In this article I explain how to assess which is the best champagne and list all the very best champagnes in the market as well as my favorite top champagnes. But take all of this with a grain of salt. The best champagne is simply the one that you love the most.
“Which is the best champagne?” I am asked every single time I mention to someone that I run a champagne blog. And it seems that every single time I give the wrong answer by replying “There are so many great champagnes, I love them all, at different times. I cannot really point out a single one.”
Right after my non-reply reply, I usually see eye rolls of boredom, disappointment, even skepticism.
This is why I decided to write this article: to explain a bit more in details and with facts why there is no such thing as THE universal best champagne, but there are indeed a few champagnes that firmly stand at the very top and are recurrently top-rated by champagne and wine critics.
But first, I want to look closer at the semantics of this question to be as precise as possible in answering it.
What does one mean by “best” champagne?
Best for what? Quality? And how do you assess and compare the quality of champagne, or wine in general?
Best for taste? And who decides one tastes better than another? Some of us like light champagnes, some prefer stronger and full-bodied ones.
Best for price? It is true that the more you spend for champagne, the better you get, it is also true that a champagne can be cheaper than another, and yet be more appreciated.
Also, I think there is often an overlap of brand and product when it comes to champagne – in fact to all luxury products I guess.
I often hear champagne lovers saying: “To me, Krug/Salon/Dom Pérignon/Cristal is the best!” Ok, but which cuvée? Each one of these is available in different vintages, and Krug in several very different blends that result in different organoleptic profiles–tough similar in style of course–and varying appreciation by wine critics and consumers. Unless they are so geeky to know the ins and outs of each cuvée or vintage, I realize that they are indeed referring to the style of the house, and to the average quality in the wines of each brand.
We can translate this issue to something more “ordinary” than champagne, like sports cars for example, which are more popular than high-end champagnes.
If I’d ask “What’s the best sports car?” many would probably reply Ferrari, because of its history that is more of a legend nowadays, its strong red identity, its superior performances, and its connotation as the luxury sport car by definition.
But, but, but…
1) Ferrari is not a car, is a car maker. It has produced and produces several models, some more popular than others.
2) Some sports cars produce better overall performances than the fastest, most powerful Ferrari. Just think of the Bugatti Chiron’s 1600 horsepower and top speed of 420kph/261 mph against the Ferrari F12’s 1200 horsepower and 370kph/230mph top speed.
3) I personally find Ferrari cars too ostentatious and find Porsche cars far more elegant, particularly the 911 series.
Quality in Champagne
Let’s now look at quality and taste. In champagne, as in any other wine, its superior organoleptic features define its quality, namely: balance, length, intensity, and complexity.
These result from the use of superior ingredients, and the production process that may or may not include certain steps that add up to the wine.
The quality of the ingredients-the grapes–is paramount to craft astonishing champagnes. On this basis, one could think that using grapes only from grands crus will make a great champagne, but things are not that easy. Indeed, some of the most acclaimed champagnes are made from grands crus only, but some others also include premiers and other crus. At the same time, some champagnes made of grands crus only (which is spelled without complexes on the etiquette) are worked in a way that the result is clearly not grand.
As for price, my experience showed me that yes, in general, the more you pay the better the quality of champagne, but once you approach or exceed the 100 euro mark (retail price in France), not necessarily the most expensive one is the one of the highest quality, though very high of course. Brand recognition comes into play and some less popular houses make impressive champagnes for which they cannot demand the price of a champagne of similar high quality made by a more popular houses. Also, sometimes the non-préstige vintage cuvée of a house can be more appreciated than its préstige vintage cuvée. Interesting hu? Considering that a “normal” vintage champagne costs 1/3 to 1/2 of the préstige version, you have food for thought.
The Best Champagnes of 2020
With all this in mind, what indeed are the best champagnes in the market today, that are consistently recognized as such by critics and consumers? Usually, these are prestige cuvées of the best champagne houses and brands that I have selected for you in this blog. Sometimes, they can be some of their other best cuvées.
But of all these super champagnes, which one is the best? Several contests and competitions with judging panels made of champagne experts answer this question every year. The actual winner varies at every contest and edition, but the top tier very often includes “the usual suspects”: Louis Roederer Cristal, Dom Perignon Vintage, and Krug Grande Cuvée or Krug Vintage.
