It just doesn't seem like the holidays without breaking out a bottle of Champagne at least once. The Grande Marques — those well-known Champagne houses such as Taittinger, Pol Roger, Moet-Chandon, Krug and more — are always welcome. But what about showing up with something less obvious? The bottle may not be as elegantly packaged, but what's inside can be thrilling and revelatory. Most good wine shops have at least a few grower Champagnes, made by the family that grows the grapes. Some of these smaller estates own Grand Cru or other notable vineyards, and the prices for their top Champagnes can be a relative bargain.
Can't find these exact bottles? Not to worry. Go with whatever grower Champagnes your favorite wine shop has sought out for the season. Plan to spend $45 on up.
2004 Champagne Lebrun-Servenay "Vieilles Vignes" Brut Grand Cru
A Grand Cru made from 100% Chardonnay sourced from 40- to 80-year-old vines in the Côtes des Blancs, this elegant Champagne spends nine years on the lees. The 2004, scented with honey and hazelnuts, is crisp and fresh, and yet wonderfully complex and creamy, with a long-lingering finish. A class act. (About $70.)
2009 Guy Charlemagne Champagne "Cuvée Charlemagne" Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut
The Cuvée Charlemagne from Guy Charlemagne (love saying that name) is made only in top vintages. The grapes for the 2009 originate from Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger and Oger in the Côtes des Blancs. Of course, this Grand Cru is Blanc de Blancs — all Chardonnay. With its mass of fine bubbles, inviting scent of lemon and sun-dried fruit, and its long, silky finish, Cuvée Charlemagne holds its own with the big boys. (About $50.)
NV Serge Mathieu "Select Tête de Cuvée" Brut
The top wine of this family-owned Champagne house, the Tête de Cuvée Brut is 70% Chardonnay with the balance made up of Pinot Noir from the Mathieu family's best vineyards. On the nose, it's toasted hazelnuts and a touch of lime, with more citrus and tropical fruit in the taste. Beautifully complex and a great Champagne for the price. (About $45.)