The Brutish Guide to Great Champagne

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Before the year ends, and while you're dreading that last-minute shuffle through the wine shop, it's time to demystify the world of champagne so we can all enjoy some special occasions without feeling in over our heads.

Champagne's status-symbol history has built an air of elitism around it, so for help in dropping the curtain so you can get back to opening a bottle with confidence, we turned to Elise Losfelt, winemaker at Moet & Chandon. If you're one of those people who thinks most (if not all) of that sommelier stuff about "red berries and notes of dusty country roads in Tuscany" is crap, Losfelt might be more your style. To her, there's no wrong answers.

Instead, Losfelt believes buying and drinking champagne can be fun. "There are so many more moments, big and small, worth celebrating," she says. "Almost every day, whether it's paying off student loans, a new apartment, achieving a personal goal, or simply enjoying a favorite dish. I love to experiment with food pairings and often pair everyday foods, like fried chicken or French fries, with champagne."

French fries and champagne are a surprising food pairing you hear a lot from the experts, and while you may not want to drop thousands on something to go with your Big Mac meal, it makes things a little less intimidating to know that the folks who make the stuff wouldn't judge you for finishing off a bottle with a late night stop by a burger joint.

You should approach the problem of buying a bottle for someone else with the same ease and levity. After all, it's supposed to be fun. The sincerest gift, for Losfelt, is often a vintage bottle. "Giving a vintage Champagne marks a moment in time," she says. "Of the giver, it says that effort and thought was put into the selection of the gift, and because it bears a vintage year, can be given to celebrate a date of importance, for example."

Otherwise, find a bottle you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Losfelt advises this for birthdays and congratulatory moments, specifically celebrations perfect for popping corks. "If the gift is a celebration of that person or a moment in his or her life, an iconic Champagne like Moet Imperial is ideal as it can be enjoyed immediately and in just about any environment. Whether over a meal or at a dance party, these Champagnes are fun and festive and make it memorable."

We gathered up a few memorable bottles of champagne for you to choose from for gifts, or to open for the big event. Remember, there are no wrong answers, only guidelines. 

Moet & Chandon MCIII
The fascinating new blend from the Moet family, think of MCIII as the small batch of the champagne world. It's great for sipping year-round and a reliable choice if the receivers and drinkers are champagne-wise. [$450;]

Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or Brut Vintage 2006
One of those special vintage champagnes, with an eye-catching bottle and an approachable price point. A light, bright champagne with lower sweetness without sacrificing fruity and citrusy character. Goes well with seafood of literally all kinds. Same with holidays. [Starting from $150;]

Bollinger R.D. 2002 (James Bond Special Edition)
The brand has a more than 40-year history with the Bond franchise, starting with Live and Let Die. Somewhere, deep down, every guy will appreciate having a bottle of whatever Bond drank, especially if they despise vodka martinis and Heineken. Maybe just keep this one for yourself. [$175;]

Pol Roger Brut
Among the favorite brands of Winston Churchill, Pol Roger is the sort of champagne you can easily pair to an intimate dinner, open by the case for a party, or sip alone with a cigar while planning the future of the modern world. Oh, also makes for a great hangover remedy in the morning, on its own or as part of a cocktail. [$40;]

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