Why is champagne so often reserved for special occasions? Is it because that until the 19th century very little of the sparkling version was produced and half of what was made was lost to exploding bottles? Or perhaps because the real stuff is a little pricey? Whatever the reason, it's a shame. Champagne, one of the most food-friendly of wines, should not be relegated to a toast at the end of a celebration. Still, the holidays are the perfect time to splurge—and splurge we did. Here are our top picks from a wonderful lineup of true champagne.
Comte Audoin de Dampierre, Cuvee des Ambassadeurs, $39.50
This vintage offers classic aromas of yeasty brioche and dried fruit, and is crisp and clean in the mouth, offering bright citrus, soft peach and pear fruit flavors. The bracing acidity on the finish begs to be paired with food. Champagne loves the salty side, so try it with the classic caviar match or fresh fried potato chips. This 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir is priced right and the sparkling choice at French embassies around the world.
Gaston Chiquet Tradition, $42
With its ripe apple and pear aromas and flavors, this hedonisticly rich and amazingly complex effort smells and tastes of terroir-driven wine first, with the bubbles just a marvelous plus. Perhaps its unique flavor profile is because this is a Grower champagne. Most of the region's export production is dominated by very few producers, but a rare few bottles made by small estates that own their own vineyards are finding their way to Boise. Seek them out for what I feel is an incredibly worthwhile sparkling wine experience.
Taittinger Prelude, $77
This one is light and lively on the nose with dry, yeasty aromas of delicate honeysuckle and lemon backed by a hint of mineral. It's fresh and elegant in the mouth, with fine-grained, remarkably persistent bubbles. Sweet stoned fruit flavors are balanced by crisp acidity. The Prelude is made only with grapes from 100-percent-rated grand cru vineyards. This was the top pick for most of the panel. Quality will stand out, but it does have a hefty price tag. Go ahead and splurge—it's the holidays.