Tasting of 8 Champagne & Sparkling Wines

Champagne Bottle Ah, Champagne. The word conjures up images of James Bond on a yacht in the Mediterranean, of a happy couple lounging in a hot tub under the stars. Champagne is the ultimate in elegance, the preferred drink for New Years Eve and weddings.

While many people have a favorite wine, few have sampled enough sparklies to determine their favorite Champagne or Sparkling Wine. To be of assistance in this great dilemma, a Champagne & Sparkling Wine tasting party was put together, with the great responsibility of sampling and judging some of these fine drinks.

Note that Champagne is a physical place in France, and only sparkling wines made in Champagne should be called Champagne. Otherwise, things would get really confusing! That would be like calling anything Rolex-shaped a Rolex, just because it was similar. Other sparkling wines can also be made with the 'méthode chapenoise', using classic combinations of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. They taste similar to, but not the same as Champagne. They don't have the same climate and soil, after all. So for our tasting, the wines came not only in France, but also from the US, Spain and Italy.

We decided to only sample varieties that an average drinker in Boston would be able to buy - a price range between $12 - $30, available locally. This of course cut out the French Champagnes in the cellar, and, luckily, also kept Andre from the list. We ended up choosing five bottles for tasting. We also opened three 'older' bottles (unknown age, >5 years old) that a friend had foisted on us, to see what aging does to sparkling wines. It's always good, in a restaurant, to KNOW if something is bad or if you just don't like it!

For scoring, we used a modified 20-scale. Because we were not tasting regular wines, we used 1-3 for color, then 1-5 for aroma, 1-7 for flavor and 1-5 for finish. All values therefore fall between 4 and 20. The score reported for each is the average of all tasters' scores.

Taittinger Domaine Carneros Brut '92: The famous French house Taittinger is producing fine sparkling wines in California which garner praise from all quarters. A pale straw color, this brut has numerous, very fine bubbles. It is pure Chardonnay - smells of vanilla and tastes of a light lemon. The finish is smooth and delicate.


Westport Rivers Brut Cuvée RJR '94: Massachusetts' own Westport Rivers is very well known for its high quality sparkling wines. A chard/pinot noir mix, this is slightly yellower than the Taittinger. It has a less bright, more grapefruity flavor. It has a stronger finish than the Taitt.


Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut: Spanish-owned but made in the US, this darker yellow blend has a much more earthy, less bright aroma. The citrus flavors are much less pronounced, while a sweeter, woodier flavor comes through. The finish also is much stronger.


Willamette Valley St. Innocent '93: WV, an award-winning Oregon winery, puts out a 50/50 chard/pinot mix that is more earthy than the first two. Its flavor tends towards orange, with a sweeter, weaker finish.


Freixinet Cordon Negro: Included because of our desire to try something in the 'lower range', this is made in Spain by the same people who make Ferrer. A very light, citrusy drink, this was almost 'kool-aidy' compared to the other sparkling wines. Its finish was also sweet, almost weedy.


Champagne in Bucket The remaining three we tried, the 'older wines', were a Moët & Chandon (France), an Asti Cinzano (Italy), and an Asti Spumanti (Italy). All three were a darker yellow color, noticably different from the 'straw' colors of the newer sparklings. The Moët had a very earthy flavor, while the two Astis had a woody, almost balsamic flavor. We all agreed that non-vintage sparkling wines should be drunk within 2 years!

Our final recommendation is definitely the Taittinger. We found it quite comprable to French Champagnes, and far superior to other world offerings, for a reasonable price.

The Basics of Champagne
Methode Champenoise - How Champagne is Made

Champagne Pairings and Reviews


Champagne History and Information