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Every year during the first week of December, I buy my best friend a bottle of Taittinger non-vintage Champagne, and we share it over home-baked Christmas desserts. One year, I decided to surprise her with a vintage bottle of Pol Roger instead. After her first sip of the new bottle, to my surprise, she said, “This is really nice, but I think I like the Taittinger better.” She explained that even though the Pol Roger was a fine vintage Champagne that was technically higher quality than the Taittinger, the non-vintage wine had become a tradition for us. The taste of it signaled the start of the Christmas season for her.
When it comes to picking out the best Champagne holiday gifts, producer and vintage quality alone won’t always point you in the right direction. Unlike buying wine for your own cellar, Champagne you buy as a gift doesn’t always have to be age-worthy or valuable to be worthwhile. By considering the personality and needs of your gift recipients, you’ll always select the best vintage for everyone on your list.
Your Champagne Holiday Gifts Should Feel Special
The first rule for picking out stellar Champagne holiday gifts is to customize your choice based on the personalities, tastes, and notable milestones of your gift recipients. It may be tempting to buy a full case of Bollinger and hand out bottles one-by-one to each person on your list. But ultimately, your recipients (especially family and close friends) will appreciate your gift more if it’s tailored specifically to them. Those closest to you won’t necessarily feel as special if they know that you gave the same bottle to 11 other people. Here are a few customization options that will make your gift recipients feel special:
Focus on Milestones
I get the best response when I give someone a Champagne from a milestone vintage. By taking the time to find a bottle from a special milestone date, you show your gift recipients that you’ve given thought to the gift and that you’re paying attention to the important moments in their lives. For instance, last year, I found out that it was the 20th anniversary of my brother’s bar mitzvah. To celebrate, I bought him a few bottles of wine from Israel, as well as a special bottle of vintage Champagne from the same year that he finished his coming-of-age ceremony. He was delighted that I had remembered this important moment in his life, and it made our combined Christmas and Hanukkah celebration even more special.
One good route to take is to select a Champagne based on the recipient’s birth year. That’s because these bottles are almost always near or at their peak maturity, meaning that they’re more enjoyable to drink immediately compared to a younger bottle. However, if you’re having trouble finding a high-quality vintage from your gift recipient’s birth year (some birthdays are simply not good years for Champagne), you may decide to go with the recipient’s wedding anniversary, their children’s birth years, or other important dates.
Consider Taste and Personality
If your gift recipient has a major sweet tooth, a bone-dry extra brut Champagne likely won’t impress them, no matter how highly critics rate the wine. It’s important to remember that when you give the gift of wine, you aren’t giving away bottles that you personally love; it’s all about catering to the needs and tastes of your recipient. You may even decide to give someone a bottle of Champagne simply based on the appearance of the bottle. I have a family member who adores the color orange, and I always give her bottles of Veuve Clicquot, in part because of this producer’s iconic orange label. Sine Qua Non wines, though often expensive, make great gifts for art lovers because of the original artwork on their labels.
Create Traditions and Experiences
Even if you’re unsure whether the bottle you selected will impress your gift recipient, you can guarantee that the gift will be remembered if you combine it with an experience. For instance, you could offer your recipient a bottle of Champagne along with two tickets to a play so that they can enjoy a date night with their significant other. Or, you might bring a bottle of Champagne with you to a holiday dinner and create a new family tradition in the process. Even the most affordably priced holiday gift of Champagne can be made special when you create an experience around drinking it.
Vintage Is the Most Important Factor
There is one rule that I follow both for my own collection and for Champagne holiday gifts: get vintage Champagne, or nothing at all. The only time that I buy non-vintage Champagne during the holiday season is if I plan on drinking the bottle with my gift recipient, or if we’re opening the bottle with a meal. In other words, if the occasion is casual, I don’t worry about vintage. However, for gifts of Champagne that you aren’t going to drink yourself, vintage quality matters more than any other factor. It tells your gift recipient that you care enough to give them the best quality wine on the market–something you couldn’t find at the local grocery store. The best Champagne holiday gifts are those that your recipients would have trouble finding themselves.
Before buying your bottles, it’s important to research which vintages were highest in quality for specific producers. However, if you don’t have a producer in mind yet, or you need a general idea of where to start, I recommend investing in the following legendary vintages. These four vintages are among the best in the region of the past 30 years, and nearly every producer had immense success. Here are the average scores for the top four Champagne vintages:
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a milestone vintage or birth year wine, and none of the vintages above fit the dates you need, you may try some of the other vintages below. While wines from these years aren’t quite as legendary as the top four vintages above, they’re still better than average, and will make fine gifts. Here are the average scores overall:
Your best method for finding the ideal vintage Champagne is to search by vintage date online (preferably starting with a milestone vintage), then see which producers are available for that particular year. From here, you can research which producers received the highest scores, and narrow your results down to just one or two bottles.
