All Champagnes are sparkling wines, of course, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. The real thing is always spelled with a capital C to denote its origin in the famous French winegrowing region. Both the New World and the Old produce many delightful sparklers, however, and many of those are well priced and deliver great value as well as lively bubbles. • This week we take a look at three excellent midrange true Champagnes, each of them perfectly lovely for toasting the newly minted couple and readily available at wine shops and at some big box stores and wine savvy markets around Tampa Bay. (If you want to move into the rarefied realms of Cristal or Dom Perignon or La Grande Dame, you're flying well above our pay grade.) • The three Champagnes we've chosen are all excellent and worth the prices they command, but each has its own distinct personality. We'll start with her favorite of the three, move on to his and finish with one we both liked very much.
Taittinger Brut La Francaise (about $49) is in every way a classic Champagne: lively, refined, balanced and delicate. In the glass it shows a frisky column of micro bubbles rising spirally in a lovely pale gold wine. This mousse of bubbles is not only pretty, but more importantly delivers a lot of the wine's savor. Bubbles count, both in this wine's yeasty, toasty nose and on the palate. In this case, the bubbles froth up wonderfully from first sip, yielding a rich and toasty flavor profile accented lightly by crisp apple. This elegant Champagne has broad appeal.
Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut (about $35) is the epitome of brut, the driest style of Champagne. Torrents of small bubbles fill the glass, delighting the eye as they swirl in a platinum-colored wine and delivering a burst of light lemon and biscuit to the nose. On the tongue the bubbles burst with ultracrisp and invigorating light citrus and buttered toast. The finish is absolutely flinty, bone dry and superb. This is a beautifully crafted Champagne and tastes more expensive than it is, but its extreme dryness may limit its appeal to novice sippers.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut (about $39) probably has the broadest appeal of the three. Unlike the other two, it delivers the required toastiness right up front, but it also sports a good bit of fruit. Bubbles rising brightly in a golden wine pop on the nose with lots of toast, but light lime and pear also chime in. Toast comes first on the tongue but fruit — mainly pear, lime and quince — follows closely. This Champagne has a creamy mouthfeel and finishes long and buttery with a hint of pear at the finale. Overall, its savor is rich but clean, a crowd pleaser.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.