Originally published on: Forbes.com
Written by: Lana Bortolot
Some 22 months into a pandemic, you’re probably well-versed in and very tired of global supply chain issues from cars and computer ships to construction materials and IKEA parts (me, six months with the empty shell of a PAX wardrobe and no hardware with which to affix doors. Or shelves, if I had them. Which I do not).
But there’s another shortage, far worse than a cheap IKEA closet: Champagne. It’s coming to a head this year not only because of a mucked-up supply, but a number of things that have conspired to threaten your New Year’s Eve celebration: lower demand during the pandemic, a few years of terrible weather, resulting in reduced yields. Just in this year, 12 nights of frost in early April reduced Champagne’s crop by 30% (other areas in northern France, especially Burgundy, also suffered). To add insult to injury, spring rains and mildew damaged another 30%, then another hell: hail.
And it’s not like the demarcated region can get any bigger to compensate. In fact, the yields are set each year by the region’s regulatory body, the Comité Champagne. This year the president of the commission said the region was facing its worst crisis since World War II, with demand lower and weather-related disasters higher.
That hasn’t swayed the pros form reaching for the traditional sparkler: it just means they’ve gotten creative in their choices, whether that’s going for under-the radar producers, bespoke bottles or finding a small treasure in a big Champagne house. If you can find them, here are some bottles this month’s pro tasting panel are reaching for.
Sommelier Carrie Strong, founder of Strong Wine Consulting, reaches for a mid-level-priced, Nicholas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Brut NV ($35), calling it “a pleasant sleeper that is widely available. With fresh, ripe apricot notes, expressive ginger and lemon zest, a fine balance and elegantly firm bubbles, it’s a great Champagne for a festive holiday celebration.” If you want to break want triple digits, Strong recommends Champagne Lallier Ouvrage Extra Brut NV, produced from two sustainably grown single-vineyard Grand Cru plots in Oger and Ay. “This elegant and magnificent Champagne spent five years aging on the lees and five months in bottle before release. It’s an elegant and complex cuvée with delicate brioche notes, Asian pear accents and luxuriously fine perlage—perfect to sparkle and shine the night away.” ($120)
Kristie Petrullo Campbell, founder of Petrullo Wine Co., and managing director at Blacksmith Wines in Cold Spring, N.y., says “I’m definitely and specifically a Champagne person—I can drink it all night long and I take New Year’s Eve as an excuse to indulge. I’m an equal opportunity drinker–I like growers such as Paul Bara and Henri Goutorbe, but I also really love older Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill and older blanc de blancs.” Petrullo says she and her husband keep it simple because they stay in. “I’ve worked in restaurants too long, so I want to stay home and eat and drink at our pace and spoil ourselves,” she says. “Obviously, caviar is an amazing pairing with Champagne, and we also have salmon gravlax and little finger foods—cucumbers, charcuterie: We like to keep it fresh.” (Pricing research shows Paul Bara and Henri Goutorbe can be found $30-$60, with Special Club bottlings higher; expect to pay at least $250 for Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, depending on vintage.)
Celene Santiago, also chiming in from upstate New York, at Kitty's Market in Hudson says, “No. 1 on my list every year: Champagne Grongnet “Carpe Diem” Brut NV. It’s bready, nutty and sits at around $60. It also has a really cool old-school hand-tied cork, which gives it some extra flair.”
In New York City, sommelier Claire Paparazzo, founder of “Wine If You Want To” recommends Mouzon-Leroux “Special Club L’Ineffable” Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut 2015 Montagne de Reims, Champagne made from 100% Pinot Noir ($85+/-). “This very special Champagne has a richer style and is a perfect pairing for decadent hors d’oeuvres such as foie gras terrine or truffle mouse crostini, and will carry you through a full meal too.” The ‘Special Club’ labeling brings a fun private-club kind of feeling to ring in the new year, because who knows what the new year will bring,” Paparazzo says.
At Harlem’s Clay restaurant, wine director Gabriela Davogustto, calls out one of her favorites—“the extraordinary Laherte Frères, who produces “a beautiful mid-priced grower Champagne” ($49+/-) and has done so since 1889—long before sommeliers tapped the grower trend. Davogustto says the Pinot Meunier-driven blend (60%) has a “quite delicate and persistent mousse, bright and fresh, with lovely acidity and a long finish. This Champagne is ideal not only for your midnight toast, but also would be fantastic to serve with appetizers like oysters, salmon and caviar toast, and scallops.”
Nick Dadonna of Deuxave in Boston, is in agreement about small being beautiful. “There has never been a better time to dive into the world of grower Champagne. If you cannot find your typical 'large house' Champagne producer at your local wine shop, ask about the grower producers, he advises. “These wines are the true raconteurs of beverage,” he says. “Due to low production, these may not be available all the time, but are worth the search! His current favorite: Eric Rodez blanc de noir—"a wine that expresses terroir and can pair well with so many foods.” ($60+/-)
But if you want to go big, North Carolina-based sommelier Hai Tran says you can still do so and perhaps have some luck, despite the shortage. “If you need a big ticket item to impress folks but want to avoid the usual suspects, check out Henriot's Cuvée Hemera 2005 ($180). Champagne Henriot, surprisingly, continues to fly under the radar and their prestige cuvée is one that showcases the richness and depth that a vintage like 2005 has to offer.”