Best value wines for Christmas and the New Year

With the round of autumn retail tastings over, it’s time to look back to find some of the best bets for champagne, that you can readily buy in the next couple of weeks and that won’t break the bank. The Wine Society has an extensive champagne and sparkling wine list and while it’s a members’ only co-operative, it doesn’t cost a fortune to become one. You can join for £40 and for any wine loving friend who isn’t already a member, it would make a great gift.

This three-way blend of Champagne’s three main grape varieties is based on the 2014 harvest and fermented in small old Burgundy casks. Four years on its lees gives extra complexity

You only have to go to one of their regular press tastings and see who attends, to understand the high esteem in which the Society is held by fellow journalists. On the Champagne front, it deals with many of the big-name houses, and it sells their wines at very keen prices. But some of the most exciting offerings and best value are to be found among the growers it works with, some of the smaller family run houses and the very traditional producer based in Epernay that makes the Society’s own champagne – Alfred Gratien.

I always like to have some Alfred Gratien Brut NV in my cellar and at the current price of £132 for six bottles, a saving on the standard price of £72, I can’t think of a reason not to buy more (and I just have today). Fermented in oak casks this wine gets a good deal more time in bottle than many celebrated names and boasts a rich, spicy, savoury style that works both as a great pick me up and with the right sort of food: savoury fishy canapés.

Alexandre Chartogne has taken the wines to another level

Of the small houses and growers on the list, while it’s hard to go wrong, I’d pick out at quartet that really won’t disappoint and although each has acquired a following, their prices remain very reasonable given the quality, character and individuality they display. Based in the village of Merfy to the west of Reims, in one of the oldest areas of vineyard in the appellation, Chartogne-Taillet is run by Alexandre who has taken his parents business, and already good wines, to another level. Cuvée Sainte Anne NV at £30 is a great introduction to an exciting range.

Laherte-Frères run by Aurélien Laherte is based in Chavot just to the west of Epernay

Located in in the Marne Valley to the west of Epernay in Chavot, Laherte-Frères is run by Aurelien Laherte, who like Alexandre Chartogne, is one of the original members of the Terres et Vins group of growers founded in 2009, that includes some of Champagne’s best, many of whom farm organically and some biodynamically. Ultradition Brut is a delicious offering, complex and with real depth of flavour, a snip at £29. In contrast we have two growers offering the delights of Grand Cru Pinot Noir on the one hand, and top Chardonnay from Grand Cru sites, plus the highly rated cru of Cuis (a favourite Côte des Blanc cru for Bollinger) on the other.

Gimonnet’s Brut is made from the top premier cru site of Cuis

 

They are respectively, Pierre Paillard based in Bouzy (where all the family vineyards are located) and Pierre Gimonnet in Cuis, a grower with vineyards there and in Cramant, Chouilly and Oger too. Coincidentally both these fine producers are run by two brothers. All the Gimmonet wines are exemplary Blanc de Blancs, the premier cru Brut (£29!) is a brisk introduction that shows complexity and depth, partly bought by judicious use of reserve wines.

The Blanc de Noirs style of the Paillard wines are a fine contrast, richer, more savoury, but never lacking the freshness you should find in Grand Cru Noir. Les Parcelles 14 Grand Cru is a great example at just £29 a bottle.

I’ve been impressed recently by a rise in quality in the Boizel champagnes, where considerable investment over the past few years has perked up the Boizel Brut NV (sold at the same price and with the same discount as the Gratien if you but a case of six) to make it very decent drinking. And if you

This wine gets the extra ageing that gives it a lovely richness and maturity

want an added level of maturity and richness brought on to a great extent by extra lees ageing, the Society offers Castelnau’s Brut Réserve at £29.50.

We will be looking at some of the best buys from specialists like Berry Bros & Rudd plus other High Street retailers in the next few days.

Waitrose still boasts one of the best Champagne ranges in High Street

While the Waitrose Blanc de Noirs, currently our ‘wine of the week’, is no longer on offer, with Father’s Day fast approaching there are still a couple of other champagnes on a deal that are drinking really well and represent great value.

