Skip to main content
Guides

The Insider’s Guide to Buying Champagne

How to make the most of this classic sparkling wine region

Vicki Denig By March 25, 2022
Champagne street and wine scene
Photo of street in Reims, France by Southtownboy/iStock. Photo of Champagne by Igor Klimov/Shutterstock.

While fine sparkling wines are produced across the world, none have managed to achieve the prestige of Champagne. Located due east of Paris, this French sparkling wine region is the home of the world’s reference sparkling wines, as well as some of the most talented winemakers in the world. However, while the region may seem simple to navigate on the surface, it’s more intricate than it looks.

First and foremost, understanding the region’s subzones, as well as the difference between House and Grower Champagne, is key. Beyond that, diving into lesser-known grape varieties is also worth doing. Curious to learn more? Dive into our regional explainer, plus six producers to explore now. 

Quick Facts

  • Location: northeastern France.
  • Size: more than 84,000 acres. 
  • Main grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier.
  • Benchmark producers:
    • Houses: Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Taittinger, Laurent-Perrier.
    • Grower Champagne: Jacques Selosse, Pascal Agrapart, Jérôme Prévost.

Where is Champagne?

Champagne is a wine-producing region located in northeastern France, about 100 miles east of Paris. 

What kind of wine is made in Champagne?

Champagne is best known for its traditional method sparkling wine, produced in both white and rosé formats. Miniscule amounts of still white and red wines are also produced in the region but in extremely small quantities. 

How is Champagne made?

Grapes are picked early, to ensure the acidity is high, and their juice fermented. The wine that results is called the base wine, which is typically a highly acidic wine. Base wines from different vineyards, or even different years, are blended into a cuvée and bottled. Yeast and sugar are added, the bottle is sealed with a crown cap, and a secondary fermentation begins. This second fermentation traps carbon dioxide in the wine. After aging, the crown cap is taken off, and the yeast lees are removed.

This winemaking process is called méthode champenoise, which is a protected term. Sparkling wines elsewhere made using this method are said to be made by traditional method or méthode traditionnelle.

What are the main grape varieties of Champagne?

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier are the three main grape varieties used in Champagne production. The lesser-known varieties of Arbane, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Petit Meslier are also cultivated and permitted within the region. 

What is the difference between a Champagne House and Grower Champagne?

Think of the biggest and most popular names within Champagne — Moët et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and so on. These are considered Champagne houses. Contrary to smaller grower estates, these larger houses source grapes from a number of vineyard sites across numerous growing regions. Grower Champagnes, on the other hand, work exclusively with estate-grown fruit, much of which comes from smaller, single-vineyard sites centered around one region. Grower Champagne producers tend to be smaller in size, produce less wine, and craft more artisanal, terroir-focused wines; houses generally, but not always, focus on larger volume production and more uniform, widely available cuvées. 

What are the subregions of Champagne?

Champagne’s five main sub regions are the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, and the Côte des Bars, otherwise known as the Aube. 

Who are the benchmark producers of Champagne? 

In the realm of Champagne houses, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Taittinger, and Laurent-Perrier are amongst some of the biggest benchmark producers. For Grower Champagne, many deem Jacques Selosse, Pascal Agrapart, and Jérôme Prévost as three of the leading figures. 

6 Champagne producers to buy now:

Dhondt-Grellet (Côte des Blancs) 

Back in 1986, Eric Dhondt and Edith Grellet made the decision to stop selling their fruit to négociants and began vinifying their own wines under the Dhondt-Grellet label. Today, their dynamic and forward-thinking son Adrien is at the helm of the estate. Adrien’s passion for organic and biodynamic farming, as well as his meticulous attention to detail and curiosity in the cellar, has brought the family’s wines to new heights over the past few years. 

Bottle of Dhondt-Grellet Dans Un Premier Temps Champagne Brut NV

Dhondt-Grellet Dans Un Premier Temps Champagne Brut NV (~$58)

Dhondt-Grellet’s entry-level wine is widely available now, though likely not to be in a few years due to its soaring popularity. Produced in a traditional Brut style, Adrien crafts this wine from fruit in all three villages that he farms plots in — Sézanne, Cuis, and Avenay Val d’Or — and uses all three of Champagne’s signature varieties. 

Bottle of Dhondt Grellet, Le Bateau Vieilles Vigne Extra Brut Grand Cru, Cramant

Dhondt-Grellet Le Bateau Cramant Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Extra Brut 2015 (~$250)

For a deeper dive into Adrien’s impeccable winemaking talent, look to the estate’s Le Bateau cuvée. Produced from vines more than 70 years old in one of the best lieux-dits of Cramant, the wine is made exclusively in oak and with native yeasts, then spends eight months on the lees in barrel prior to three to four years of aging in bottle.

Bérêche & Fils (Montagne de Reims)

In just a few short years, Raphaël Bérêche has soared to the top of the unofficial cult Grower Champagne list. Located in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, Bérêche is shaking things up in both the vineyard and the cellar — and the resulting wines are out of this world. Bérêche brings a minimal intervention mentality to both farming and vinification. In the vines, all farming is done using biodynamic principles. The gravity-flow cellar is home to a plethora of small and large wooden vessels, in which all of the wines are aged prior to bottling. The Bérêche family also implements a solera aging system, which dates back to 1985, and all bottles are hand disgorged by one of the family members prior to release. 

Bottle of Bérêche & Fils Champagne Brut Reserve NV

Bérêche & Fils Champagne Brut Reserve NV (~$60)

Bérêche’s entry-level is anything but such. The base year of the wine comprises 70% of the cuvée, with the remainder pounded out with reserve wine. Similar to Dhondt-Grellet, each of the three main grape varieties of Champagne are used, so as to create a harmonious, overarching view of the region. 

Bottle of Bérêche & Fils Campania Remensis Champagne Rosé NV

Bérêche & Fils Campania Remensis Champagne Rosé NV (~$95)

Uniquely, one of the Bérêche’s most sought-after cuvées is their ethereal rosé, Campania Remensis. Crafted from two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, the wine’s delicate and red-fruited palate promises to satisfy a variety of palate preferences. 

Pierre Péters (Côte des Blancs) 

Blanc de Blancs fans, listen up. If Pierre Péters’ wines aren’t yet on your radar, they absolutely need to be. Located in the heart of the Côte des Blancs, Péters farms 45 acres of vines dedicated exclusively to Chardonnay across some of the region’s top sites, including the Grands Crus of Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Oger, and Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger. Now spearheaded by fourth-generation Rodolphe Péters, the house style remains mineral-driven, racy, and acid-focused, characterized by an undeniable structure meant to withstand long hauls in the cellar. 

Bottle of Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs NV

Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (~$50)

Fruit for Péters’ Cuvée de Réserve Brut comes from four Grand Cru sites and sees partial malolactic fermentation prior to 24 months of aging on the lees. The wine is chalky and fruit-driven, marked by a long, toast-tinged finish. 

Bottle of Pierre Péters Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons Champagne Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs NV

Pierre Péters Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons Champagne Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (~$350)

For something with a bit more weight, look no further than Péters’ ‘Cuvée Spéciale’ Les Chétillons Brut, which comes exclusively from the Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru and ages for an impressive 70-plus months prior to release.

Champagne Savart (Montagne de Reims) 

Savart wines have become treasured commodities by industry folk and Champagne lovers alike, and not just because of their small quantities. This terroir-focused, meticulously crafted lineup of 12 wines comes from just 10 acres of vineyards scattered across the Montagne de Reims. Frederic Savart describes his winery as “a laboratory of terroirs,” as well as himself as a “creator of cuvées.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Frédéric Savart (@champagnesavart)

Bottle of L’Ouverture Premier Cru Champagne Blanc de Noirs NV

L’Ouverture Premier Cru Champagne Blanc de Noirs NV (~$54)

One of Savart’s more accessible cuvées is their non-vintage bottling, L’Ouverture. Crafted entirely from Pinot Noir from the village of Ecueil, the wine is vinified half in barrel and half in steel and always represents equal parts of three vintages. Like Péters, Savart prefers to age his wines under cork over crown cap prior to bottling. 

Bottle of Savart Bulle de Rosé Champagne Premier Cru NV

Savart Bulle de Rosé Champagne Premier Cru NV (~$83)

Savart’s Bulle de Rosé is also a hit year in and year out, crafted mostly, 78%, from Pinot Noir also farmed in Ecueil. Should the opportunity arise to grab one of Savart’s most exclusive cuvées, Expression, we recommend jumping. Crafted from 100% old-vine Pinot Noir, the wine ages for 10 months on the lees prior to bottling and is always a single vintage, zero dosage cuvée. The price is hefty, though at just 400 bottles produced, the exclusivity — and insane taste — factor is real. 

Jacques Lassaigne (Aube)

Natural wine is hard to find in Champagne, though Jacques Lassaigne is defying all odds. His 12 acres of vines are located in the southerly Côte des Bars/Aube region and are dedicated entirely to Chardonnay, which is quite rare, considering the area is often known for its Pinot Meunier. However, his unique terroir in Montgueux is quite similar to that of Le Mesnil, found more north in the Champagne region. Lassaigne wines are known for their freshness and round, fruit-driven character. 

Bottle of Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Champagne Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV

Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Champagne Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV (~$55)

Les Vignes de Montgueux is the estate’s flagship wine and an excellent gateway into the Lassaigne style. Expect refined, citrus-driven flavors and ample amounts of freshness. Fruit comes from seven to nine parcels — depending on the vintage — and three to four successive vintages so as to create a consistent and refreshing palate. 

Bottle of Jacques Lassaigne Le Cotet Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV

Jacques Lassaigne Le Cotet Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV (~$80)

For a richer, more weighty Blanc de Blancs, look no further than the lightly dosed Le Cotet which hails from vines of 50-plus years in age. Fruit for this wine comes from a single-vineyard site rooted in chalky hillsides due east of the site where fruit for the Montgueux cuvée comes from. Expect a citrusy, mineral-laden wine with texture and finesse. 

Bollinger (Vallée de la Marne) 

Although the movement for Grower Champagne is strong, there are always a few houses that keep us coming back for more — and Bollinger is no exception. Although the founding family’s roots date back to the 15th century, the estate was first established in 1829, though has seen its most recent modernization under the reign of Claude d’Hautefeuille and Christian Bizot during the 1970s. The Bollinger house style is textured, fruit-forward, and consistent, with Pinot Noir dominating 60% of all of the estate’s wines. 

Bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne Brut NV

Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne Brut NV (~$50)

Bollinger’s Special Cuvée is an excellent starting point for diving into what the estate is all about. Eighty-five percent of the wine comes from fruit sourced from premiers and grands crus vineyard sites and is cellar aged for more than twice the standard time designated by the appellation. Dosage clocks in around 7 to 8 grams per liter, making it an all-around crowd-pleasing choice. 

Bottle of Bollinger La Grande Année Champagne 2012

Bollinger La Grande Année Champagne 2012 (~$135)

For a level up, check out the estate’s La Grande Année vintage cuvée, produced from 19 crus and vinified entirely in oak prior to sur lie aging in bottle. La Grande Année is produced from a Pinot Noir-dominant blend and is only made during exceptional years. The wine is riddled and disgorged by hand, then bottled with a moderate 8 g/L of dosage.