The Best Champagnes Under $100

If you're searching for the perfect Champagne to cap off your New Year's Eve celebration, keep a few simple facts in mind as you head off to your local wine shop. More than likely, you'll be faced with dozens, if not hundreds, of choices, from Champagnes to sparkling wines, and from cava to cuvee. Knowing what to look for can help you narrow your options and select the right Champagne for your special occasion.

First, only sparkling wines from the Champagne region of northern France earn the right to be called Champagne. All others are referred to as sparkling wines, and many are very good. Second, Champagnes and sparkling wines range in taste from dry to sweet. Brut is the driest, followed by Extra Dry, while Sec and Demi Sec are sweeter.

Third, vintage wines, made from a single year's grapes, are more expensive, while nonvintage wines, which are blends of grapes from several years, are more affordable. The very best Champagnes are referred to as cuvees.

With these few pointers in mind, you're ready to go. To get started, here are some suggestions for your New Year's Eve celebration.

Select the right Champagne for your New Year's celebration.

Francois Hemart Brut Grand Cru
Expensive at about $80 a bottle, this fruity, non-vintage cuvee from boutique winemaker Henri Giraud has garnered rave reviews for its lemony and peach aromas, golden color and scents of vanilla and nutmeg. The term grand cru refers to vineyards in France that have established reputations for high-quality fruit. In this case, the grapes originate in grand cru vineyards around the village of Ay.

Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge
Another non-vintage selection from the Reims region of France, though less expensive at about $40 a bottle, this full-bodied Champagne from G.H. Mumm is easily identified by the red sash of the French Legion of Honor across its label. Mumm introduced Cordon Rouge in 1875, and aficionados have enjoyed its creamy texture and apple and vanilla flavors ever since.

Pol Roger Brut Reserve
Hints of apple and honey, as well as fine bubbles and a silky texture, make this pale gold non-vintage Champagne a good choice. And at about $40 a bottle, it's more affordable than the winemaker's coveted Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, which can set you back about $200 a bottle. Family-owned Pol Roger, located near the French town of Epernay, releases its Brut Reserve only after it has aged at least three years, ensuring a complex, satisfying Champagne.

Montsarra Cava Brut
Sparking wines from Spain are called cavas, and Montsarra Cava Brut is a good example of the Spanish art of winemaking. Crisp and light, this sparkling wine is a bargain at about $15 a bottle, especially since it's created by the traditional method, or methode champenoise. Used for all high-quality Champagnes and sparkling wines, this method involves two fermentation processes, with the second fermentation in the bottle creating the bubbles.

Domaine Carneros Brut
For a domestically produced sparkling wine, try this excellent cuvee. It is vintage-dated each year and produced using the traditional Champagne process. You'll note a mixture of flavors and aromas, including apple and raspberry, as well as hints of lemon and lime. The Domaine Carneros vineyard was established by Tattinger in 1987, so it has an exclusive pedigree. You can pick up a bottle for around $25.

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
Finally, if you're on a budget, this crisp, smooth and very dry sparkling wine from Spain is a smart choice. It's also produced using the methode champenoise and gives off hints of tangerine, lemon and apple. Freixenet is the largest cava house in Spain, and the Cordon Negro Brut is easy to find. And with its budget price of $9, you can afford to buy two or three bottles. Enjoy.

Tried and True

If Dom Pérignon's ( DEO) outside your budget, Other popular bargain options for New Year's Eve include Korbel, owned by Brown-Forman ( BFB) and offerings from Constellation Brands' ( STZ) J Roget and others.
Bob Feeman is a former editor of Robb Report and Smart HomeOwner magazines, and now writes full time about a variety of subjects. He's based in Maine.