Our tasting of 16 champagnes (+ 2 sparklers) all priced under £20

I have had quite a few emails from readers recently asking me if this ‘cheap’ champagne sold by such and such a supermarket is actually any good and worth buying. Even one enquiry as to whether Tesco’s ‘exclusive label’ Louis Delaunay Brut would keep long enough for a wedding in June next year. This and many other similar questions led to the idea of setting up a blind tasting of a cross section of such supermarket wines, the champagnes that tend to have the most dramatic discounts at key times of the year, so it all seemed very timely.

I asked Anthony Rose of the Independent to drop by and help me assess them. I didn’t call in any samples of the supermarket ‘own label’ champagnes (bar one from Morrisons) but concentrated on the more obscure names, suppliers of which tend to change relatively frequently, so style and often quality can be inconsistent. All the wines included will be retailing at some point before the New Year at under £20 a bottle, some for considerably less. The Louis Delaunay mentioned above will only be priced at under £10 (if you buy four bottles) for another 24 hours (though I daresay the price will drop to near this level again in the next five weeks).

To make things a bit more interesting I included two sparkling wines in the line-up – one English, one Australian. As it happens both Chapel Down Vintage Réserve and Cloudy Bay Pelorus will be on promotion too soon, both being priced at £14.99-£15.99 a bottle. With the possible exception of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, they were arguably the two strongest brands in the 18 strong line-up. Pelorus is of course owned by Veuve Clicquot, and they know a thing or two about branding there.

Anyway I digress. You’ll want to know the results of our tasting and which of these fizzes we reckon are worth shelling out for. We picked seven champagnes that scored 87 points or more, a level both the Chapel Down and the Pelorus also achieved. Following on from a very impressive Lidl tasting for journalists last week (of which there will be more in a few days) it was little surprise to see the Lidl  Comte de Senneval Grand Réserve (£17.99) do well. It was the only wholly Grand Cru sourced champagne.

It was a surprise when the wrappers from the blind tasting came off to see we marked the Tesco exclusive Louis Delaunay one point higher. If you want to try it you have only 24 hours to get it at just £9.74 a bottle (providing you buy four). The better known regular discount vehicles from Tesco and Sainsbury’s  – Andre Carpentier and Etienne Dumont respectively – were rather dull in comparison.  But things picked up again with Veuve Davanlay from Morrisons, which will be selling at better than half price — £12 as you ask – from the start of December. Though I wouldn’t want to spend £28.99 on this wine, we both preferred it to the Morrisons M Signature Brut that costs £18.99.

We then hit a good patch with the two sparklers; Nicolas Feuillatte Grande Réserve Brut (£15 at Sainsbury’s until the New Year), Laytons Brut Réserve from Jeroboams (down to £15.95 a bottle and you can also get halves and magnums) and finally a newcomer to M&S, Abel Chalot Brut which will be half price down from £32 to £16 from 2 December. This last named champagne I gave my highest score to, after enjoying a couple of glasses of it the next day watching England play appalling rugby. It quite cheered me up.

On Sunday a group of consumers came round to try the fizzes and we will report on what they thought shortly.

Posted in Best Buys, Champagne offers, Champagne prices, Sparkling Wine, Tastings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sainsbury’s raises the ante with more deals

Sainsbury’s has introduced a raft of 13 new offers on champagne today (19 November), some of which mirror, rather closely, deals already running at rivals Tesco and ASDA. Its new offer on Taittinger Brut Réserve for example runs until 25 November, exactly as Tesco’s does, and is better for a single bottle — £25 vs £29.99. Its price on GH Mumm Cordon Rouge is similarly slightly better than Tesco’s £26.49 a bottle. It also trumps the deals running on Nicolas Feuillatte Brut at Tesco and ASDA — where the single bottle price for that wine is £15.99 and £15 respectively — by offering Nicolas Feuillatte Grande Réserve for £20, a higher price but it is a much superior blend.
See Latest Champagne Offers for details.


Posted in Best Buys, Champagne offers, Champagne prices | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tactical discounting drives some prices down

The fierce competition between the grocers is leading to some steep cuts in champagne prices and we are trying to keep abreast of all the latest deals. There are, however, often last minute changes from the promotions which the supermarkets send out in advance to journalists like me. These can happen for a number of reasons but obviously it’s partly about the big grocers always trying to outdo their competitors with a better deal to drive footfall in their stores. We try to keep all the prices accurate and up-to-date and have just amended some of the ASDA deals currently running.

The planned price reduction on Moët’s fine 2006 Vintage isn’t happening, nor is the cut to £30 on Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label. The latter may be because Morrisons have cut the price of Clicquot to exactly £30 and ASDA wants to do something different. Or could it be that Moët Hennessy, the biggest player in Champagne is putting pressure on the supermarkets to try and stop them trashing their brands – which include Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot — when demand for them is at its seasonal peak?

When Sainsbury’s ran its recent blanket 25% reduction on all wines and champagne (starting 29 October) concurrently with other planned price promotions, it was noticeable that the deals due to happen on Clicquot Yellow Label and half bottles of Moët Rosé didn’t run as planned.  Perhaps in the wake of the financial row at Tesco the power of the big grocers to slash prices against the wishes of the brand owners is diminishing?

Posted in Champagne offers, Champagne prices | Leave a comment

Prices drop below £10 for first time in discount frenzy

As predicted on these pages over the past couple of weeks, the price of basic champagne has fallen back to £10 and even just below. Under Tesco’s ongoing 25% off deal — if you buy four bottles or more — the price of its exclusive Louis Delaunay brand has fallen back to just £9.74 from today. And tomorrow (13 November) ASDA starts a new round of discounting that sees the price of a single bottle of Pierre Darcy champagne drop £14.50 to £10 a bottle. For details see Latest Champagne Offers page.



Posted in Best Buys, Champagne offers, Champagne prices | Leave a comment

More low price deals to emerge

While Waitrose’s 25% off deal ends today (4 November) it will still be running some attractive 25% off deals (this time on single bottle purchases) from tomorrow. And although Tesco’s half price offer on Lanson is also due to end today (and £16.99 a single bottle may not be bettered for Black Label in the next 10 weeks), a broader deal is due to start tomorrow. ASDA too has plans to bring some prices down further. The next few days may be a good time to secure your favourite fizz cheaply. See Latest Champagne offers for details.

Posted in Champagne offers, Champagne prices | Tagged | Leave a comment

Three 25% off deals bring prices right down

As predicted here earlier in the week, Waitrose has started a 25% deal off all wines and champagnes today and Sainsbury’s has been enticed into action too, adding a 25% reduction that runs for two weeks until 9 November concurrently with the regular champagne offers, bringing their lowest price down to just £10.50 a bottle. At the end of October three supermarkets have 25% off deals running, while Tesco and Asda continue with large single bottle reductions: they want you to do your Christmas booze shopping early. See Latest offers for more details.

Posted in Champagne offers, Champagne prices | Leave a comment

The big price cuts have started

After the early October lull the big price cuts have kicked off with Tesco introducing a half price deal on Nicolas Feuillatte running until 4 November which sees the price drop to £15.99 a bottle. If this is partly in reaction to Sainsbury’s on-going £20 deal on Lanson it is perhaps a sign of things to come. ASDA online has good deals on Piper Heidsieck, Heidsieck Monopole and Nicolas Feuillatte, the latter two at £15 a bottle, plus Louvel Fontaine at £12 a bottle. See Latest Offers Page for all the current deals.

Posted in Champagne offers, Champagne prices | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roederer launches Non-dosé Champagne

Philippe Starck, Frederick Rouzaud and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon at the launch in Paris

Philippe Starck, Frederick Rouzaud and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon at the launch in Paris

Last night in Paris Louis Roederer unveiled its new cuvée, a 2006 vintage champagne without any dosage with the label designed by Philippe Starck. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to taste it yet but will on the 29th when Frédéric Rouzaud Roederer MD and Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Executive Vice President and Cellar Master, are coming to London to launch it here. Watch this space.


Posted in Vintage Champagne | Tagged | Leave a comment

Abundant harvest looks to be high in quality

The Champagne harvest began in warm sunny conditions with temperatures on the first day (8 September) of picking around 28degC, according to Laurent Gillet, Président du Directoire at Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux a major player in the Côte des Bar region.

Laurent Gillet

Laurent Gillet

Speaking at the Liberty Wines tasting in London on 9 September, Gillet said: “While the weather has been up and down over the summer, the past two weeks immediately before the harvest have been very favourable and we have both quantity and outstanding quality. There has been a long period of maturing since flowering was completed in early June which is best for concentrating all the elements we need to provide good aromas and flavour in the grapes. It’s my 30th vintage in Champagne and one of the best I’ve witnessed.”

Gillet had seen the first part of the harvest, Pinot Noir from the villages of Buxeuil and Neuville arrive in the winery at Bar-sur-Seine the previous day. “The grapes were very large weighing close to 150 grams with potential alcohol up over 10° degrees and acidity very high at 10-11gm/l, a bit like in 1996. So in some areas we are waiting to get better ripeness and this level of acidity will fall very quickly in the current extremely warm conditions which are expected to continue over the next few days.”

Gillet says growers can wait “four of five days beyond the official starting date for their village if they want to achieve better ripeness levels as there is no pressure from disease (botrytis)”. In terms of volume he expects the maximum permitted yield of 13,200kgs/ha (10,500kgs/ha less 400kgs/ha from the current reserve plus a maximum of 3,100kgs/ha that may be put into individual producers’ reserves) will easily be reached.

In nearby Les Riceys, the largest single cru in all Champagne and an important source of good Pinot Noir for many of the larger negociants (houses) where picking will start towards the end of the week (11-12 September), there is a big range in maturity on the differently exposed slopes with some already up between 10-11° degrees and other still under 9° degrees, says Gillet.

Posted in Harvest News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Champagne harvest begins

The Champagne harvest officially began today with the secateurs out in villages like the top premier cru of Cumières and other sites known for their early ripening. Among the early starters are Vitry-en-Perthos and several villages in the Côte des Bar region including Bligny, Urville, Ville-sur-Arce, Polisy, and Polisot.

Every village has a separate date on which producers can start picking each individual variety but many will hold off until optimum ripeness is achieved.  The yield is expected to be considerable and the maximum yield agreed of 10,500 kilos per hectare plus 3,100kgs/ha for the reserve should easily be achieved in most parts of the appellation.

Posted in Harvest News | Leave a comment