I list here the latest champagne ranking of MW Essi Avellan. I chose here because I share her preferences. In her Top 10 New Champagne of 2020, she gave the same top rating of 95 points to three champagne: Dom Pérignon Vintage 2010, Krug Grand Cuvée (168th Edition) NV, and Bollinger Grande Année 2012.
The full top 10 list of her best new champagne is:
Dom Pérignon Vintage 2010: 95/100 points
Krug Grand Cuvée (168th Edition) NV: 95/100 points
Bollinger Grande Année 2012: 95/100 points
Charles Heidsieck Millésime 2012: 94/100 points
Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé 2012: 94/100 points
Bollinger PN VZ15: 92/100 points
Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2009: 92/100 points
Philipponnat La Rémissonne 2009: 91/100
Ayala Cuvée No 7 2007: 90/100
Essi also publishes every year since 2010, her top 100 champagne list together with the Fine Champagne Magazine.
In 2010 the title of best champagne was given to Armand de Brignac Brut Gold NV, in 2011 to Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002, in 2012 to Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000, in 2013 to Charles Heidsieck Vintage 2000, in 2014 to Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé 2002, in 2015 to Ruinart Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002, in 2016 to Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle NV, in 2017 to Moët & Chandon MCIII NV, and in 2018 to Dom Pérignon Rosé 2006.
As I mentioned, there are other recurrent competitions and rankings of the best champagnes which will guide you further. Two that I find credible are the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships of Tom Stevenson which gave the title of Supreme World Champion 2019 to Dom Pérignon 2004, and The Champagne Masters competition of The Drinks Business magazine, which gave the title of Champagne Master of 2019 to Champagne Rare 2006.
But don’t take any of them as rules written in stone, but rather as suggestions, because they are far from being objective. They reflect the preferences in style of the tasting panels and are based solely on the cuvées that were supplied to them by the participating houses.
My advice to you is to drink as much good champagne as you can, and find out what is the best champagne for you. As Margaret Henriquez, president and CEO of Krug, puts it: “The best champagne is the one you like and gives you pleasure.”
My List of The 10 Best Champagnes in 2020
I have developed my favorite champagnes list. I based my selection on those champagnes that have impacted me for their amazing taste, but also for the intense emotions they have conveyed the first time I tasted them.
- Krug Grand Cuvée (non-vintage)
Although I like all sorts of champagnes, if I had to pinpoint a general preference, I am a fan of diversity hence of non-vintage champagne, made with a multitude of wines of different grape varieties, crus, and vintages of very different profiles. I like when champagne carries all these inputs in balance, and is aged long enough to develop extra complexity, but never heaviness. Krug Grand Cuvée is to me the epitome of that. It is the ultimate expression of what great champagne is: a majestic blend of many different wines for generosity and finesse in incredible balance. I remember once I was at Krug waiting to meet Eric Lebel, chatting with the PR & Marketing team. We were being served a few glasses of Grand Cuvée on the coffee table and I could already smell the wine and its generosity! If there were one great champagne that I would buy for any occasion, it is this.
2. Dom Pérignon P2 1995
To me Dom Pérignon is refined intellect at its purest state; so elegant, complex and greatly balanced that I can drink it endlessly. I cannot detach it from the personality of its creator (until 2019), Richard Geoffroy, who carries all these characteristics. I had the chance to taste with him all the subsequent vintages, and some older ones, but this vintage is the one that I preferred. In my notes, I wrote “The most expressive DP.”
3. Rare Champagne 1998
I am such a fan of the house, the cuvée, and the Chef de Cave Régis Camus, that in this champagne I find natural pleasure and joy. I still remember when I tasted this champagne for the first time when my palate was still relatively new to champagne; I wrote in my notes, “Feels like being in a bakery” for its seductive pastry notes. I recently had the chance to taste 2007 (Rosé), 2006 (recently awarded the title of Best Champagne of 2020 by The Champagne Master competition), 2002, and 1998 with Régis and although the bread notes are not as important to me nowadays, I for sure find Rare to be among the very best champagnes I tasted. And the more I taste it the more I like it. 1998 remains my favorite so far.
