Six good-value Champagnes
Champagne bottles Anticipating a New Year's sparkling-wine rush, I spent Saturday at the huge Party Source store in Northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, one of the largest and best stocked wine shops in the U.S., where wine manager Mary Dorr set out a group of six Champagnes she considered particularly good values, at least by the pricey standard of the genre.

It was a pleasure to join a group of regional wine gurus, including Dorr and her associate Gary Boswell; wine importers David Schildknecht and Gordy Hue; Cincinnati Enquirer wine writer John Vankat and Jean-Robert de Cavel of Cincinnati's first-rate Maisonette restaurant as we compared notes on the wines and then answered consumers' questions about Champagnes.

Here, in order of my preference (although they all were fine) are my notes on the six Champagnes served. Prices listed are Party Source's current sale prices, which run through Nov. 3. For another excellent Champagne bargain, purchased at Dorr's strong recommendation, also see my notes on Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut ($24.99).

Pol Roger 1990 Champagne Brut Chardonnay ($59.99) - Pale straw color with a frothy mousse and a lasting stream of tiny bubbles. Biscuity-toasty aromas, classic Pol Roger, with good apple fruit. Full and rich, creamy and balanced. Most expensive of the group, and it shows. (And to be candid, I prefer Champagnes in Pol Roger's typically rich and heavy style.)

Champagne Alain Robert Blanc de Blancs le Mesnil ($32.99) - Pale gold with a frothy mousse that falls back fast. Delicious, fresh-apple aromas and flavors with a full and creamy mouthfeel; rich fruit and crisp acidity. Excellent Champagne, particularly at this relatively affordable price point.

Champagne Tarlant Cuvée Louis ($49.88) - Pale greenish-gold, with a frothy mousse that dissipates quickly, although pinpoint bubbles persist. Delicious "biscuity" scent, fruit and subtle rising bread dough aromas. Ripe fruit, intense and lasting, rather high in acidity.

A. Bouzy Champagne Brut Réserve Jean Vesselle ($25.99) - Pale brass, with a lasting stream of pinpoint bubbles. Toasty, fruity aromas - Gary Boswell declares it "blackberry jam on toast" - leading into full and bright fruit flavors, clean and tart, more "fruit-driven" than most Champagnes.

Egly Ouriet Champagne Grand Cru Cuvée Brut Non-Dosé ($32.99) - Pale straw, with surprisingly few bubbles; toasty and light candy-apple aromas. Prickly mouthfeel shows high carbonation despite the scanty bubbles. Bone dry and sharply acidic, seems a bit out of balance.

Henri-Pol Milan 1992 Champagne Brut Selection Terres de Noël ($34.95) - Pale greenish-gold, with a lasting stream of tiny bubbles. Appley scent and flavor, tart and fresh with a light earthy quality, somewhat flawed by an odd finish in which the fruit drops out abruptly leaving only lingering acidic tartness.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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