For years, Champagne houses have done a brilliant job convincing us that Champagne is synonymous with celebration. Either I'm entirely brainwashed or it's really true: Bubbles are festive. The sound of that cork popping or, if the bottle is opened properly, quietly sighing, is the signal for the festivities to begin. The toasts, the prickle of the bubbles, the flutes -- it's all part of the allure. And whether you spend a small fortune on a bottle or find a great buy in bubbly from somewhere other than Champagne, France, you need to lay in some bottles. Now.
I don't think any of us would pass up a bottle of Krug or Dom Pérignon or any of the top Champagnes from the big houses, but maybe this year it will be harder to justify the price. Look to smaller, independent houses for delicious Champagne at prices that are more affordable. Here are a few that are great buys in terms of quality and price.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Jean Milan Blanc de Blancs Brut 'Grand Cru Réserve' (Oger)
This Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is extraordinary for a nonvintage Champagne. Elegant and restrained, it has a creamy mousse of small bubbles and a hint of power in the background. Take one sip, and the long, toasty finish reveals everything.
Price: About $56
Where to find it: the Wine Country in Signal Hill, (562) 597-8303, www.thewinecountry.com; Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454, www.winex.com; and Wine Expo in Santa Monica, (310) 828-4428, www.wineexpo.com.
J. Lassalle Brut 'Premier Cru' (Chigny-Les-Roses)
A very pretty Champagne from top-notch producer J. Lassalle, this Premier Cru Brut carries hints of hazelnuts and flowers. It works beautifully as an aperitif, but it also has the weight to carry it to the table too.
Price: About $35
Where to find it: Amazing Grapes Wine Store in Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 888-9007, www.amazinggrapeswinestore.com; Silverlake Wine in Los Angeles, (323) 662-9024, www.silverlakewine.com; and the Wine Country in Signal Hill, (562) 597-8303, www.thewinecountry.com, among others.
Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 'Grand Cru'
If you're a fan of Blanc de Blancs, then you know that the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is hallowed ground for its Chardonnay, which goes into famed Champagnes from Salon, Krug and others. For the price, this is a stunning Blanc de Blancs, floral and elegant, with the finesse of Champagnes that cost many times more.
Price: About $35
Where to find it: Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463, www.hitimewine.net; Jensen's Finest Foods in Palm Springs, (760) 325-8282, jensensfoods.com; La Costa Wine Co. in Carlsbad, (760) 431-8455, lacostawineco.com; the Wine Club in Santa Ana, (714) 835-6485, www.thewineclub.com; Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454, www.winex.com; the Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731, www.winehouse.com; the Wine Loft in Carlsbad, (760) 944-1412, www.thewineloft-carlsbad.com.
WINE OF THE WEEK