The Waitrose Brut Vintage 2007 (the ‘05 preceded it), which has been the grocer’s vintage champagne offering for well over a year now, is at or near its apogee. It’s a rich, generous style with a majority of Chardonnay in the blend (52%) plus Continue reading “Waitrose still boasts one of the best Champagne ranges in High Street”

Wine of the Week

Waitrose Blanc de Noirs Brut NV

A 100% Pinot Noir based Blanc de Noirs all based on the 2014 harvest

Back on great form this succulent, apple tarte tatin fizz is simply a delightfully moreish drink. Made for Waitrose by Alexandre Bonnet which is based in Les Riceys, the largest single cru in the Champagne appellation, it shows how good Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bars can be — for those that didn’t already know and haven’t tasted such excellent examples as those made in this southernmost part of Champagne by the likes of Continue reading “Wine of the Week”

Ten pink champagnes to delight (and fit different budgets)

Pink champagne ticks all the boxes. It looks great in the glass, it is softer and often more generously fruity than white champagne, making it more approachable for those that dislike champagne’s inherent acidity. It elevates an ordinary occasion into something special. And many feel that, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, it’s a must.

Pink champagnes tend to be more expensive than their white counterparts, sometimes, and notably in the case of a handful of prestige cuvées, Continue reading “Ten pink champagnes to delight (and fit different budgets)”

Revisiting an old favourite

Franck Bonville Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Avize

Olivier Bonville winemaker at Franck Bonville In Avize

I’ve been to see Olivier Bonville, the winemaker at Franck Bonville in Avize several times over the course of many years. While I’ve always liked his wines, I hadn’t come across them recently. But a good friend produced a bottle of Avize Grand Cru Blancs de Blancs as a delightful prelude to Sunday lunch, the other day. I was so impressed Continue reading “Revisiting an old favourite”

Message in a bottle

One of the main reasons that champagne houses covet working with the leading airlines is they like the exposure for their brands. They want to be seen as the preferred pour in the first or business class cabin. Partly because this is an affluent audience that’s difficult to reach, they will even agree relatively unprofitable deals to get the listing, though of course they are at pains to deny this.

But they know there is a large potential downside to this exposure. Will the cabin staff pour the champagne in front of the customer, thus showing Continue reading “Message in a bottle”

Vintage champagne that hits the spot

Nipping out for a last-minute bottle of fizz to celebrate the end of 2017 and welcome in the New Year? If it’s something vintage you are after that’s drinking superbly well now, then Waitrose Brut 2005, the wine I finished my recent WSET tasting with, is very hard to beat. Made Continue reading “Vintage champagne that hits the spot”

Still places available at my WSET tasting

Next week I’m doing another Champagne tasting at the London HQ of the Wine & Spirt Education Trust (WSET). This time, with purchases for Christmas and the New Year partly in mind, I’m concentrating on pointing people in the direction of some great champagnes from slightly less known producers, which match or better some of the wines made by the big names. And partly as a result of being less well known, your money goes a lot further in terms of getting more exciting wine.

There are eight different producers involved, four growers and four co-operatives. We start with a fine pair of contrasting Continue reading “Still places available at my WSET tasting”

In praise of half bottles’ faster maturing

Too few restaurants offer a decent selection of half bottles on their wine lists, though the trend towards listing a number of wines served in 25 and 50cl carafes, now seen in many more casual dining establishments, is to be applauded. Half bottles of champagne are particularly handy, especially if there’s two of you and you plan to have some wine too. Just a glass of good fizz is rarely enough.

While quite a few champagne houses now seem reluctant to produce half bottles, citing quality issues and the fact that they mature more quickly, I see that (speed of development) as an advantage in certain instances. A half bottle of Krug is a welcome Continue reading “In praise of half bottles’ faster maturing”

Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain

Waitrose has by some way the widest selection of sparkling wines and champagnes among the main UK grocers and has introduced some further exciting lines recently, mostly only available through its on-line Waitrose Cellar operation which runs to 63 different champagnes. While the current 25% off promotion is running — until next Tuesday 8 November — this is a great opportunity to try some of these at a bargain price. In addition, there are some attractive deals on some prestigious names, rarely Continue reading “Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain”