Top 10 Champagnes for the Holidays

the drunken cyclist
By Jeffrey M. Kralik, Ph.D.  |  –

Every year at this time I hear it, and I bristle. It drives me absolutely crazy, and for years I fought it down to the last fiber of my being (or at least to the last bubble of the bottle). It seems like just about everyone in the wine industry – and beyond – considers these next couple of weeks to be “Champagne Season.”

While I do not doubt that more than 50% of champagne consumption in the U.S. occurs in the last two months of the calendar year, I think that is, well, stupid. As I have mentioned countless times, I consider champagne to be the most versatile of all wines. As such, it should be consumed at virtually any (and every) meal and all year long.

And I espouse that dictum to the fullest.

Regardless, I have come to accept that at least 50% of the population in the U.S. is forever doomed to make poor decisions, so why should this be any different?

This year, I decided to conduct a little experiment, of sorts. I thought I would track down the ten top-selling champagnes, by cases sold, in the U.S. and taste them blind to determine which among them was actually the “best.”

The two top-selling Champagnes.

Veuve Clicquot (647k cases):

Retail $50. Fruity, yeasty, good sparkle, lengthy finish. Veuve gets a bad rap because of its presence on top of the best-selling list and that is dumb. Excellent. 92 Points.

Moët & Chandon Impérial (594k cases):

Retail $45. Slightly golden in the glass with oodles of baked bread yeastiness and subtle citrus notes. The palate is tart, balanced and loaded with a delicate sparkle. Excellent. 90 Points.

After the top two behemoths, there is a huge drop-off when it comes to sales in the U.S.

Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut

(67k cases):

Retail $45. Plenty of yeasty and nutty notes along with tree fruit aromas on the nose, mostly pear. The palate exhibits plenty of finesse, lovely nutty flavors and a good balance of acidity with a dash of sweetness. Very Good. 89 Points.

Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut

(52k cases):

Retail $50. A floral quality on the nose, with under-baked bread and freshly grated lemon grind. The palate is tart and yeasty with a vibrant sparkle, and the finish is slightly above average. Excellent. 90 Points.

Piper-Heidsieck (45k cases):

Retail $45. Rich, yeasty (more so than fruity), and nutty, this really is right in my wheelhouse as it is a fuller-bodied champagne. Healthy, fine sparkle, with a lengthy, nutty finish. Delicious. Excellent. 92 Points.

Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive (60k cases):

Retail $40. Yellow, almost gold in the glass with a dirty, flinty aspect on the nose with a bit of red berry fruit, some yeastiness and celery root. Very Good. 87 Points.

Mumm Cordon Rouge (50k cases):

Pale straw with perhaps a slight golden tint. The nose here is slightly richer with more peach than pear and not really any citrus on the nose. But there is plenty of fresh-baked croissant goodness here. Rich, deep, fantastic. Excellent. 91 Points.

Taittinger Brut Réserve La Française (34k  cases in 2020):

Retail $50. Pale straw in the glass with all kinds of yeasty goodness, slightly obscuring the pear and golden apple fruit with a twist of lemon rind on the nose. Excellent. 91 Points.

The final two I added to the blind tasting for separate reasons. The Kirkland (i.e., Costco) champagne is a bargain at $20 and widely popular among budget-conscious wine writers and consumers alike. The second, Mailly Grand Cru, is another co-op, but it is much smaller than Nicolas Feuillatte. It is, however, our favorite champagne, so much so that we named our dog Mailly.

Kirkland Signature:

Retail $20. Yeasty and ripe peach make for a very pleasant nose, leading to a surprisingly fruity palate, again, ripe peach, good sparkle and acidity. For twenty bucks? A solid champagne. Very Good. 88 Points.

Mailly Grand Cru Brut Réserve:

Retail $42. Another pale straw with a yellow tint, this is far more citrus than the first two in this flight, with a floral aspect and plenty of yeastiness here too. Nutty, really nutty on the palate, fantastic. Excellent. 93 Points.

Need help with wine? Contact me: