Champagne: from Reynard to the 'big boy'

Readers have asked for more recommendations of sparkling wines with which to ring in the new year, and I'm happy to oblige.

It's best to look for sparklers that offer both distinction among their peers and great value. For example, there are many French champagnes to choose from at about the same price level, but a few truly stand out.

Here are three more recommendations for sparking wine, including what I call the "big boy":

  • Capitello Willamette Valley sparkling wine, about $30. I have tasted many Northwest sparkling wines and this is the best of the bunch. It has a very nice balance of fruit and cleanliness and a freshness that keeps on going throughout the palate. The nose, which is slightly yeasty with a hint of lemon, is enticing. The first sip explodes on the tongue with expressly tiny bubbles. As the weight of the sparkler runs down the palate, there is a multitude of lovely flavors and some real depth. So many sparkling wines have cleanliness but not depth, but Capitello has both in abundance. The finish on this sparkler is quite something with length and silkiness. I attended a tasting that included many very nice American sparklers, but this wine really stood out for quality and price. It received 91 points in the Wine Spectator magazine for its excellence. One of the classics.
  • Grand Brut, Imperial, under $15. Fun flavors, delicious finish and priced well. This offering is one of the very best of the bunch at this price range. Known for its rich flavors, clean finish and mouthful of wonderful bubbles, this little French offering is a delight on all levels. I love these unpretentious sparkling wines for their simple but very well-made flavor sensations as well as for their price range, which is a deal in anyone's book. A nice value, indeed.
  • Reynard, under $10. This is a nicely crafted sparkling wine that has good fruit, clean flavors and a nice tickle in the nose. A little bit of residual sugar finishes it off, which makes it perfect for desserts or for sipping after a full dinner. It is hard to find a sparkling wine with this kind of value and serious taste sensations for under 10 bucks. The Reynard, I believe, leads the field in inexpensive sparkling wine.

And now, for the big boy:

2002 Cristal Champagne, just over $250. If you want to spend big bucks for champagne, this is the one to choose. The descriptors for excellence are seemingly endless as this champagne is really without a rival, as far as I'm concerned. There are many contenders for the top spot, but the Cristal 2002 is really something to behold.

I was at a tasting some time ago where all of the big houses showed their finest champagnes, but the Cristal was clearly the most elegant, finesse-driven, multi-nuanced offering of the evening. I have worked in champagne, sold great champagne for more than 40 years, and I cannot remember a nicer glass of bubbly. This is saying quite a bit, because champagne is one of my favorite glasses of wine, and this really hits the top of the heap. I sometimes marvel at how so much flavor can be held in a little glass of sparkling wine.

If you are looking for that very special treat, something you just have to try once in your lifetime, the 2002 Cristal is just the ticket. Happy New Year.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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