You can catch me drinking Champagne pretty much all year long, because I consider any occasion—be it a low-key night in with friends to a full-blown cocktail party—a celebration. So on New Year's Eve —Champagne's unofficially official holiday—you can bet I'll be pouring myself (and my parents) glass after glass of the good stuff as we ring in 2019.
Except this year, instead of grabbing any old random bottle off the shelf (I may love bubbly, but I'm no expert) I turned to John Slover, a sommelier (a fancy word for someone that knows a boat-load about wine) and corporate beverage director for Major Food Group, the team behind New York City spots like Dirty French and Carbone. Since I can't spend my entire New Year's Eve budget on Champagne alone (a girl's gotta eat, too!), I asked John for the best bang-for-your-buck bottles, the ones that offer up a supreme tasting experience without any serious sticker shock.
His first pick is the Delamotte Brut NV, which comes from the heart of Chardonnay territory in Champagne, France. "This gives it a crisp acidity and an underlying bedrock of minerality," he says. And although this Champagne is largely made using a Chardonnay grape, "there are small percentages of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for width, fruit, and aromatic charm," he adds. All this works together to create a sip that's light and refreshing yet still packed with a ton of flavor, and can usually be picked up for under $50.
Up next is the Diebolt-Vallois Brut Blanc de Blancs, which is made from 100% Chardonnay in the Côte des Blancs region of Champagne, France. "It is light and fine with expressive intensity and complex aromatics, like peaches, pears, flowers, and toasty brioche," John explains. The best part? You can usually find this bottle for under $30—a steal for such a complex, nicely balanced Champagne.
If none of those sound exciting to you (everyone's taste is different!), John recommends getting familiar with a few names to help you when picking out a bottle. "There are certain importers and wholesalers whose names are synonymous with quality Champagne at value cost, such as Terry Theise, Neal Rosenthal, and Kermit Lynch," he says. "Additionally, there are brands that have a proven track record of quality that make terrific entry level wines, such as Roederer and Taittinger—names to remember."
But no matter which Champagne you end up sipping, the foods you can pair them with are endless—and sometimes unexpected. "Caviar, oysters, and other shellfish are obvious choices," he says, "but pizza is much less obvious and no less perfect."
Of course, the bottle you end up buying will depend on what's available in your area, so I asked the same question (what's the best bang-for-your-buck Champagne?) to another pro: Chris Lauber, the managing director and partner of New York City's Brigitte Bistro Moderne, where he also happens to curate the wine list. His top two picks: Champagne Geoffroy's Expression Premier Cru Brut and La Caravelle's Cuvée Niña Brut NV.
At Champagne Geoffroy, "a father-son team produce vibrant and fruit-forward Champagnes that are aged in cellar for at least three years prior to releasing," Chris says. "Their enthusiasm for top-class winemaking shows through this incredible and value-driven Champagne, with all three Champagne varietals inside the bottle." As a nice bonus, he adds, most people don't know about this remarkably well-priced Champagne (in the high $20s or low $30s online and in-stores), so showing up with it to a party is an easy conversation starter.
As for the Cuvée Niña, "it's a truly delicious Champagne that is based on the principle of value," Chris explains. "It has fine bubbles, classic Champagne notes of brioche on the nose, and an overall ability to pair perfectly with many different items," he adds, which makes it an incredible value bottle (about $38 to $45 in wine stores) for entertaining without the risk of an overdraft fee.
Which bottle of bubbly will you be sipping on this New Year's Eve? Tell us in the comments below!