The Bigger, the Better
No matter who is on your holiday list, magnums of Champagne will almost always be met with more enthusiasm than standard bottles. Magnums and other large wine bottle formats simply look more impressive. While I wouldn’t recommend buying a non-vintage magnum for a knowledgeable wine enthusiast or collector, they’re the ideal gift for anyone on your list who enjoys wine, but doesn’t yet have a Champagne preference or deep knowledge of the wine industry. These are perfect holiday party wines, since there’s plenty to go around, and they’re an absolute joy to uncork for the first time.
In general, you should save your magnum purchases for large gatherings or casual wine drinkers. You can splurge more on standard bottles for serious wine connoisseurs. Generally, the smaller the bottle is, the more special that bottle has to be for your gift recipient. Because there’s so little wine to go around in a standard bottle, these make the best gifts for just one recipient. You don’t want to bring a bottle of vintage Krug to a holiday party with 20 guests.
Our List of the Best Champagne Gifts
Once you’ve decided how you want to approach buying your Champagne gift, you can use the following suggested gift lists as guides. While any of these wines would make excellent gifts, the ones you choose will ultimately depend on who you’re shopping for, and what they enjoy.
For family members, including parents, siblings, and grandparents, you’ll generally want to splurge on standard bottles. Many people choose to spend more on gifts for close family members during the holidays, and Champagne is no exception. This is your chance to buy your father that bottle of vintage Moet & Chandon that he’s always wanted, or to introduce your sister to the wonders of Salon.
Here are our picks for the best Champagne holiday gifts for family:
Gifts for Family:
You’ll also want to splurge on bottles for your significant other. Here, anniversary dates will play an especially large role in creating a memorable gift. Whether that’s your wedding year, the year you started dating, or even the year you first met, a gift of Champagne has the potential to make your significant other feel special, and to be the focal point for a romantic dinner or getaway.
Here are some foolproof picks for the best Champagne holiday gifts for a significant other:
Gifts for a Significant Other:
Giving Champagne as a gift to friends can be a bit more complicated. While it’s easy to splurge on a great bottle for relatives or your spouse, it’s often harder to identify which bottles your friends will enjoy. Unless you know exactly which producer your friend loves, I recommend giving them a magnum of Champagne, instead of a standard bottle. Even if the wine inside isn’t their favorite, they will love the process of unwrapping and uncorking an enormous bottle.
If you’re giving a large format bottle, it doesn’t have to be fine vintage Champagne. However, if you’re particularly close with your friend and want them to feel truly special this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with the following large format wines:
Gifts for Friends:
Coworkers and Acquaintances
Unlike friends and family, you’re usually not that close with your coworkers, colleagues, bosses, or acquaintances. This makes it difficult to find wines that they’ll love, because you’re not usually familiar with their preferences. But you can still find some great, universally-appealing Champagne that’s ready to drink right now. For these gift recipients, it’s best to buy several bottles at once–maybe even a case or two–and hand them out as needed. These are the people on your list who won’t expect something ultra-customized to their tastes, but who would still love to receive something festive this holiday season.
Here are our picks for the best drinkable Champagne for colleagues and office parties:
By far the pickiest people on your holiday list will be your fellow wine collectors. Anyone who is knowledgeable about wine will likely already have a wish list of wines in mind already. It may be prudent to ask them (in an inconspicuous way) whether there are any wines that they’ve been dying to try recently. I usually ask my wine collector friends, “I’m looking for some wine to add to my collection. Which producers are you most excited about?” Usually, they will tell me exactly what they want without realizing they’re going to receive the wine themselves later.
Alternatively, you can safely give just about any serious collector the following wines. These are almost guaranteed to please any true wine-lover:
Gifts for Collectors:
Put Some Thought Into Your Champagne Holiday Gifts
Overall, the specific bottles that you choose won’t matter, as long as you plan your gifts in advance and put an effort into customizing them for your gift recipients. This holiday season, rather than stopping by the wine shop at the last second to pick up whatever Champagne is still on sale, try coordinating your vintage Champagne with the special milestones in your recipient’s life. By showing them that you’re paying attention to their accomplishments and personality, you give a gift that goes beyond fine sparkling wine–you show someone that you care, which is what the holidays are all about.
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