4. Dom Pérignon Rosé 2000
The best rosé champagne that I have ever tasted, period. If you are skeptical about rosé champagne, this one may change your view. But rather than doing it in a club, do it in a peaceful environment with a good friend and some great food of a similar color like a rack of lamb or a cold roast. I had mine with truffle brie cheese while talking cars with Richard Geoffroy.
5. Henriot Cuve 38 (non-vintage)
An amazing blanc de blancs made from four grands crus in the Côte des Blancs (Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize, and Oger) that are blended using the perpetual reserve method for great complexity, generosity, elegance, and consistency. This champagne is the brainchild of the late Joseph Henriot, a man who impressed me for his strong entrepreneurial spirit–very Champenois. That’s a cuvée that I want to taste again and discover more.
6. Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2006
Another superior and mesmerizing blanc de blancs. When I had it, I looked into the glass with astonishment, gulped it down rather than tasted it, and shyly asked Chef de Cave Hervé Deschamps for another glass. Not very elegant of me, but it was really that good.
7. Deutz Amour de Deutz 2008
It took me some time to fall under the charm of this acclaimed blanc de blancs, brainchild of President Fabrice Rosset. In the past, I preferred its “brother” William Deutz, but the last time I had it, it caught me by surprise. I will buy and drink more of it for sure.
8. De Venoge Louis XV 2006
A champagne of refinement and complexity, great freshness, and vinosity, it remains approachable and joyful, just like President Gilles de la Bassetière. A classy wine in an unusual bottle, also available in a much-acclaimed rosé version. I can’t wait to discover the older 1996 and 1995 vintages.
9. Drappier Millésime Exception 1998
This is not their prestige cuvée, called Grande Sendrée, but their vintage champagne. We were having lunch and talking about wine and life with Michel Drappier when he ordered a bottle. Generous and complex, I could feel the je ne sais quoi of the Aube and of Drappier. It made our lunch very long and lively; we chatted about everything the whole afternoon (with more champagnes of course).
10. Henri Giraud Code Noir (non-vintage)
Although their top cuvée is Aÿ Grand Cru (non-vintage), if you want to experience the power, elegance, and pleasure that pinot noirs from Aÿ can deliver, with its distinctive and pleasant salinity, that’s the champagne to try. The day after I had it, as I was transcribing the audio of the interview with Sébastien Le Golvet, I felt again the salinity on my palate. Power of suggestion, and of Aÿ I suppose.
I include two additional prestige cuvées that I very much enjoy and that are two very different interpretations of the concept of top champagne, and both enjoy spectacular success.
11. Louis Roederer Cristal 2008
For many, the best champagne in the market. It has intensity, elegance, precision, and plenty of taste. But I think that it requires a sensitive and very trained palate to fully grasp all its facets. Given the winemaking philosophy of this house and the obsession of Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon for quality viticulture, this is the ultimate grower’s champagne, if you will.
12. Armand de Brignac Brut Gold (non-vintage)
Celebrated by many for it is Jay-Z’s champagne, appreciated by some for its quality, disregarded by others for its bling connotation, it is a controversial champagne of great fame. The first time I had it, years ago, I liked it very much and so did the champagne aficionado next to me. We look at each other with surprise, and smiled. I had it again recently and it was just so good! Uncomplicated great taste and pleasure. In my view, what champagne is meant to convey.
But there are so many beautiful champagnes, many of which are more affordable than prestige cuvées, that it would be a pity to just focus on these. Again, taste as much as you can, from as many producers as you can, of different styles, to identify your preferences, while training your palate. It will be a beautiful journey of discovery, pleasure, and nice surprises.
Some time ago I took a friend and friend of his for aperitivo at a bistro in Rome called Sorpasso. The place is popular for the quality of its cold cuts and cheeses, for its wines and cocktails, and because it’s a hip place. The champagne list is solid and includes selected Champagne houses and quality growers.
As we were having some champagne, my friend mentioned to his friend about my blog, and voilà, he asked me “which is the best champagne?”
I looked at him, paused as I saw an opening here, and asked: “Which one do you prefer?” He mentioned a very popular brand (which I love too), after which I said: “That’s the best one actually!”
He was happy, I was happy, no eye rolls surfaced, we smiled, raised our glasses and cheered “Salute!”