A funny thing happened on the way to the millennium. The French Champagne shortage that some had predicted never materialized. Instead, my tastings uncovered a bonanza of great French bubbly. Particularly striking is the quality of the current batch of nonvintage bruts, the $25-$35 ones that constitute the vast majority of all Champagne sold. Never have I tasted nonvintage bruts of such quality. The Champagne houses appear to have dug extra deep into their precious supplies of older reserve wines to meet the extraordinary demand, lending the nonvintage bruts, which are blends of several years, noticeably greater mellowness and complexity. I'd like to think it's just the Champenoise's way of saying thanks for a great century or two. The following are listed in order of preference, along with a few competitively priced vintage bottlings. Champagne is often steeply discounted, so it may pay to shop around.


Taittinger Brut La Francaise ($37): Always elegant and balanced, Brut La Francaise has an extra depth and toastiness this year, making it my choice as the one most likely to please anyone lucky enough to have it pass over his or her lips. Chardonnay- dominated flavors are crisp and fresh, but this year's extra-biscuity notes from older reserve wines in the blend provide unusual authority. A celebration in a glass. (Forman)

Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut ($32): Bollinger's distinctive full-flavored, mature style would embarrass the luxury cuvees of many top houses. For lovers of big, biscuity, British-style Champagnes, there's hardly a better choice, except, of course, for Champagne Pol Roger's remarkable and rare Cuvee Winston Churchill ($140). (Wines Ltd.)

Charles Heidsieck (Mis en Cave 1993) Brut ($55): This has been aging in Charles Heidsieck's cellars since 1993 (hence, "mis en cave 1993"). Such in-house aging provides a marriage of fruity attack with mellow maturity that few ordinary nonvintage bruts can match. (Forman)

A. Soutiran Brut Grand Cru Rose ($40): Among the most enthralling rose Champagnes I have ever tasted, this is something like a sparkling Grand Cru red Burgundy. Perfect for duck in berry sauce. (Wine Source)

Larmandier-Bernier 1995 Vieilles Vignes de Cramant Grand Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs ($40): This superb all-Chardonnay Champagne will appeal to purists of the lean, ultra-dry, ultra-elegant style of Krugs's Clos de Mesnil ($275). (Country Vintner)

Deutz Brut Classic ($30-$35; best buy): A subtle interplay of mature, biscuity notes with bright citrusy notes makes this unsung Grande Marque a genuine sleeper. (Forman)

H. Blin & Co. Brut Rose ($35): Festive and full of lively pinot noir fruit, this thoroughly charming wine is the perfect aperitif rose. (Eric's Wines)

Pierre Moncuit 1992 Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($42): Beautiful butter and toast notes highlight this ethereally frothy Blanc de Blancs. (Franklin Selections)

Thierry Triolet Grande Reserve Brut ($35): Complex, with fresh apple and mature biscuit notes. (Wine Traditions)

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvee ($35): Husky and complex, this perennial favorite does not disappoint. (Washington Wholesale)

Nicolas Feuillatte Premier Cru Brut ($25-$30; best buy): This full-bodied, yeasty blend gives up nothing to the big boys. (Bacchus)

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut ($28-$30; best buy): Mature and subtle, classic P-J. (Washington Wholesale)

Gosset Excellence Brut ($35): Much character from toasty, minerally notes and a big, round finish.(Forman)


Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut ($25-$30; best buy): Fresh with subtle hints of biscuit. (Washington Wholesale)

Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial ($33): Maybe some of that scarce Dom Perignon ended up in here for a change. (Forman)

Billecart-Salmon Reserve 2000 Brut ($35): Fresh, spicy and bold. (Country Vintner)

Vranken Demoiselle Grande Cuvee Brut ($30): Elegant package, youthful, balanced wine. (Vranken USA)

Veuve Clicquot Brut "Yellow Label" ($40): A bit restrained, but flavors open nicely in the glass. (Bacchus)

Henriot Brut "Souverain" ($33): Full-bodied, veddy British. (Vinifrance)

Ployez-Jacquemart Brut ($30): Fine, mid-weight style. (Bacchus)

Ruinart Brut ($38): Smoky Ruinart style, distinctive as always. (Forman)

Louis Roederer Brut Premier ($42): Mature, biscuity style in fine form. (Forman)

Pol Roger Brut ($35): Distinctive Pinot Meunier influence adds a zesty, fresh herb note. Vintage 1990 brut is exceptional. ($62). (Forman)

Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut ($30): No longer a heavyweight, this new, fresher style will win friends.(DOPS)

Pommery Brut Royal "Apanage" ($36): Made from older wines than the regular Brut Royal, this will peak in 6 to 12 months. (Forman)

H. Blin & Co. Brut Reserve ($35): Fresh and charming. (Eric's Wines)