American drinkers will consume an estimated 360 million glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve. It is, of course, the number one night of the year for popping bottles of bubbly. But let’s forget about quantity for a moment and focus instead on quality. Because what’s the point of celebrating with something mediocre? Especially when there are so many fantastic examples of reasonably priced effervescent wines sitting on shelves at this very moment.
Today we’re going to highlight what some experts consider to be the very best of them all. Those experts happen to be the judges at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. Now entering its 12th annual iteration, it is the premiere international competition of its kind, comprising a cadre of high profile sparkling wine specialists from across the globe. After two weeks of judging earlier in the year, the CSWWC released its 2023 results to the world in September.
The formidable title of “Supreme World Champion” went to a 2008 vintage of Millésime Rare Champagne from producer Piper-Heidsieck. And this wasn’t just any bottling, but a magnum format, specifically. As any seasoned sommelier will explain to you, the 1.5 liter bottle offers superior aging conditions compared to that of a standard 750ml. That’s because the overall size of the vessel is larger, but the neck is not. Therefore, less air is contained inside, and aeration and oxidation are both minimized.
Now that we’ve gotten some general bottle basics out of the way, let’s talk about what makes this specific expression so worthy of praise. Millésime is always a vibrant juice, notably effervescent with a pronounced crispness. It typically noses with pear and marzipan. But the sensational growing season of 2008 enabled a concentrated dose of spring in the glass: fresh floral blooms, orange blossom and a tangy citrus thread which holds firm across the palate.
There’s also a very subtle saline quality that emerges near the end of each sip. It’s enough to keep you reaching back for more, and also begs you to pair it with something from the sea; think oysters or Dover sole. The degree of complexity and structure exemplified here is quite a value at $209 for a bottle. Remember, this is twice the amount of liquid you’re getting in the outsized glass.
The full list of winners from the 2023 Champagne and Sparkling Wine Championships can be found here.
But if you’re less concerned with medals and more interested in time-tested icons, my professional recommendation is to grab a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Brut 2013 for your New Year’s Eve celebration. It’s an especially poignant vintage for the legacy brand, boasting ample orchard fruit in the nose and nods to dried vanilla on the tongue. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful inside and out, brandishing instantly recognizable white anemone bottle art, originally designed by Émile Gallé back in 1902.
It doesn’t come cheap, at $229 for a 750ml bottle. But it’s guaranteed to inspire some priceless memories as we say goodbye to 2023 and hello to 2024. Regardless of what ends up in your glass, may you and yours enjoy a very Happy New Year!