Best Champagne buys for the holidays (Houston-centric recommendations)

When it comes to sparkling wine for the holidays, there’s really no good reason for Champagne to eclipse the myriad classic-method wines available today from other appellations.

But let’s face it: even for the hippest and most ardent lovers and defenders of pét[illant]-nat[urel], there’s nothing that beats a great Champagne house — large, small, storied, best-kept-secret, corporate-owned, or family-run — on New Year’s Eve.

At our house, we will be drinking my favorite Franciacorta over the holidays (yes, Arcari + Danesi is now legal in Texas!). But we will also be drinking Champagne with the family friends we will be hosting for New Year’s.

Yesterday, I made the rounds of some of my favorite wine shops in Houston and here’s what I found.

America’s behemoth wine and spirits retailer Spec’s has its flagship store in Midtown (on the “verge of downtown,” as my current favorite singer-songwriter-guitarist Robert Ellis would say). When it comes to Champagne, the outfit has cornered the market on the most aggressive pricing for the top domaines. And it also had the biggest selection of large-format Champagne — a great option for entertaining during the holidays.

I can’t ever recommend shopping at Spec’s without adding this caveat: when buying entry-tier wines there, you have to be sure to check the vintage to make sure that you’re getting the current release. Unfortunately, there are legions of stale wines that populate its shelves (especially when it comes to white wines). But when it comes to premium appellations like Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy, Spec’s pricing is the most competitive.

Delamotte, Pol Roger, Bollinger, Pierre Péters, Billecart-Salmon, Henriot, Gaston Chiquet, André Clouet… Paying cash/debit and buying six bottles or more, all of the above wines landed at more-than reasonable prices (even when compared with more liberal markets like California, where wine sales are less heavily regulated by the Communist government there, a paradox and conundrum of contemporary American mores).

Spec’s also had a great price on La Montina Franciacorta, the vintage-dated rosé and the Satèn. If you’re looking to spend something closer to $30 as opposed to $50 (the average price for a decent bottle of Champagne), this is my number-one recommendation. I like the wines a lot from La Montina, an organic grower and solid winemaker.

Next on my itinerary was the Houston Wine Merchant where prices are higher but you the level of wine knowledge among the staff and attentive customer service are more than worth the admission price. I was impressed by some of the more coveted bottles they had there.

I wish I could afford the Pierre Gimonnet 2010 Spécial Club, for example, or the Vouette & Sorbée Saignée de Sorbée Rosé Brut Nature. I couldn’t find wines like that anywhere else in my adoptive city. Alas, they won’t be served at our house this year. Great wines…

One of the most overlooked venues for fine wines in Houston is the Kroger’s supermarket on North Shepherd, where a purchase of six bottles or more (mix-and-match) gets you a 10 percent discount.

You won’t find some of the more esoteric bottles of Champagne that some of us prefer for special occasions like New Year’s. But you will find extremely aggressive pricing. Entry-tier Taittinger and Perrier-Jouët — perfectly respectable, delicious wines — both clock in around $40 if you hit the six-bottle threshold (mix-and-match on any wine, including great prices on Qupé and Mattiasson, two of my favorite Californians, for example).

And if you want to land below $30, the Californian classic-method Domaine Carneros by Taittinger is a great option for a great domestic sparkler, available at Kroger’s.

Whatever you drink this year for the holidays, I hope you drink it with someone you love.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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