According to the Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, written by Tom Stevenson and published since 1988 by Dorling Kindersley, the oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, invented by Benedictine Monks in 1531.
The monks bottled the wine before the initial fermentation had ended, and then over a century later, an English scientist and physician furnished the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation.
Champagne is a sparkling wine but is unique in that it’s produced from grapes grown only in the Champagne region of France. The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Champagne varies in price, with some of the finest, such as a bottle of Champagne Krug, 1998 Clos d’ Ambonnay, costing as much as $2,200.
Sharing a good bottle of Champagne with friends and family is not only a great way to celebrate the holidays, but according to scientists, drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders.
Here’s a list of 10 reasonably priced Champagnes for $70 and under, courtesy of Food & Wine’s Lettie Teague.
1) Pol Roger Brut Réserve ($35)
Year in and year out, this medium-bodied, well-balanced wine from a leading small Champagne house is a perennial value and a particular favorite of mine.
2) Ayala Brut Majeur ($40)
Clean and bright, with good acidity—a sprightly aperitif from a long-established Champagne house that has made a big quality rebound in recent years.
3) Bollinger Special Cuvée ($45)
Bollinger’s nonvintage—broad-flavored and toasty—is a true classic.
4) Marc Hébrart Cuvée de Réserve Brut ($50)
This grower, based in the Vallée de la Marne, may not be famous, but his elegant Pinot Noir–dominant wine deserves to be better known.
5) Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve ($55)
The house style of the highly regarded Charles Heidsieck is readily apparently in this wine: complex yet approachable, full-bodied but lively.
6) Gosset Grande Réserve Brut ($55)
There’s excellent weight and richness in this nonvintage from one of the oldest houses in Champagne; it’s a great wine to pair with food.
7) Guy Larmandier Vertus Brut Premier Cru ($55)
A delicate wine from one of the top growers in the Côtes des Blancs region of Champagne.
8) Philipponnat Brut Royale Réserve ($55)
This nonvintage from a highly regarded small Champagne house is a “wow” of a wine and nearly as good as Philipponnat’s famed tête de cuvée, Clos des Goisses.
9) Jean Milan Carte Blanche Brut ($60)
Generous and creamy— a masterpiece of a wine.
10) Alfred Gratien Brut Classique ($70)
A lovely, well-balanced, rather fruity blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier that’s a pure pleasure to drink.