Bargain Chandon 

High-quality bubbles, low prices

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Back when I lived in the Big Apple, I went through a period where I pretty much drank only Champagne. This was in the days when Brideshead Revisited was airing on PBS, and at the time it just seemed like French bubbly was the only true necessity in life. My wine of choice then was Moët & Chandon White Star, a nonvintage French Champagne that I could buy for $15 a bottle.

Back when I lived in the Big Apple, I went through a period where I pretty much drank only Champagne. This was in the days when Brideshead Revisited was airing on PBS, and at the time it just seemed like French bubbly was the only true necessity in life. My wine of choice then was Moët & Chandon White Star, a nonvintage French Champagne that I could buy for $15 a bottle.

Well, the days of 15-buck Champagne are long gone (Moët & Chandon White Star now sells for around $50), but good sparkling wine being one of life’s necessities isn’t. So, what’s a poor boy to do about bubbly?

I suggest giving domestic Domaine Chandon a try. I first learned to love the sparkling wines of California’s Domaine Chandon, oddly enough, in France. I was visiting the legendary subterranean labyrinth wine cellars located 30 meters below ground at Moët & Chandon, in Epernay, and got to talking with an expert winemaker about Moët’s California wines, bottled as Domaine Chandon. Domaine Chandon was the first French-owned maker of bubbly to crack the United States market, dating back to 1973, when Moët & Chandon (founded in 1743) came to California in search of prime grape-growing locations that could support the traditional grapes that go into making Champagne: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They found what they were looking for in three of California’s most lauded appellations: Mount Veeder, Carneros and Yountville, the latter of which is now home to Domaine Chandon and its stunning visitor’s center, immaculate grounds and world-class, Michelin-starred restaurant, étoile.

Along with making Champagne-worthy sparkling wines in California, Domaine Chandon is also a leader in sustainable farming, and combines centuries-old French winemaking traditions with New World technological innovations and Earth-friendly vineyard practices. I recently tasted my way through a quartet of Chandon’s “Classic” offerings, and was impressed by each of them, especially given that they sell for less than half the price of Moët & Chandon’s least-expensive French Champagne. Most bottles of Chandon’s “Classic” line of bubbly sell here for less than $19.

My favorite of the bunch is Chandon Blanc de Noirs, the sparkling wine served at all White House receptions. It features Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and is a fruit-driven, lip-smacking bottle of bubbles, with a gorgeous salmon color and flavors of raspberry, dark cherry, blackberry, strawberry and cassis. It’s luscious and creamy, and I’m not at all surprised that it’s the White House choice of bubbly.
Chandon Rosé, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, gets its dramatically deep pink color from the winemaking trick of adding Pinot Noir at tirage (when sugar and yeast are added to the still wine), which also lends the wine structure and body.

For something a little different, try Chandon Extra-Dry Riche. It’s definitely a New World-style sparkler, with floral aromas and tropical fruit and citrus flavors, along with peach and apricot. Don’t let the words “extra-dry” throw you, though. It’s an off-dry wine that lands on the sweeter side of the very-dry-to-sweet spectrum, which makes it a good partner for spicy Asian dishes, curries, chiles and the like, but is also a nice contrast to very rich dishes such as foie gras.

Finally, Chandon Brut Classic is the driest and most traditional Champagne-like sparkler from Domaine Chandon. It’s crisp and dry, yet soft, with classic hints of brioche and nuts, along with green apple, pear and lime notes. It’s terrific with shellfish tempura and oysters.

By the way, if you love bubbles like I do, you can have them every day via Chandon’s free screensaver. Download at Chandon.com/screensaver.

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