I originally wrote this post in 2017 but am giving it a re-hash now because times are tough and for most people champagne might be farthest thing from their mind. But even in the toughest times, there are often things we should celebrate and if you find yourself in need of budget bubbles for a special occasion at the moment, this list might be useful.
Something I get asked all the time (especially from my champagne rookies) is…
“I saw this champagne and it was only $40. I was tempted to buy it but I don’t know if it’s any good and I don’t want to waste my $40 when I could just buy Mumm/Moet/Piper and know I’ll enjoy it. What do you think of it?”
And I totally get it – no one wants to waste their hard earned cash and be disappointed with an ordinary wine! And worse, when you are experimenting to broaden your champagne horizons it can completely put you off trying different champs!
Now I haven’t tried every champagne in the world (not even close) but because I am SUCH a selfless, thoughtful person AND a problem solver, I decided to do a road-test.
So I went on a shopping trip to Dan Murphy’s, Vintage Cellars, BWS and First Choice Liquor (Aussie main-stream bottle shops). And I bought every untried champagne I could find for $50 or less. I road-tested only untried champagnes, not the big brands I assumed a lot of people would know and trust to be a good solid, affordable option.
And then I chose my stand outs using just one simple criteria. I imagined I was in a blind tasting and if I was 100% confident I could pick it as a ‘champagne’ in a blind tasting, the champs made the cut.
Remember, I love champagne and I write a champagne blog, not a sparkling wine blog. And sparkling wine can be lovely… but I love champagne because I love the way champagne tastes. So naturally, I want to drink champagne that tastes like champagne. And if I can’t recognise a glass of champs as being champagne then it’s not going to make my cut.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed I didn’t pick more champagnes out of the line-up. I actually tried 18 champs all counted, including the three rosés (pic below and they all made the cut… I have a rosé biase, because I love it even when it’s not from Champagne). And there were at least half a dozen border-line options that many people would probably actually love. BUT the point of the road-test was to help my friends make reliable choices for quality champagne under $50 that I enjoyed as champagne and hope they would to,o and I stand by my picks.
But please keep in mind this is just me and my tastes and my palate… it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to enjoy the others, and I am not saying the others are rubbish. I’m just saying for the ones that didn’t make the cut, I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and declare – ‘this is champagne as I know and like it to be’!
If you can’t be arsed reading this many words today (I get it, takes concentration and it’s sooooo much easier to drink and WATCH than it is to drink and read!), check out the links to my YouTube channel where I pretty much say everything I write here
The video tasting for the bruts and the blanc de blancs is here and there is more below about the rosés.
Here’s a quick snap of everything I tried FYI … but I really don’t want to focus on the champs I didn’tpick (because I am a glass-half full positive kinda girl), but I just wanted to show how thoroughly I did my homework!
Champagnes in the road test
But let’s start with what I think makes champagne taste champagne-y?
There are two things which I think make champagne taste champagne-y. I elaborate on YouTube in the videos (see links below) but the super-short version is..
Time on lees
It’s a requirement for non-vintage champagne to be cellared on lees for a minimum of 15 months. During this time on lees, flavour is imparted to the wine (read more here). Most large houses will cellar NVs for up to 3 years, more than twice as long as mandatory, which does increase the flavour factor significantly. Smaller houses and growers struggle with longer time on lees because they have less storage capacity and produce less wine and operate on different business models.
Region of origin which (more or less) = terroir
There are 5 different districts in the Champagne region, which have different soil characteristics which does affect the flavours in the champagne. One of these five regions, The Aube also called the Côte des Bar, was a more recent addition to the appellation in the early 20th century… a little controversially amongst champagne purists. I am far from a purist but I do tend to find because the terroir is quite different (much further south, so generally warmer and very different soil composition) I do find the champagnes from this area are quite different and not always the traditional champagney-ness.
Is video more your thing?
Scroll down and you can hear all the same stuff over at my YouTube channel!
The top picks from my champagnes under $50 road-test
With all that in mind, my stand-outs are…
Mercier is quite a big house located in Epernay (Côte des Blancs). While Mercier doesn’t publish where it sources its grapes or their cellaring time, based on how it tastes and the size of the house, I am willing to bet it’s cellared for three years and includes some Premier Cru grapes and a lot of the Aube region.
This champs is a blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay and is lovely, and instantly recognizable as ‘champagne’ with just one whiff. I happily place this champs alongside my list of party champs, with the likes of Moët & Chandon, Lanson, GH Mumm, and Piper-Heidsieck.
Henri Laurent Brut
This champagne is actually produced by Champagne Charpentier in the Marne Valley.
What I love about this champagne is that it’s a blend of 80% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir. I didn’t know this until after I tasted it (and had already placed it firmly in my top 3) but that is a really high Pinot Meunier blend. Other houses known for high Pinot Meunier blends are Moët & Chandon, Piper-Heidsieck, and Billecart Salmon.
Charles Orban blanc de blancs
Champagne Charles Orban is located in the Marne Valley in the village of Troissy. This champs is 100% chardonnay and this would have to be the first time I’ve seen a blanc de blancs for less than $50 … so I was skeptical BUT pleasantly surprised. I also tried a blanc de noirs from the same house in my road-test and the only reason I didn’t include it here was because blanc de noirs is a very distinct style of champagne. It is quite different from the usual NV blends and if you’re a ‘happy champer’ looking for a bargain champs under $50, you’re not looking for different, you are actually looking for ‘safe’, so I left it out of this list but it was a good quality surprise also if you do want to experiment with your champs sampling.
And now for some rosés!
Champagne Duperrey Brut Rosé
I have raved about this baby before (read ALL about it) so this was the ONE champs in my tasting that I had tried and knew I rated.
It’s produced from around Reims, which is Champagne central and the heart of the Montagne de Reims.
The colour is a little intense and put me off at first BUT it smells and tastes instantly and distinctly champagne-y, berries and bright bubbles, just enough cherry to give it an edge but not be overpowering. TOTAL crowd pleaser, I’ve had 100% success serving this over a few years now.
The Brut NV from Duperrey was also in my tasting but didn’t make the cut. I really highly rated the Duperry 2006 and 2008 vintages (loads of it around a few years back until I bought it all haha!) but the house jumped straight from 2008 to 2011 which wasn’t even close in quality for me. I did the maths and suspect they significantly reduced the cellaring time for the 2011 vintage.
But back to the Champagne Duperrey Brut Rosé… you can find it at Dan Murphy’s for $30 a bottle!!!!
Aubert Et Fils Brut Rosé Champagne & Champagne Moutard Prestige Rosé
I put these two together for a good contrast. If you are new to champagnes drinking these two side by side is affordable and will highlight pretty clearly the difference between ‘floral’ and ‘fruity’… try them and see!
They are both enjoyable champagnes (though not as distinctly champagne-y as the Duperrey). The Moutard is from the Cotes des Bar and has a nice floral smell in contrast to the Aubert Et Fils’ fruitier style. I served the Aubert Et Fils at an event a few years back and we sold out of six bottles so it went down well with the crowd as value and YUM factor.
If you are super keen for some more rosé champagne-nerd stuff, check out my three part rosé series where I taste the champs and talk more about how they make rosé champagne below.
Santé happy champers!
Try any of these champs and let me know what you think. If you have a cheap and cheery fave, let me know.
Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychamper
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