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November 9, 2010

Veuve Clicquot loses to a $16 sparkler in my blind tastings

It’s no secret that I’m usually not a buyer of well-marketed and well-branded wines. I like the smaller outfits and the underdogs.

As a rule, if a wine company is placing advertising in Cosmopolitan, or is selling its bottles in a cute little lace-up sock (see image, below), I assume that I am paying too much for what I get.

A great example of overpriced wines are many of the low-end(!) offerings from the top 10 Champagne houses of France. The yellow-label Veuve Clicquot has such awesome brand power, that most folks, who are willing to pay $100 for bubbly in a restaurant, will pick it first.

About 3-4 times per year, this Veuve shows up at my house. Don’t get me wrong, I like this wine. But I believe it’s almost triple the cost it should be.

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To prove a point — and introduce my guests to some amazing wine values — I usually open the yellow Veuve together with one of my favorite Cremants (non-Champagne AOC French sparkling wines) from regions such as Limoux or Bourgogne. Then I serve them to dinner party guests — blind and side by side — and ask them to simply choose one would they rather drink.

I’ll be honest, this is not the most scientific process. But the results are very consistent with one taste-off in particular: about 70% of folks will prefer the Jean-Louis Denois Brut NV over the Veuve.

That said, I though I’d share with you some of my favorite non-Champagne sparklers from France:

Denois Brut

Jean-Louis Denois Brut “Tradition” ($16)

This is the one that beats the Veuve Clicquot yellow label in my casual blind tastings and the one I served at my wedding. The guests were uniformly pleased. “JLD” has a brut style, with flavors of nuts and berries, vanilla and toast.

Bouillot

Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé, Perle d’Aurore, Louis Bouillot ($14)

A nice example of a rosé here. Blackcurrant and strawberry notes. This is a huge crowd pleaser, and I have even ordered it for large events full of snooty wine drinkers. Everyone loves it.

J. Laurens Brut Cremant de Limoux ($13)

Light and crisp, this sparkling wine has a nose of yeast and green apple. It’s got minerality and pears too. Quite different than the Denois, but just as likeable.

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