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Mature Wines Make the Best Champagne for New Year’s Eve
Your first rule for picking out the absolute best Champagne for New Year’s is to only serve bottles that have aged sufficiently. The age of the wine, and how well it’s currently drinking, matter far more than any other factor when it comes to finding a great Champagne. Factors like vintage, bottle value, and even producer aren’t always as important as the wine’s maturity; you could have a perfect bottle of young Krug sitting in storage, but if that bottle still needs another ten years in your cellar, you may waste the wine’s potential by uncorking it too early. In general, it’s better to serve a non-vintage Champagne that’s meant to be opened right away than to open a more valuable vintage wine that still needs time in a cellar. Champagnes like Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and Krug Grande Cuvée are excellent examples of high-quality non-vintage Champagne that is worthy of New Year’s Eve toasts.
But how do you know whether a bottle is mature enough to serve for New Year’s Eve this year? Start by looking at the wine’s age. A bottle of vintage Champagne should be at least five years old, and preferably much older if it comes from an excellent producer or a legendary year. Drinking vintage wine any sooner than this likely won’t offer you the best-tasting experience, since some of the complex flavors won’t come through yet. If you’re serving bottles of non-vintage Champagne instead, drink the wine while it’s young. Generally, non-vintage wine tastes best when it’s fewer than five years old, depending on the producer. The only problem is that finding the exact age of a non-vintage Champagne can be a challenge; to do this, you may have to research your wine’s disgorgement date. Reputable Champagne sellers should have this information available for you when you buy the bottle.
Another method for determining whether your Champagne is ready to be uncorked is to consider the style of Champagne that you plan on serving. Here are the anticipated average aging times for vintage Champagne in each of the primary styles:
Prestige Cuvées – These wines age the longest, and are usually made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (with occasional Pinot Meunier in the blend). Let these wines age for at least 15 years.
Blanc de Blancs – Made only from Chardonnay, these age the second-longest, on average. Wait at least 10 years, preferably more, to serve this style.
Non-Prestige Rosé – These require less aging than Blanc de Blancs, but are still best-served between 5 and 10 years after release, sometimes more.
Blanc de Noirs – Made only from Pinot Noir, these wines take the least amount of time to reach maturity. Serving them between 5 and 10 years after release will offer you the best tasting experience.
In addition, any style of Champagne will age more slowly in a large-format bottle, like a magnum. Keep this in mind as you shop for the best Champagne for New Year’s Eve.
The Bigger, the Better
When it comes to picking out the perfect bottle of Champagne for your celebration, size matters. I once brought two bottles of wine to a friend’s New Year’s Eve party: a standard-sized bottle of Salon, and a double magnum of Deutz. Although the Salon was a higher-quality wine than the Deutz, all of the guests at the party swooned over the larger magnum bottle–it was impressive and simply more fun. While standard-sized bottles still make excellent New Year’s wines, for larger gatherings consider bringing a larger bottle instead. Large-format bottles let you serve wine to a larger number of people from just a single bottle, meaning that your wine purchase goes further, and the wine inside often matures better than wine in standard bottles. That’s because the wine inside large bottles is kept more stable; it’s less impacted by minor temperature fluctuations or movement. Vintages like magnum 1999 Salon Le Mesnil and even larger bottles, like the double magnum 1990 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé, will not only look very impressive when you uncork them, but they may even taste better than the same wines found in smaller bottles.
When to Bring Smaller Bottles
Not every New Year’s party requires a huge double magnum. Smaller, more intimate gatherings will make better use out of a standard-sized bottle of Champagne, since your guests are more likely to get through the bottle without any waste. With Champagne especially, it’s important to drink all of the wine the same night that the bottle was opened. You can save Champagne for two days after opening it at most, but the longer the wine sits in an open bottle, the more fizz and flavor it loses.
You should also check with the host before you bring a large bottle of Champagne to an event that isn’t your own. Your host may already have enough wine to go around and a smaller bottle won’t complicate things as much as a large-format bottle. Rare or unusual standard-sized bottles can also be great options for large parties because they offer a little flavor variety. Chances are, there will be more than enough brut Champagne to go around, but it’s very possible that no one brought any Blanc de Noirs, for instance. This is your chance to serve up some unusual bubbly that you or the other guests may not have tried before.
