Pop went the Champagne market in 2020. With restaurants closed and little reason to celebrate, drinkers turned to everyday cava and prosecco for their bubbles, and Champagne sales fell flatter than a half-drunk bottle of Krug to the tune of an 18 percent drop and a $1.2 billion loss for the industry. But there are signs that the Champagne slump will end long before the pandemic does, with sales expected to return to the 300 million bottle mark by the time partygoers finish the last chorus of “Auld Lang Syne ” this New Year’s Eve.
Ninety-five percent of those bottles are nonvintage—the product of blending juice from several harvest years and a minimum 15 months’ aging. While there are exceptional and complex nonvintage Champagnes, they are “wines you can drink a lot of,” according to sommelier Ariel Arce in Better with Bubbles, her book on Champagnes and sparkling wines released in the not-so-festive fall of 2020.
Vintage Champagnes—which Arce calls “the rare stuff, aka unicorn wine, expensive bottles and special occasion bubbles”—are the ultimate expressions of a Champagne house and site-specific terroir. Made from a single year’s crop, sometimes just a few times each decade, these wines are aged for three to 10 years on the lees, contributing richness, finesse and Champagne’s signature yeasty-bready-toasty notes.
These are the bottles you want to stock for pull-out-all-the-stops entertaining this season. Look for notable vintages from the past 50 years: 1971, 1973, 1979, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2015, according to Arce. Or hunt down these 10 sommeliers’ favorite insider bottles—coming in all styles and price points from big houses and tiny grower plots alike.