The 17 Best Champagnes to Drink in 2021, Picked By Sommeliers

Level up your bubbly.
Last Updated
Jul 14, 2022

Champagne. Jay-Z and Taylor Swift sing about it, Winston Churchill and Coco Chanel famously laud it, and you knock it back anytime a toast begins with “according to Webster’s Dictionary.” Its ubiquity is partly because Champagne symbolizes revelry and luxury, but more so—we’d argue—because it’s one of the world’s greatest wines. Whatever the reason, you’re likely to find yourself in need of a good bottle in the not too distant future. Before we get into the 17 Champagnes that you should prioritize in 2021, let’s quickly cover what Champagne is.

What Is Champagne?

Champagne is a place. Specifically, it’s a relatively cold region in France. There are lots of other sparkling wines made around the world, but if they don’t come from this small area northeast of Paris, they’re not Champagne. While its coordinates on a map are important, that’s far from the only thing that makes Champagne Champagne

Champagne has a unique terroir (environment where it is produced), which produces unique wines. For example, its particularly cold climate leads to mouth-watering acidity, while its chalky limestone soil—the same stuff you’ll find in the white Cliffs of Dover—is laced with millions of marine fossils that contribute saltiness and minerality. The grapes grown in that soil are chardonnay, pinot noir, and meunier. Sometimes blended, sometimes standing alone, the base wines made from these grapes must then adhere to a slew of local production regulations in order to eventually bear the name Champagne. 

How Does Champagne Differ from Prosecco and Other Sparkling Wines?

Along with its legendary terroir, and a history that deserves a Ken Burns mini-series, Champagne differentiates itself in the way that it’s made. Champagne goes from still to sparkling in the very same bottle you pick up off the shelf. It’s a time and labor-intensive process that produces refreshing, incredibly food-friendly wines with aromas you’d expect to find at a charming Parisian bakery. 

Meanwhile, Prosecco, Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, is made from Glera grapes and gets its bubbles in a big pressurized tank before being bottled. It’s a quicker, less expensive way to make sparkling wine that leads to less persistent bubbles and lower price tags. Prosecco tends to be sweeter and less acidic than Champagne, dominated by simpler fruity flavors like green apple, peach, and melon.

Somewhere in between Champagne and Prosecco lies Cava, as well as premium sparkling wines from places like northern California. These become carbonated using the same “Traditional Method'' as Champagne. They can be just as refreshing, and pair similarly well with foods ranging from oysters to fried chicken. However, they tend to lack Champagne’s complexity, ageability, and signature notes of brioche, almonds, and sourdough.

How to Buy a Bottle of Champagne

This is all to say that whether you’re celebrating a special occasion, or you just want Wednesday night at home to feel a little less like Wednesday night at home, Champagne is always a good choice. To get the most out of that choice, you should be able to read a Champagne label.

The first thing to look for is the level of sweetness. If you want a dry wine, then search for the word “Brut” on the label. “Brut Nature” Champagne barely has more sugar than water, while “Extra Brut” and “Brut” rarely have any noticeable sweetness. For a Champagne with noticeable sweetness, look for the word “Sec” on the label. It’s worth noting, though, that even the sweetest Champagnes you come across have about half as much sugar per serving as a gin and tonic.

The next thing to check is whether or not there’s a specific year listed on the bottle. Usually, there isn’t, meaning it’s “Non-Vintage.” The reason for this is that the weather in Champagne kind of sucks, some years more than others. So blending grapes from different years allows producers to maintain a consistent style over time. When the weather is particularly nice, a producer may decide to only use that year’s grapes. These “Vintage” Champagnes are the cream of the crop, and should be on your radar if you’re a fan of Champagne’s toast and brioche flavors.

To tell whether a Champagne is made by a small-scale farmer or a massive conglomerate, look for a set of initials on the label. The big Champagne houses—like Moët, Veuve, and Krug—are labeled “NM,” meaning their wines are made with grapes purchased from thousands of other growers. Whereas “RM” denotes a grower-producer who makes wines from grapes it grows on its own vineyards. Since the grapes for these “Grower Champagnes” come from one farm rather than vineyards across Champagne, they’re the best illustrations of the region’s unique terroir.

Other labeling terms you’ll come across include Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs. The former simply means the wine is made entirely from white grapes (Chardonnay), while the latter means it’s made solely from red grapes (Pinot Noir and Meunier). Blanc de Blancs Champagnes are more citrus-y, delicate, and age-worthy, while Blanc de Noirs are bolder and richer wines that taste like strawberries.

Why You Should Trust Us and Our Recommendations

A little about us: We’re Parcelle, a direct-to-consumer wine shop run by sommeliers from the world’s top restaurants. We were co-founded by Grant Reynolds, who was a partner and oversaw the wine program at Charlie Bird, Pasquale Jones, and Legacy Records as well as the co-author of How To Drink Wine. We’ve got a team of somms who worked at places like Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, and Le Bernardin among others. Our concise selection features wines from the best producers in the world. The wines primarily come from European cellars, with everything from old and rare wines to natural wines from the hardest to find winemakers. We take pride in every bottle, whether it’s a simple red for pizza on a weeknight or a well-aged and sourced Burgundy from the ‘70s. 

The Best Champagnes of 2021

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