19th Annual Champagne Party – 1st California Edition

It’s hard to believe we’ve been throwing our Champagne Party for 19 years now.  It’s morphed and changed a bit through the years, but one thing has remained the same – we’ve always hosted the Champagne Party in November.  We feel like it’s such a fitting kick-off to the holidays – it gets everyone into a festive spirit and as it falls just before Thanksgiving, everyone has time to find a great sparkling wine they want to bring to their holiday gatherings.

This year was a bit different for us though – we decided not to travel back to Seattle during the busy Thanksgiving season, so we threw the party for a whole new group in California.  It was bittersweet, for sure – we missed our die-hard Seattle Champagne Party fans – but it was really interesting to introduce a new set of people to this tradition – and see how the more things change…the more they stay the same.

Got so busy with our guests, forgot to take a picture until the candles had nearly burnt out!


This year the tasting consisted of 12 different Champagnes (technically 10 Champagnes and 2 domestic sparkling wines), ranging in price from $20 – $325.   As always, the wines are served double-blind to everyone, not even my wife knows what we are going to taste ahead of time.  By way of explanation, single-blind is when you know what all the wines are ahead of time, but not the order that they will be served in.  Double-blind is when you don’t have any idea what the wines are ahead of time.  To get a true opinion of what wines people like, I think it is important to serve them at least blind if not double-blind.  I have found that when you have single-blind tastings, sometimes people spend more time on trying to figure out which wines are which versus trying to figure out which wines they like the most.

Where the action took place – the day after.

We had a great group of people and more than a few were shocked at the results of tasting the wines blind.  Here are the Champagnes in the order that we tasted them in:

Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50)

Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125)

Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25)

Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35)

Dom Perignon  2004  ($170)

Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325)

Charles Heidisieck – Brut  NV  ($55)

Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+)

Krug  2000  ($250+)

Costco – Brut  NV  ($20)

Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45)

Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145)


The full-line up.

This is how the group as a whole ranked the Champagnes from best to worst:

#1 – Charles Heidsieck – Brut NV  ($55)

#2 – Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125)

#3 – Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+)

#4 – Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35)

#5 – Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325)

#6 – Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50)

#7 – Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145)

#8 – Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45)

#9 – Krug  2000  ($250+)

#10 – Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25)

#11 – Costco – Brut  NV  ($20)

#12 – Dom Perignon  2004  ($170)

Before everyone voted on the wines, I told the story of our very first Champagne party 19 years ago, when 26 out of 27 people voted the 1990 Dom Perignon as the worst Champagne in the lineup.  In that first year, we also had a bottle of the Charles Heidsieck Brut NV ($25 back then) and a bottle of the Argyle Brut 1992 ($15 back then).  The Charles Heidsieck Brut NV tied for 2nd place that first year, along with the 1990 Roederer Cristal.

In an interesting twist, our group of 22 this year also voted Dom Perignon as their least favorite.  And the Charles Heidsieck Brut NV was once again in top place – taking first place this time as an overwhelming favorite.  It was truly astonishing to see the results show up like this all over again – while Dom has traditionally placed lower in the line-ups, this was a whole new group of tasters, and again, it just wasn’t the preferred style of Champagne. (I can assure you the bottles were all sound.)

My own personal rankings are different than how the group voted, as I really have a strong preference for big masculine style Champagnes, but I can also appreciate the finesse and minerality of some feminine style Champagnes as well.  Here is how I ranked the Champagnes in order from best to worst:

#1 – Krug  2000  ($250+):  Very nice toasty nose of fresh baked bread.  Fine bubbles, full bodied and slightly yeasty, subtle lemony yellow fruit, very lively with great acidity.  This is very complex in the mouth, but everything is a little more subtle than I expected.  Very nice long lemony mineral toasty fruit finish.  I think this just needs some more time in the bottle to really blossom, but it is going to be a very good Krug, be patient.  (96+ pts.)

