The Best (Affordable) Champagnes to Drink Right Now

The bottles under $50 that topped our recent blind-tasting—plus, a few worth the extra splurge.

It’s that time of the year when everyone has bubbly on the brain. And although the market has never offered a greater variety of high-quality sparkling wine from all over the world, let’s face it: during the holidays, what we really want to drink is Champagne.

In gathering the selections for this buying guide, however, we decided to put a few so-called “Champagne alternatives” toe-to-toe with the genuine article: a little German sekt here, a little French crémant there. We capped pricing at $75 (though many fell far below) and limited the entries to bottles produced according to the same “traditional  method” first perfected in Champagne (sorry, no pét-nat here). While a handful of our favorite non-Champagne sparklers weren’t included—Domaine Tissot’s unctuous example from the Jura, for instance, or the finely-tuned Vouvray brut courtesy of winemaker François Pinon—we figured that at least a few would hold their own.

Over the course of tasting nearly 20 wines, the disparities between the two groups surprised us. If the Champagnes immediately announced their obvious “Champagne-ness”—that classic cool-climate combo of chalky minerality, racy acidity and savory richness—the others struggled to come across as equally distinctive. To be fair, it’s unrealistic to pit a $30 Loire valley chenin blanc against a Champagne that fetches twice the price. It’s also myopic to assume that the point of those other wines is to simulate their more famous peer. But putting such caveats aside, in terms of depth, complexity and sheer drinkability, what can we say? Champagne made a clean sweep.

These results run counter to the common wine-writer advice that the market abounds in value-driven sparkers that can easily rival Champagne. For the record, however, that bit of wisdom still holds true—not least because there’s still a lot of mediocre Champagne out there. Instead, what our panel confirmed is the incredible extent to which the grower revolution has succeeded in raising the region’s bar. When crafted by dedicated vignerons with an eye toward expressing the identities of their terroirs, Champagne truly does stand in a league of its own.

Here’s the best part: the sentiment still applies even if you can only spend 50 bucks, which can buy you a whole lot of wine in today’s revitalized Champagne market. While that’s not exactly cheap, it is for a bottle of authentic Champagne. And if this tasting taught us anything, it’s that Champagne is always worth it—assuming it’s the right bottle.

All the wines that made our final cut instantly conjured Champagne, but we were delighted to find that each telegraphed that identity in a completely different way—all the more reason to celebrate with any (or better yet, all) of the below.—Zachary Sussman

Under $50

Champagne Aubry Premier Cru Brut

For a wine priced towards the bare minimum for real Champagne, this creamy, pear-scented crowd-pleaser from the Montagne de Reims’ Aubry brothers delivers a whole lot. That’s due to the high percentage of reserve wine in the blend, sourced from a solera that dates back to 1998. Fun fact: In addition to the usual Champagne grapes (50 percent pinot meunier, 25 percent chardonnay, and 20 percent pinot noir), ancient indigenous varieties account for five percent of the blend: namely, arbanne, petit meslier and fromenteau (otherwise known as pinot gris).

  • Price: $43
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Skurnik

Champagne Ponson "La Petite Montagne" Premier Cru Extra Brut

The fifth-generation Domaine Pascal Ponson was completely new to the panel, but that didn’t prevent it from emerging as the runaway hit of the tasting. Sourced from several of Maxime’s favorite premier cru parcels that run along the northern slope of the “Little Mountain” of Reims, it truly drinks like a wine priced two or three times higher: flinty minerals and mushroom-like earth meet freshly baked pastry crust and honeyed golden apple.

  • Price: $44
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Transatlantic Bubbles

Champagne Savart “L’ouverture” Premier Cru Brut

While not as multi-dimensional as the similarly-priced Ponson, Savart’s entry-level (but by no means basic) “L’ouverture” cuvée has long been a fixture of our go-to canon of value Champagnes. This release, however, comes across as particularly fresh and elegant. Made entirely from pinot noir from the village of Ecueil, it combines that grape’s textural density with delicate rose-petal aromatics and a refreshing bite of Japanese pear that deliver an almost elastic sense of tension.

  • Price: $48
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Grand Cru Selections

Under $75

Val Frison “Lalore” Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature

Better known for her knack with pinot noir (which accounts for 93 percent of her six hectares of holdings), the Côte des Bar’s Valerie Frison proves she’s just as adept with chardonnay via this classic “blanc de blancs,” which is sourced from two separate organic parcels planted in the limestone soils of Les Cotannes. Reminiscent of magnolia and Meyer lemon, it’s simply a textbook execution of the style, and a perfect all-purpose Champagne to drink throughout the season and into the new year.

  • Price: $68
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Avant-Garde Wine & Spirits

Vouette et Sorbée "Fidèle" Extra Brut

Bertrand Gautherot of Vouette et Sorbée produces this stellar blanc de noirs from with pinot noir sourced from the lieux-dits in the sub-region of Aube, in the south of Champagne. Aged 20 months on the lees, it wears its “extra brut” (i.e., no dosage) designation proudly, with a lean chalkiness and almost overpowering acidity that still manage to avoid the austerity sometimes associated with the style, causing one panelist to dub it “the Muscadet of Champagne.”

  • Price: $72
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: The Rare Wine Co.

R. Pouillon & Fils Réserve Brut

Based in the town of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Fabrice Pouillon is making some of the most impressive terroir-focused, biodynamic wines in the Vallée de la Marne, an area famous for its powerful expressions of pinot noir. In this wine, the red-skinned varieties (65 percent pinot noir, 20 percent meunier) set the tone structurally, yielding a big-boned wine that Fabrice intentionally allows to undergo malolactic fermentation. Still, a cleansing wash of freshness comes in the form of some subtle ginger-root spice on the finish. It’s one of the more consistently dynamic Champagnes available in its price point.

  • Price: $53
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Schatzi Wines

J.L. Vergnon "Eloquence" Grand Cru Extra Brut

Hailed by leading Champagne critic Peter Liem as “one of the top estates in the Côte des Blancs today,” the family run house of Jean-Louis Vergnon has been estate-bottling its own wine since 1985. Another “extra brut” entry, with the kind of bristling acid that acts like a splash of cold water to the face, this 100 percent chardonnay bottling is sourced from 30-plus-year-old-vines planted (mostly) in the grand cru of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Its chiseled purity reflects both the house style (no malolactic or extended lees aging) and the classic elegance of the Côte des Blancs: think white peach, wet rock and fresh gardenias.

  • Price: $52
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Skurnik

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