30 under 100 - The Wine Independent

‘Tis the Champagne Season!

Top 30 Champagnes for Under $100.

The pop of a cork during the holidays almost instantly triggers a joyful and festive emotional response. The sound alone portends a light-hearted and fun couple of hours ahead and may well make you instantly gleek for a sip. More exciting still is when the bubbly that flows into the glass is wonderfully tasty and not cost-prohibitive! Consider that the goal of this article. To help find a not-too-pricey bottle to trigger festive joy while taking the mystery out of what might be discovered in the glass.  

Style is everything with Champagne.

Gone are the outdated vinous days when a glass of bubbly was a monochromatic libation served only for a toast. Now, Champagne is the perfect choice for everything from aperitifs through to the main courses, and yes, it is still used for celebratory toasts and parties. While the Champagne region adheres to a lot of collective rules around harvest dates, yields, production volumes, and reserves, etc., Champagne producers themselves have free creative rein to imprint their personality and style on a wine with viticulture, vinification, aging, blending, and dosage choices. This is the substance part of Champagne that dictates the ultimate style.

I will follow Lisa’s lead from her 2022 article on Champagne, where she took time to tease out and explain the stylistic differences in Champagne so readers could sort through the choices to find what they enjoy. Readers should know I come from the WSET school of tasting assessment, no doubt my tasting notes confirm this. I learned to apply the same scoring criteria to each individual wine regardless of style and rate it within the context of balance. In other words, no Champagne is scored higher or lower based on style. To me, style preference is a lot like viewing each Champagne through a kaleidoscopic lens that displays a unique array of colors and shapes at every slight turn of the wrist. While a lot are pretty and colorful, and yes – hopefully balance, one person might dislike the color green even though I love green. There is a rainbow of colors in Champagne, so you just need to find the ones you love.

Enough of tasting theory - on to the bubbles! I have recommendations for readers in five stylistic categories: Classic, Lively, Opulent, Gastronomic, and Rosé. Many of these non-vintage cuvées are based on the warmer 2019 and 2020 vintages and are ideal for near-term drinking, like right now. Also included are a couple of well-priced vintage Champagnes, particularly from 2013, that I found scintillating and elegant. 

Classic styles are not surprisingly classic blends of at least two, or perhaps all three of Champagne’s primary grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. In a general sense, these are vibrant, fruit-rich, and supple wines that should be crowd-pleasing and very attractive, and not just because of price. These include, in no particular order:


·       De Sousa 3A and Paul Bara Brut Millésime 2016 both possess incredible fruit purity and poise.

·       Philipponnat Royale Reserve Brut and Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut offer refinement and finesse.

·       Lanson Black Creation 257 and Gosset Grand Reserve Brut both deliver exceptional quality for the price.  These are fresh and fun choices for a party.

·       Nicolas Maillart Platine Premier Cru, Henri Goutorbe Cuvée Millesime 2013, and Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale 2013 Brut are all three elegant, refreshing and drink above their price point.

Lively styles are mostly Blanc de Blancs, though not exclusively, that are fresh and ebullient, a little racier and energized on the palate but not at the expense of balancing fruit intensity. Sophisticated and smart value suggestions include:


·       R.H Coutier Blanc de Blancs NV 

·       Varnier Fanniere Cuvee Saint Denis

·       Laherte Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs NV

·       Guiborat Prisme. 18 NV

·       Egrot et Filles Millésime 2016

·       Franck Bonville Pur Oger Blanc de Blancs 2016

·       Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV

Gastronomic may seem a haughty way to describe a Champagne, but to me, it marks a coming-of-age that places Champagne squarely as the first choice of wine to enjoy with a meal. Not to pigeonhole this style either, as it makes a great aperitif; however, gastronomic champagnes have a bright, vinous texture and dryness and are distinctly enjoyable with food. Generally finished Brut Nature or Extra Brut (low to no dosage), sometimes made with extended aging, which gives an autolytic, bready, and sometimes a faint oxidative character on the nose, this style is full of personality, intrigue, and finesse. Pricewise, most of these wines sneak under the $100 mark. I recommend:


·       Benoit Déhu L’Initiation NV

·       A. Margaine l’Extra Brut

·       Etienne Calsac L’Exhapee Belle Blanc de Blancs NV

·       Jacquesson Cuvée 746 Extra Brut NV

·       Dhondt-Grellet Dans un Premier Temps NV

Opulent styles are just what the word suggests – wines with a rich presence that are textural, weighty, and are often Pinot Noir or Meunier dominant, perhaps vinified in oak barrels, and likely have extended aging. These wines have wonderful amplitude and power that is well-balanced by excellent freshness:


·       Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois NV 

·       Dehours Grand Reserve Brut NV

·       Bruno Paillard Cuvée 72 Brut NV 

·       Henri Giraud Hommage au Pinot Noir NV

Rosé is defined categorically more by color than actual style, given that producers make them in different ways. I’ve selected five that I think represent the four styles above:


·       Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV (Classic)

·       Gosset Grand Rosé Brut NV (Classic)

·       Varnier Fanniere Rosé Zéro NV (Lively)

·       Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve Brut (Opulent)

·       JM Labruyere Anthologie Rose 2018 (Gastronomic)

I want to add a quick note about back labels. Providing detailed information on the blend, vinification, dosage, and disgorgement is becoming standard, particularly for grower (récoltant-manipulant) producers. This is great news for Champagne lovers at the bottle shop as it gives clues (not answers) to what style the Champagne might be.

‘Tis the Champagne season, and I always say the most important ingredient in any style is joy. I hope these recommendations bring you, and those you share them with, an abundance of joy and plenty of happiness for the holidays, too!


Article and reviews by Sarah Mayo
Photography by Johan Berglund