The common belief that Champagne's big brands don't match up to the smaller producers just isn't true, says TOM STEVENSON. He gives Decanter his rundown of the best Champagne from the major houses.
Not so long ago Champagne was sold on brand and brand alone. The vast majority of Champagne drinkers believed that the bigger the brand, the better the quality. This mentality prevailed until as recently as the early 1990s, when attitudes regarding the best Champagne began to change.
Now, among those who know something about wine, the complete reverse applies. The informed consumer today, it seems, not only avoids the bigger brands but is convinced that the larger the Champagne producer is, the poorer its quality will be. This is a shame because I have a feeling that an entire generation of otherwise discerning drinkers might be missing out on some of the finest Champagnes available.
So which ones are the biggest brands? The following figures (see over) show the number of bottles sold in millions by the biggest brands. These figures refer exclusively to the primary brand (some houses sell far more bottles but under different labels). Where houses regard this information as confidential (such as Veuve Clicquot), the figures given are based on informed estimates.
The best Non-Vintage
Basic non-vintage brut must be the stiffest test for those who distrust the largest brands, since this bread and butter cuvée accounts for the majority of any producer’s sales. Luckily I’m quite happy to put my reputation on the line with the following big-brand recommendations. I’ll kick off with Lanson Black Label, even though it is not showing as well now as it did in 1998 or 1999. It is still a banker, however, due to its great depth of flavour and invigorating acidity.