Try a Legendary Vintage
If you really want to impress your guests with the best Champagne for New Year’s Eve, you may stick with the four legendary vintages that serious collectors frequently seek out for their cellars: 1996, 1990, 1988, and 1985. Sure, a bottle of 1998 brut Champagne will be perfectly delicious, but it may pale in comparison to a legendary bottle of 1990 Prestige Cuvée. These high-value vintages are usually reserved for holiday Champagne gifts and kept in storage for decades. New Year’s Eve is one of the rare chances you’ll get to drink these wines without feeling as if you’re squandering the moment. These are ultra-special wines for ultra-special occasions.
While all four of these vintages can remain in storage for a few more years, they’re also mature enough to drink right now. The 1990 vintage, in particular, received some of the highest scores, on average, in Champagne’s history, and these wines are drinking beautifully across the board, regardless of which producer you choose.
Deciding Between Brut and Doux
Once you’ve landed on a list of mature bottles that you think your guests will enjoy, you’ll also need to decide on a drinking order for each style, depending on how sweet or dry the wine is. Your goal is to ease your guests into each Champagne without overwhelming their palates.
The image below details the ideal order to serve each style of Champagne throughout the night. In general, just as with still wine, serve your driest Champagnes with food or as a midnight toast, and save your sweeter styles for dessert, aperitifs, or nightcaps.
Doux or Demi-Sec Champagne
Serve these styles at the very beginning or the very end of the party. They should either be served on their own or with sweet desserts; avoid serving them with most savory appetizers or dinner.
Dry or Extra Dry Champagne
Dry Champagne still has a touch of sweetness, and pairs best with a wide range of appetizers. This style can be served on its own or with food, and is a great option if you don’t know the preferences of your guests (some may prefer sweeter wines than others, so this is a good “middle of the road” style).
Extra Brut or Natural Champagne
This is the driest style of all, and will pair especially well with bold, savory foods. The complexity of these wines makes them an excellent choice for hearty New Year’s Eve dinners. This is also an excellent style for making toasts, since it excites the palate and has prominent flavor. However, keep in mind that not everyone enjoys an especially dry Champagne, so you may only want to serve natural Champagne if you already know that your guests will appreciate it.
Tips on Pairing Champagne with Party Snacks
Your New Year’s Eve appetizer, dinner, and dessert menu will dictate which type of Champagne you buy for the event. Serving a combination of doux, demi-sec, dry, and extra brut wines will give your guests the most flavor variety, but this may not be the best selection for every party. For instance, if you don’t plan on serving any dessert, then it’s wiser not to buy doux or demi-sec styles. Similarly, if you’re only serving Champagne as a toast at midnight, stick with just a few high-quality bottles of brut.
Here are a few menu options that work especially well with each Champagne style:
- Fried foods or fatty appetizers (like cheese): Your Champagne should range from dry to brut. The touch of sweetness complements the fried flavors of the food, while the dry personality overall keeps these appetizers from feeling too heavy.
- Tart or acidic foods (like balsamic-glazed carrots): Consider a demi-sec or sec style. The sweetness keeps the strong acid in the food at bay, but the wine isn’t so sweet that it overwhelms the palate.
- Very sweet desserts (like chocolate cake): Stick with doux Champagne only. Any drier style will taste too acidic when paired with sugary foods.
In addition to finding the perfect food pairings for your wine, it’s also important to think about which wines need to be served alone. In general, any special bottle that comes from a legendary vintage, or that is more than 15 years old, should be served by itself, without any other flavors distracting from it. You may choose to serve these wines during the midnight toast or right at the beginning of the party so that your guests can fully appreciate their power and complexity.
The Best Champagne for New Year’s Is All About the Experience
Whether you’re bringing a bottle of Louis Roederer or Bollinger to your New Year’s party, the experience of uncorking and enjoying the wine will always be the highlight of the night. This is your chance to sit back and enjoy some of the most sought-after Champagnes in the world without worrying about bottle value or collectibility. You get to experience these wines just as their creators intended: by sharing a glass with your family and friends and taking the time to honor the effort that goes into producing one of the world’s most iconic wines. In this sense, a great Champagne toast does more than ring in the new year–it creates lasting memories with the people you care about most.