Remember the scene in Elf when a wide-eyed Buddy, memorably played by Will Ferrell, explores his new home of New York City and stumbles upon an anonymous café that purports to produce the “world’s best cup of coffee?” Buddy excitedly gives kudos to the confused baristas on their dubious achievement—“Congratulations! You did it!”—before moving on with his day. Every time I see a food or drink or product with a “world’s best” tag attached, I think of Buddy, because “world’s best” often amounts to some happy bullshit.
Later this month, for example, Ruth’s Chris Steak House is holding a two-night dinner at more than 100 locations around the country, pairing exquisite dishes like butternut squash ravioli and black truffle soup with—ready for it?—the “world’s best champagnes,” including a Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label and a Moët & Chandon Imperial.
The selling point of the event, which takes place August 18 and 19, is to enjoy a lavish five-course meal with pricey champagne for around $120 a person—a nice deal, all things considered. (Find your nearest participating Ruth’s Chris location and make a reservation here.) And no doubt these are terrific bottles of bubbly that warrant plenty of merit; the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, for example, scores an excellent 92 rating from Wine.com’s guru, Wilfred Wong. But are they the “world’s best”?
The answer: Maybe! Probably! As you probably know, legally, a bottle of sparkling wine can’t be called “Champagne” unless it comes from the namesake region in France—or more specifically, the 86,000 acres that French officials have specifically marked for the protected designation of origin since the 11th century. This is where you’ll find houses like Veuve Clicquot and Pommery, among many other titans of the industry. But with so many great brands hailing from this region, there hasn’t been any definitive ranking system or voting body to make an official “world’s best” distinction, and so it’s hard to find a good consensus.
Are we nitpicking? Absolutely. You can’t go wrong with any of the champagnes that Ruth’s Chris is including with its dinner, which also include Ruinart and Domaine Chandon. This is simply just a quick heads up to not believe every “world’s best” claim, because who’s to say for sure?
What can’t be argued, however, is that very good champagnes are also very pricey—and if you can’t score a seat at the Ruth’s Chris dinner table, you’ll have to find another way to taste world-class bubblies without blowing your budget. Here are three great bottles that won’t break the bank:
Bollinger Grande Année Brut - 2005 ($125/bottle, astorwines.com)
“Grande Année” means “great year”—a nod to the only time Bollinger chooses to release vintages, so you know ‘05 was exceptional. This well-priced Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend is a solid, affordable choice for bubbly super fans.
Pol Roger Winston Churchill - 2002 ($220/bottle, totalwine.com)
With notes of apricot, blackberry, and lemon meringue pie, this full-bodied beauty earns a sterling 95 points from Wine Spectator.
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame Brut Rose - 1990 ($300/bottle, ackerwines.com)
This beloved vintage pairs well with almost any fine cuisine, but it’s just as enjoyable on its own, boasting a glorious finish of black cherries and raspberries.