Champagne lovers have a lot to celebrate this season with new grower-producer varietals popping up across the city.
Beyond Veuve Clicquot: An eclectic variety of Champagnes has been descending upon DC, including those made with rosé, whose festive color makes it perfect for the holiday season.
’Tis the season for bubbles. Just the sound of a cork being sabered is enough reason for Washingtonians to celebrate year-round—DC is one of the 10 top Champagne-consuming cities in the country, according to the Wine Institute—but the holidays give even more excuse to pop brut and vintage bottles... and lots of them.
“In DC, there is a special affinity for status and stature,” says Le Diplomate (1601 14th St. NW, 202-332-3333) sommelier and beverage manager Erik Segelbaum. “People holding Champagne smile a little brighter.”
Since more than 40 percent of Champagne is sold from October through the year’s end, says Sam Heitner, director of the Dupont Circle–based Champagne Bureau, now’s the time to take advantage of well-stocked wine lists and inventories and try something new.
“We’re seeing huge growth in by-the-glass lists,” Heitner says. “There are many more labels, brands, and producers in every store. You’ve never had more choices.”
Champagne’s “versatility is appealing,” explains Inn at Little Washington (Middle and Main Streets, 540-675-3800) sommelier Bill Harris, who features an impressive roster of purveyors like Champagne Peters, Vilmart & Cie, Geoffroy, and 15 varieties from the “Special Club,” a group of récoltant-manipulants, or grower-producers, focused on promoting Champagne’s diverse expression of terroir (that is, the specific environmental factors that impart to the wine its distinct flavors).
Champagne can be made with up to six grapes, Segelbaum says. It can be highly acidic or cloyingly sweet, buttery, round, or mineral, making it pair harmoniously with all types of food. Non-vintages, which demonstrate a wine style by blending various harvests, and blanc de blancs, which are made with chardonnay grapes, especially complement the seafood and oysters Washingtonians love so much.
Uniquely defined by their “house style,” or the spin each producer puts on the process, Champagne brands achieve loyal followings no matter the grape used. For example, Krug’s longer fermentation of all varietals in oak results in a creamier, richer mouth-feel with smaller bubbles, along with notes of toffee, brioche, and pound cake, Segelbaum says.
In addition to grower-producer varieties this season, the driest varieties, brut nature—or zero dosage—are on the rise. But don’t knock others such as rosé, which now make up more than 16 percent of all Champagne sold here. They aren’t all supersweet, thanks partly to the ability of winemakers to blend red and white wines to achieve them, offering more control over flavors.
Want to get the true essence of any Champagne? Let the wine go flat before tasting, since the bubbles make you perceive it as drier and more acidic than it actually is, Harris says. Then forgo the Champagne flute for a regular wine glass, which allows the notes to blossom better.