#2 – Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145):  Nice toasty yeasty nose.  Fine bubbles and nicely complex, full bodied strong tasting yellow fruit flavors, with a stony minerality streak running through it.  There are some bright lemony citrus fruit flavors and bright acidity that keep the Champagne dancing in your mouth.  Nice long stony lemon fruit finish.  (95 pts.)

#3 – Charles Heidsieck – Brut NV  ($55):  Big toasty wheat bread nose (strongest nose of the lineup).  Medium-fine bubbles and full bodied, yeasty yellow fruit with whole wheat bread and good acid.  Long toasty fruit finish.  This was the most masculine styled Champagne of the evening and is a great value for the money.  (94 pts.)

#4 – Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45):  Very floral nose.  Fine bubbles and very nice lemony white and yellow fruit, with a nice distinct chalky minerality running through it.  This Champagne screams Grand Cru Chardonnay, as it should.  Very nice acidity on the long lemony chalk mineral infused white fruit finish.  This is an absolutely wonderful Champagne for the money and more feminine in style than I generally prefer, but the quality is excellent.  (93 pts.)

#5 – Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+): Very subtle nose of citrus fruits.  Small bubbles combine with white and yellow fruits that have a slight stony minerality to them.  Good acidity on the long citrus mineral finish.  I think this Champagne will show better with a few more years in the bottle.  Right now, I prefer the Franck Bonville Blanc de Blanc NV over the Roederer Cristal 2006, especially given the 5/1 price ratio.  Five to ten years from now the Cristal may win.  (93 pts.)

#6 – Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25):  Very nice lemony fruit nose.  Silky small bubbles and very nice white Chardonnay fruit in the mouth.  There is a noticeable chalky minerality and zippy acidity that combine with the sweet fruit on the long finish.  This is a very nice domestic sparkling wine.  Over the last 19 years, Argyle from Oregon, has done better than any other domestic producer.  For $25, I think Argyle is really hard to beat.  (92 pts.)

#7 – Dom Perignon  2004  ($170):  Subtle fruit and a strong burnt match (sulfur) nose, off-putting for a lot of people.  Fine bubbles combine with slightly chalky lemony fruit.  Nice long lemony mineral finish.  Burnt match nose never blew off, still present after 24 hours.  Over the last 19 years, Dom Perignon has not done very well, but with age they can be very nice Champagnes.  The 1996 Dom Perignon is an absolute rockstar and still young.  (92 pts.)

#8 – Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35):  Slight toast and fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, fine bubbles and lemony yellow fruit, with a touch of chalky minerality.  Good acidity on the medium yellow fruit finish.  This is another nice Champagne for the money.  (91 pts.)

#9 – Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125):  Slight toasty nose.  Fine bubbles, good acidity combine with lemony white and yellow fruit in the mouth.  Nice medium-long mineral white fruit finish.  The Grand Siecle Champagnes are a blend of 3 different years and generally improve with further aging (3-5 years) in the cellar.  (90+ pts.)

#10 – Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325):  Slight lemony nose.  Medium bubbles combine with yellow fruit and decent acidity, but rather monolithic and unexciting.  Medium lemony yellow fruit finish.  If this had been a truly blind tasting for me, I would have guessed that it was a no-name $50-ish French Champagne, never a $325 prestige Champagne.  I would gladly take 2 of the Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dames or 6 bottles of the Charles Heidsieck NV for the money.  (90 pts.)

#11 – Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50):  Slight toast and yellow fruit nose.  Largest bubbles of the evening, combine with yellow fruit and bread crumbs.  Decent acidity on the medium length yellow fruit finish.  Nice but not exciting.  (89 pts.)

#12 – Costco – Brut  NV  ($20): Slightly fruity nose.  Medium-large bubbles combine with slightly sweeter fruit, decent acidity on a medium length lemony fruit finish.  This Costco wine is actually from the Champagne region of France and it isn’t bad for the money.  I placed this in last place because it came across as slightly sweeter than all of the other Champagnes, something I generally don’t prefer.  (86 pts.)

It was really fun to try this party out with an enthusiastic new group – will be interesting to see how the 20th year comes together!

Happy Holidays!