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A Crash Course in Hotel Bubbly

At first, you’ve got nothing to go on but brand recognition and a belief that what’s popular can’t be all bad. But when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that, while a few of the big corporate names are as good as their marketing would have you believe, it’s much more often the small, independent players that, in the end, offer the very best product.

Sorry, did you think we were talking about hotels? It’s not a bad guess — in fact, when applied to hospitality, it’s more or less our mission statement — but in this case the topic is another one that’s dear to our hearts: Champagne.

Together with our friends at Saveur we hosted a little taste test to make an important point: that Champagne, like hospitality, isn’t something you want to leave to the big brands. (Yes, we capitalize Champagne — we’re part French, after all, and we’re sticklers for propriety.)

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Photos by Matt Taylor-Gross / Saveur Magazine

You might think that most of the Champagne in the world is produced by the corporations whose names everyone knows. In fact, they only make up a disproportionate share of what’s exported. There are hundreds of artisanal Champagnes de Vignerons, which roughly means Champagnes that are made by growers, rather than bought and bottled by the big concerns. Many of them are sold direct to consumers, which explains why you don’t see them advertised everywhere — but if you’re serious about Champagne, then you can do a bit of homework and find many, many wines that are capable of putting the famous brands to shame.

For us, this kind of “research” is something of a hobby, but we’re not the only ones who’ve done our homework. We invited managers and sommeliers from seven of our favorite New York hotels, and asked them to bring one or two of their favorite bottles — the sort of thing you’d get if, in a celebratory mood, you called down to reception to ask them to send up a bottle of Champagne.

With our friends at Saveur hosting the party in their Manhattan test kitchen, and our own co-founder, Laurent Vernhes, acting as co-host and master of ceremonies, we conducted a blind taste test, but not before slipping in a couple of ringers alongside the bottles brought by the hotels — one of which, a bottle from a popular house with a familiar orange label, scored dead last. The only rules were that each bottle had to cost less than $100 at retail, and each one had to be something that’s on the menu in their own hotel.

taste testers

Photos by Matt Taylor-Gross / Saveur Magazine

The results, in the end, were uniformly impressive — not only the wines, but the people as well. The hotels all sent knowledgeable representatives, from general managers who know their wine to expert sommeliers, like the Park Hyatt’s Tristan Pratt-Vincent, Baccarat‘s Jeff Taylor, and the Bowery Hotel’s Vincent Mosso. For a complete rundown of the results of the tasting, and what it means for those of us who are just beginning to learn what separates good from great Champagne, we can’t do better than Saveur’s What a Blind Tasting Taught Us about Buying Champagne, which packs an awful lot of detailed knowledge into a few short paragraphs.

The short version: out of the 14 bottles tested, these were the five that stole the show:

1. H. Blin, Blanc de Noirs 100% Meunier
2. Maison Vernhes, Brut Réserve
3. Billecart-Salmon, Brut Rosé
4. Savart, Premier Cru, L’ouverture
5. Billecart-Salmon, Brut Réserve

These results more or less mirror what we’ve found to be true in the world of hotels. Sometimes the big corporations do offer an impressive product — Billecart-Salmon is one of the last of the big family-owned Champagne brands, and they placed highly in our taste-testers’ rankings, just as the Park Hyatt and the Marriott-owned EDITION hotels, not exactly mom-and-pop operations, rate among the city’s top hotels.

But just as often it’s in the highly varied and idiosyncratic world of the independent producers that you find the gems. (H. Blin and Savart are certainly not corporate mega-brands, and Maison Vernhes — well, if you’ve been reading closely, you might recognize the Vernhes name, but that’s a story for another time.) The same, of course, holds true for the hotels themselves. The Bowery Hotel, part of a New York-based micro-chain, brought two of the best-rated wines, which is fitting, as they’ve been quite close to the top of Tablet’s customer-satisfaction measures since they opened. And we had strong entries from rising stars like the Archer Hotel and the Baccarat Hotel & Residences, as well as solid contributions from established boutique concerns like the Soho Grand and the Roxy Hotel Tribeca.

We’d like to thank all the hotels that participated. And if you remember just one thing from this whole extravaganza, let it be this: next time you’re in a hotel, celebrating a promotion, or an engagement, or maybe just a Thursday, remember that an excellent bottle of (independently produced!) Champagne is only a phone call away. Provided, that is, that you’ve chosen a hotel that takes its Champagne seriously — and we’re happy to report that all of these do.

Interested in New York boutique hotels? Check out the Top 10 boutique hotels in New York.

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