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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.