours of baked apple, grilled nuts, and roasted coffee, with a tangy, chalky, dry, long finish.

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, Vintage 2012, Brut

This must be one of the best-value expressions of 2012 on the market today, with so many layers of lovely, lively flavours, from creamy cappuccino to hazelnuts, ripe apple to tangy citrus, and a taut character to the fizz that makes every sip so refreshing.

Best prestige cuvées

While Champagne’s range-topping products factor in a margin for the name, the rarity factor and the pretty packaging, the base product is a fantastic offer. I’m constantly impressed at the standard and pleasure provided by Dom Pérignon, for example, considering that the production level runs into the millions of bottles. Comtes de Champagne from Taittinger is another brilliant, reliable option. But, from the Champagne Masters tastings, the standout has been Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare – which has now been hived off as, in effect, a house in its own right, and hence today it is labelled simply as ‘Rare’. Both its 2006 blanc and 2008 Rosé are remarkable, and were the two highest-scoring samples of this year’s competition. But others also wowed, such as Champagne Deutz’s Amour de Deutz, Pommery’s Cuvée Louise, Mumm’s Cuvée R Lalou, and Palmes d’Or from Nicolas Feuillatte. It was also a delight to be able to taste a sample – still commercially available – of the 2002 vintage under the Noble Cuvée label from Lanson. And a surprise to the judges, earning some of the highest scores of the day, was a top-end blend from Henriot, Cuvée Hemera.

Champagne Henriot, Cuvée Hemera 2006, Extra Brut

  • Grape(s): Pinot Noir (50%), Chardonnay (50%)
  • Price (UK): Around £180
  • Medal: Master – The Champagne Masters 2020

Newcomer to the prestige cuvée scene, Henriot’s Cuvée Herema was launched in 2018 with the 2005 vintage, and this follow-up version from the 2006 vintage was one of the rarely-awarded ‘Masters’ in this year’s Champagne Masters – the ultimate accolade of the competition. It won uniform acclaim from the judges for its wonderful combination of richness and freshness, mixing bright, citrus and chalky characters with ripe apple and apricot, along with roasted coffee and hazelnuts. Delicious, very dry, but with concentration at its core.

Rare 2006

  • Grapes: 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir
  • Price (UK): £190
  • Medal: Master – The Champagne Masters 2020

If you look at all the aggregated and averaged scores from across the judges in this year’s Champagne Masters, which saw almost 200 bottles sampled over two days, then this is the best Champagne of 2020. Gaining a score of 96 out of 100, it was the highest scoring sample of the day, and for good reason. It’s a remarkable fizz, with layers of flavour from ripe yellow fruit to citrus zest, pastry, and roasted nuts, along with a touch of cocoa, ginger and coffee. And while it has a generous, creamy-texture, it remains fresh, with a tangy orange peel note on the finish. It’s also drinking wonderfully now, but, with such concentration and structure, it undoubtedly has the potential to develop greater complex with time in the cellar.

Best for rosé

The stylistic range of rosé Champagne is broad, with, in my view, three main styles on offer: the rich, mature and wine-like; the fresh berry-scented and youthful; or the toast-and-chalk type that tastes little different from its blanc counterpart. Such differences may explain the greater brand loyalty seen for pink fizz than for blanc Champagne.

Famous for their rosés are Laurent-Perrier and Billecart-Salmon, which are both rightly highly-rated for quality. In this year’s Champagne Masters, top performers included the excellent Rare Rosé, but if you consider that more as a prestige cuvée than a pink Champagne, then Charles Heidsieck and Henriot are brilliant sources of this colour of fizz, and from a single harvest.

And at a more affordable end of the sub-category, and made in a non-vintage style, is Mumm’s Rosé Foujita, with a lovely combination of brioche and red berry fruit – another impressive option from its RSRV line.

Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve, Brut

  • Grapes: 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier
  • Price: £60
  • Medal: Master – The Champagne Masters 2020

Probably most closely representing the more wine-like style of rosé I mention above, this is a rich rosé Champagne with plenty of depth, incorporating layers of flavour from rhubarb to ripe red apple, roasted notes of coffee and toast, and a hint of creamy vanilla, before ending with a touch of chalky grip and lemon zest. A delicious and versatile fizz that could suit sipping on its own or with a wide range of dishes.

G.H. Mumm, RSRV Rosé Foujita, Brut

  • Grapes: 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay
  • Price: £40
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

Next, exemplifying another style of pink Champagne – the fresh, vibrant berry-type – this is a clean, bright, but super fruity fizz, with strong flavours of ripe crushed strawberries, and then a refreshing citrus finish, with a hint of bread and chalk too.

Champagne Henriot, 2012, Rosé, Brut

  • Grapes: 55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir
  • Price: £90
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

Finally, representing a rosé Champagne style that, despite its colour, smells and tastes little different to a fine blanc fizz, is this delicious 2012 vintage pink sparkling from Henriot. While it does show a hint of rhubarb and red apple from the red wine used to give this fizz its colour, the primary flavours are peach, ripe orange and lemon zest, hazelnuts and toast, along with a touch of chalk on the finish – all the hallmarks of fine blanc, Chardonnay-dominant Champagne.

Best for Brut NV Champagne

As for who is making great Brut NV today, as mentioned at the outset, when it comes to everyday low-priced, delicious options, then you might want to look to co-operative brands Castelnau and Palmer.

However, among the famous labels, Piper-Heidsieck is on song, with toast, honey, and fresh fruit in its cuvée. Others of note are Pommery and Henriot. And, don’t think that scale and quality are mutually exclusive, with Moët’s Brut Imperial, the world’s best-selling Champagne, emerging as one of the top-scorers of this year’s Masters, wowing for its blend of characters, from roasted nuts to ripe apple and freshly-ground coffee.

Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Apanage Brut NV

  • Grapes: 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir
  • Price (UK): £35-40
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

Quite a mature and full style of Champagne with notes of apple compote, bread, beeswax and nuts, with some marzipan and pastry, and a zesty finish.

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut NV

  • Grapes: 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay,
  • Price (UK): £30-35
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

A wonderfully fresh, quite taut style of fizz with lots of hazelnut and coffee bean characters, and lingering flavours of lemon and chalk, and a touch of toast on the finish.

Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain NV

  • Grapes: 45% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier,
  • Price (UK): £40-45
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

A delicious Brut NV mixing bright, tangy lemon with some juicy grapefruit, before revealing other appealing, persistent flavours, from roasted nuts to chalk.

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV

  • Grapes: 34% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Meunier,
  • Price (UK): £35-40
  • Medal: Gold – The Champagne Masters 2020

A creamy-textured Champagne with ripe apple and lemon, along with notes of macadamia nuts and toast, with a clean, fresh, and long finish.

ABOUT THE COMPETITION

The Champagne Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions like Rioja and Tuscany. The competition is exclusively for Champagne, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Champagne Master.

The Champagnes were judged on 4-5 September by Patrick Schmitt MW, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW and Simon Field MW.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

A full report on all the medallists can be read in 2020’s Champagne Report by the drinks business, which can be ordered here, in either print or digital form, or by emailing subscriptions@thedrinksbusiness.com

Read more 

THIS IS OUR BEST CHAMPAGNE OF 2020

THIS YEAR’S BEST CHAMPAGNE FOR UNDER £30 REVEALED

2 Responses to “21 Champagnes for all budgets, tastes and occasions”

  1. Ravi Singh says:

    Think the Pommery Apanage But NV grape percentages need to be restated- ‘ Grapes: 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir’ that’s a 110% in total!

  2. Patrick Schmitt says:

    Thank you very much for pointing out, and now corrected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletters