Six bottles to learn champagne

I’m hoping to resolve a current blind spot: champagne. I frequently read comments from people who drink more and more champagne later in their learning curve and wish they had started cellaring a little sooner.

My experience in this area is limited to a few standard NV options.

If you were to choose 4 to 6 bottles to gain some exposure, where would you start? I would like to stick with Champagne rather than other sparkling wines to limit the variables a bit. Targeting an average (not a maximum) of $100 per bottle.

Edit to add: I would also appreciate a short description of why you chose to recommend the wines you list. Geography? Producer style? Some other unique characteristics?


You will get 100 opinions but without digging too deep I’d say:
Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs
Egly-Ouriet Vignes de Vrigny
Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or
Veuve Fourny Brut Rose

I’d suggest looking for 6 very different styles of Champagne just to get an idea what kinds of styles the wines are made in, because if you taste only one here and another there, you might not realize how different they can be.

There are numerous different styles the wines are made in, but probably the most obvious sixpack would be:

  • A typical big-house NV (This is the stuff most people think when speaking of Champagne. Good to have one in the mix for comparative purposes)
  • Blanc de Blancs (A light, crisp and precise Champagne made only from Chardonnay. Should be lighter and leaner than a regular NV)
  • Blanc de Noirs (A weightier, fruitier and more toasty Champagne made only from red grape varieties. Should feel more hefty than a regular NV)
  • A prestige Champagne / a vintage Champagne with +10 years of age (A Champagne that should show why enthusiasts are willing to dish out big sums of money for a bottle of fizz)
  • Rosé Champagne (Normally just a regular Champagne made with a dash of red wine. Good to have there just to see what the red wine does to an NV Champagne)
  • Saignée Rosé aka. Rosé de Maceration (A rosé Champagne made by macerating red grapes during the vinification process. Should be bigger, fruitier and chewier than a regular rosé)

Most likely people will soon be throwing lots of great suggestions, so try to fill your basket with those wines but so that these six criteria would be filled.


And my suggestions for the above six:

  • Any big-house NV (Pol Roger, Lanson, Taittinger, Billecart-Salmon… whatever comes in handy)
  • Pierre Peters and Pierre Gimonnet make solid BdB, so definitely worth checking out. Larmandier-Bernier and Jacques Lassaigne great, too.
  • Marguet makes excellent and very vinous BdNs, but for example Benoit Lahaye and Fleyry make excellent wines too
  • A prestige Champagne can be anything pricey, but better get good. Krug is one of the forum favorites, so can’t go wrong with that one. Egly-Ouriet VP and Bollinger La Grande Année 2012 are outstanding as well.
  • If you get Bollinger La Grande Année, LGA rosé is great to have there for comparative purposes. It’s basically the same wine with some red wine. Marguet, Pierre Gimonnet and Charles Heidsieck are also stunning wines.
  • Francis Boulard’s Les Rachais is one of the best saignée rosés I know, but might be hard to come by. Larmandier-Bernier, Leclerc-Briant or Geoffroy might be easier to find.

I’d go with different styles as well.

Here would be my choices:

2008 Dom Perignon $150
NV Vouette et Sorbee Fidele $50
2012 Diebolt Vallois Cramant BDB $50
2012 Pierre Peters Chetillons $150 (or 2008/12) DV Fleur de Passion $150
NV Vilmart Cuvée Rubis $50
NV (‘12 base) Krug 168 $150

This gives you a view at a vintage and a NV/MV grand marque, an organic/biodynamic low dose “natural” grower BDN, a bdb, a prestige bdb, and a great rose.

1 Like

I think you should stick with really good producers. It will not help to try wines from more mediocre producers.

Let us start with a few terms. Champagne generally is made up of one or more of three grape varieties - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Blanc (white from white) is from Chardonnay. Blanc de Noir (white from red) comes from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a combination of both. A general Brut, can be a blend of all three of the grapes. NV really means wine can come from multiple vintages. Some of the big houses try to blend from vintages and vineyards to maintain a consistent house style. Vintage Champagne comes from one vintage. Tete de Cuvee is generally a house’s best wine or wines. LVMH is a huge company that makes clothing (LV is Louis Vuitton), Hennessy Cognac (the H) and many Champagne makers (the M is Moet, but they also own Dom Perignon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart). Large Houses are large companies that make huge amounts of Champagne, some from their own vines and some from purchases. Grower Champagne (aka Farmer Fizz) comes from smaller producers that generally but not always own their own vineyards and make wines from their own vineyards.

For wines from Houses try:

For a Blanc de Blanc, try Ruinart (about $70-80) or if you want to go higher price Taittinger Comte de Champagne. The 2006 and 2007 of this can be had for 120-130 but if all you see is the 2008 you will think I did not pay attention to your price limit as it is generally going for $200.
Go back to Dom Ruinart ($70-80) for a Rose Champagne.
For a more full bodied style, try Bollinger Grand Annee (about $120-130)

Excellent growers include Vilmart (see above), Bereche, Cedric Bouchard, and Chartogne-Taillet. You could fill out your wines with a selection from these producers. One interesting way to do this would be to compare say a Chartogne-Taillet NV (their basic cuvee, the Saint Anne) with one of their vintage wines from one of their higher end cuvees. Will show you what you get extra for the extra money.

Then, if you can find it, I highly recommend throwing in a Delamotte 2012 ($70-90). Delamotte is owned by a larger house as I understand it but it is relatively smaller bottling from them. The 2012, while still young, is a great value. I have not liked their NV offerings as much as their 2008 and 2012.


I’m trying to setup a “champagne starter kit” for the next berserkerday.

This thread is why, great post.


That would be awesome. I think the starter kit concept would be pretty cool on Berserker Day. There could even be a variety of those. You could have a Cab one, one for Oregon, etc.

I sort of had the champagne thing lined up for this year and then tariffs and COVID got in the way. There’s a litte more planning involved, and unknowns, because it has to be imported ahead of time.

I think Otto has made a really good start. There are so many directions you can go with this, and of course what you can find might end up being the driving factor. Local shopping versus shipping completely alters the potential universe of answers.

That said, if I were to just toss out a plan based on things that mostly relatively easy to source, it would go something like this:

Roederer Brut Premier NV - they are doing very good things their base NV these days, and it’s a good value in Champagne
Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve NV - because it’s my favorite NV Blanc de Blancs - precise and full of flavor
Vilmart Grand Cellier NV - would be a good bottle to have side by side with the Roederer - big house (Roederer) versus grower
Billecart Salmon Rose NV - a “big” house Rose that always performs well
Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny NV - a little bit harder to find this specific wine, but based on Pinot Meunier which is worth exploring
Krug Grand Cuvee - it’s an NV, but in a completely different universe than say the Roederer

I don’t recommend any specific vintage wines, just because that makes it a narrower search. that said, the producers I listed, as well as the others in this thread make a lot of delicious vintage wines.


I think Otto laid it out very thoughtfully.

Lots of great recommendations so far. One thing I’d add to the list is to try some form of vintage champagne with some age to it. It’s a very different wine to younger champagne and an aspect worth exploring to understand how champagne changes as it ages and if that is something you want to do with the champagnes you.

This is based on my personal taste but…

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ($180) - Tete de Cuvee
Bereche Remensis Rose ($80) - Rose
NV Pierre Peters Brut ($50) - NV
Benoit Lahaye La Violaine ($125) - no dosage
Roederer Brut Cuvee Starck ($90) - no dosage biodynamic

Then I dithered for too long on the last bottle. Pick one of these:

Pinon Brut or Rose ($30) - an excellent sparkler from outside Champagne
Vilmart Grand Cellier ($60) - another excellent NV
Drappier Brut Nature Rose ($55) - another excellent Rose

1 Like

I also think Otto’s suggestion makes a lot of sense. I would take it from there. How you fill in the blanks for each of the categories kind of depends on what is available to you, but the good news is there is no shortage of really great options.

More important than the six particular names is the categories those six should fit into. Tough to narrow it down to six, but I would say if you want to learn champagne, you wanna be familiar with these categories:

Workhorse NV chard-based
Workhouse NV pinot-based
Workhorse NV rose
Prestige cuvee that’s worth the money
Prestige cuvee that’s a total ripoff with tacky packaging that’s a blatant insult to the consumer’s intelligence
Grower champagne
Grower champagne so dry it’s painful to drink but sells like hotcakes in Brooklyn
Mature champagne that’s glorious
Mature champagne that tastes like a wine you left open on the windowsill all summer long that 2 or 3 people you’re drinking with think is glorious for reasons you can’t fathom


There have been quite a few strong recommendations. A few thoughts, focused primarily on different dimensions:

Varietal: presumably the standard NV options that you mention are blends. try a few single varietal champagnes to see if you have a preference.

  • +1 on the recommendation for Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve BdB NV. And for a completely different style BdB, splurge on a bottle of Selosse, like the Initial.

  • for Pinot-based BdN, the recently-released Bollinger PN-VZ 15 is very pleasant.

  • The Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres is a nice example of a Meunier Champagne, and is in that target price range. Note however that the black labeled 2015 version of this wine is Pinot Noir-based and different.

Age: it is worth finding some older bottle(s), which usually is easiest with vintage wines from the large houses. Aged Champagne isn’t for everyone, but some people love it. Figuring this out should help with your buying/cellaring strategy.

Dosage: while not Champagne, I would highly recommend that you get on the Cruse Wine Co list, so that next time he does a dosage trial you can order that and participate. It is an educational and enjoyable experience and is eye opening how much of a difference even small differences can make. This confirmed my preference for low but non-zero dosage.

One last non-sequitur: get on the Ultramarine list.

1 Like

If I had to pick 6 bottles for someone to lear about Champagne I would pick these 6 for these reasons. To keep in the budget I’d choose 5 NV’s and Dom Perignon.

NV Billecart Salmon Rosé ($69-$89) - I think that starting with NV wines would make the most sense in the order of tasting wines I would want to start with elegance and this wine is a great place to start. It’s bright, lite on it’s feet, and pairs well with a variety of foods, yet is easy to love on it’s own.
N.V. René Geoffroy Champagne Premier Cru Rosé de Saignée Brut ($55 - $63) - Showing this next in the line-up should highlight just how different Champagne can be. This is a brighter red, and shows more red fruits on the palate. Shifting away from the elegance of the first rosé into the power and boldness of this should offer a nice contrast.

I chose the next three NV’s because they are each 100% either Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay. I feel like it’s a good way to showcase what each of the grapes bring into the blending process in other Champagnes.

Egly-Ouriet Champagne Premier Cru Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” ($69 - $80) - This is 100% Pinot Meunier. Something that was less common a decade ago, but still my benchmark for a distinctive & singular style of Champagne. I love this wine, and have consumed cases of this in the past 10-15 years. This is a Champagne all people who love Champagne should try at least once.
N.V. Roses de Jeanne / Cédric Bouchard Champagne Blanc de Noirs Côte de Val Vilaine ($79 - $99) - This is 100% Pinot Noir and a stellar example of what to expect from Champagnes that are predominantly Pinot Noir in the blend.

N.V. Robert Moncuit Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Les Grands Blancs ($29 - $48) This is 100% Chardonnay and a wonderful expression of a BdB. It has the cut, good acidity, and the brightness that I look for in a good BdB.

Dom Perignon ($159 - $189) This is a Champagne that has a very specific “style” that is totally unique and the more you taste it, the easier it is to spot in blind tastings. It is also a Champagne that is widely available, which is a plus if you’re trying to learn about Champagne. The beautiful thing about this is in some places around the US you can still find a range of vintages. For instance…here in Maine depending on where I go I can buy 2006, 2008, 2009, or 2010. All within the same price range posted.

These selections could be as low as $381 to a high of $568

Thank you for the in depth responses so far. Everybody seems to get what I am trying to accomplish: something like a survey course to figure out where (if?) to dig in deeper. I’ve read enough books that I’m familiar with the major concepts described in this thread, but at some point there is no substitute for popping a few corks!

It may take me a while to accumulate and taste, it I’ll be sure to post results.

I agree this is a fun hook for a berserker day (which I look forward to taking part in next year). I suspect everybody has a region or varietal that they feel undereducated on and could benefit from a remedial course.

Your biggest problem now is you need about 30+ wines now to cover all the interesting ideas in this thread. champagne.gif The good thing about wine is it is all about the journey and you don’t have to do all of these in one sitting. [cheers.gif] Good luck.


Big champagne drinker here. I host some charity tastings here and there and occasionally the group wants to do champagne. I typically do the following, and will add a Piper Heidsieck Extra Dry to show what high dosage v. no dosage is like. I think grower v. big house is less important, especially initially, than learning about how the grapes drive flavor, and how blend changes that flavor. I tend to go 100% chard, 100% pinot noir, 100% meunier. Then a generic blend NV, typically something in the 50-50 or 60-40 range of chard and pinot. Then rose, to see how the additional of still red wine to the blend dramatically affects the aromatics, color, and taste. After trying the blend and rose, I start talking about how, most things being fairly equal, dosage can play a huge factor in flavor, body, perceived acidity. Then I’ll pop something with some real age, so folks can see how dramatically the wine’s profile changes with age. Some like the old, some really do not.

Blanc de Blancs
Blanc de Noirs
100% Meunier
Generic NV blend brut
Relatively High dosage
No Dosage
25+ years old.

Find the wines to match your budget, as that’s part of the fun. If you can, get offerings from the same producer so house style changes don’t dramatically affect your preferences.