Valentine’s Day caught me unprepared last year, resulting in a rush to Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar. Not this time! This year I’ll be ready with my own damn oysters. Serving oysters at home, however, necessitates serving Champagne. Oysters and Champagne are inseparable in my mind; I would prefer no other wine pairing for these briny, beautiful bivalves.

Which raises a question I ask myself on a regular basis anyhow: what Champagne should be served? Most of the time I’ll spring for Pol Roger or Perrier-Jouët. I leave the ubiquitous yellow soda pop Veuve Cliquot well alone. But sometimes I want a Champagne that has the reliable toasty approachability of Veuve (without that mass-produced feel), while keeping some of the vibrancy that draws me to Perrier-Jouët. The answer usually comes up Mumm.

While G.H. Mumm is one of the largest producers of Champagne in Reims, with over 600 acres under vine, they do keep the wines interesting across their line of production. The “Cordon Rouge” NV (Non-Vintage – the still wines used in the blend come from multiple harvests) is their basic offering. It is blended from 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier. Nothing supremely fancy about this wine, just a solid bottle that goes great with fish and chips, fried chicken… and oysters on Valentine’s Day. Class, we haz it.

A deep gold in the glass, with a perfectly reasonable bead and mousse. Aromas of toast and buttery apple and pear bounce around when you bring your nose into play, and the mouthfeel is full but silky soft in texture. I love the balance on this wine; there’s just enough acidity to keep it interesting. More sweet fruit flavors and toast (no citrus core here) carry you through to a lingering buttery finish. If your significant other looks like they’ll cast you into the abyss unless you get your romantic act together, start here. Great value at $30. Pair with Blue Point oysters, any sushi featuring eel, or – seriously, I mean this – fried chicken.

While in France this April, we visited the caves of Mercier, one of the great producers, but apparently not so well known as some of the other producers from the region, like Bollinger, or Krug. They have over 230 hectares of vineyards, however, all on chalky sub-soil, and produce some very fine wine. Over 50 cuvees go into the final blend for this Brut, and it shows in the complexity of the final product. We opened our last half bottle recently, and what follows are my tasting notes.

A pale straw in the glass, with a glorious mousse, leading to zesty aromas of green apple and pear paired to a richly toasted element, like bread that has just been baked. Great acidity, crisp and biting, balanced to the bright fruit. This is not shy wine. The finish is also long and refreshing. Drink this on any occasion, but especially with oyster gratin, or lightly battered clams. $18.

Made in the Blanc de Blancs tradition, exclusively from the Chardonnay grape, this nonvintage Champagne is perhaps the best of its kind I’ve acquired. Normally this wine retails at around $46 for a half (375 mL) bottle, but I obtained it at a bargain that makes it eligible for this forum.

In the clear glass bottle, apparently a replica from an 18th Century model, the wine is a pale golden color, almost a straw gold, with unmatched brilliance – like afternoon summer light on water. The nose shows slight citrus fruits, especially lime, but is balanced with notes of honey, and a full nutty toastiness that I just love in new style Champagne. This wine is extremely elegant on the palate, but with firm acidity, a creamy backdrop showing more nutty richness and round fruit. Unbelievable finish, one that lingers.

I would drink this pensively.