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 them what the brand is and also what the reassuringly luxurious packaging looks like (this is a prestige cuvée market). And even if the staff are trained to do this, will the temptation be too strong to pour the glasses out of view, where any clumsy, unskilled pouring won’t be seen, bringing the champagne to the customer in a glass already filled?

This shouldn’t of course happen on terra firma in a good quality restaurant. Champagne served by the glass should opened (ideally) but certainly poured, at the table, in front of the customer. There are very good reasons for doing this, both from the restaurant’s and brand owner’s points of view.

From the restaurant’s perspective, nothing is more likely to boost its sales of champagne that day than waiting staff opening a bottle of fizz and pouring it, in full view of other diners. It’s the best advertisement you can have for champagne by the glass. But customers paying a premium price for a glass of champagne, also deserve to see the bottle it comes from. The suspicion that any outlet might be serving something less prestigious than they are charging for, is not something a restaurant should arouse.

From the brand owner’s perspective, they want the restaurant’s clientele to see what they are drinking, partly in the hope that such customers will want to buy the same wine again whether in another restaurant or at home and will in future know what the label looks like.

When I met up for lunch last week with the team at Drinks International to celebrate publication of the fourth ‘Most Admired Champagne Brands’ supplements I have overseen and written, naturally we looked at the fizz list first. [You can read the magazine, our most successful and largest to date, via this link: https://goo.gl/U6jAnE .] When we spotted Piper Heidsieck Rare 2002 selling for just £15 a glass (£89 a bottle) at 28-50 in Fetter Lane (it’s the same price in its two sister restaurants in Maddox Street and Marylebone Lane) it was an easy decision. This must be the bargain fizz deal in the on-trade currently.

The wine came, not served in flutes, but in more generous, tulip shaped wine glasses — full marks to the restaurant here — but they were pre-poured away from the table and there was no sign of the elaborately decorated ‘Rare’ bottle (see photograph) that shouts ‘prestige cuvée’. A lost opportunity to impress us, or other diners, and possibly to make more sales.

The other great, more venerable still, aged champagne bargain, that’s been around for several years now, is Charles Heidsieck 1995 Blancs des Millénaires. You can still find bottles of at one or two select retail outlets for around £150 (£149.95 The Finest Bubble). It won’t be there much longer because the next, 2004 vintage, has just been launched.

We will be catching up on this and other new releases soon, plus some pink champagnes for Valentine’s Day.

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”

Prices remain low despite weakness of pound

At the time of writing the lowest price for champagne in UK supermarkets continues to be at around the £10 a bottle level with ‘exclusive labels’ at Lidl, Aldi and ASDA to the fore. Sainsbury’s and Tesco tend to favour a six bottle discount of 25% running at the same time as other offers and the former grocer has started just such a deal today (16 August) while the latter is expected to follow suit in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s no surprise to hear that the vast majority of champagne in the UK take home trade is sold at a discount. In the total champagne category Continue reading “Prices remain low despite weakness of pound”

Will discounting slow, given likely small harvest in 2016?

Who buys champagne at the ‘full’ price in a UK supermarket? If a supermarket lists something you want, you just need to wait until they slash the price before making your purchase. And if it is one of the big brands, you won’t have to wait for long. As the retail war between grocers continues apace, the only issue is trying to assess what’s a ‘good discount’ for any given brand. Each week there’s usually something with a least a £10 reduction, see the Latest Champagne Offers page.

But will it last? The recent problems with the 2016 harvest, already hit by severe frost earlier in the year, and more recently from several weeks of Continue reading “Will discounting slow, given likely small harvest in 2016?”

Great offer on some of my favourite fizz

The Wine Society has some great offers on champagne running until the year end. And they have put together a mouth-watering six bottle case you can order up until 27 December for delivery by New Year’s Eve. And they’ve extended the deadline for pre-Christmas delivery to midnight on Sunday (20 December).

The case includes one bottle each of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, consistently one of the best and most complex NV champagnes on the market over the past decade; the Society’s superb barrel Continue reading “Great offer on some of my favourite fizz”

Lallier launches exciting new style ‘non-vintage’

If you are looking for a great advertisement for the use of ‘reserve wine’ in the make-up of Lallier R012 Pic B with glassnon-vintage champagne, this is it. A new cuvée created by Lallier owner/winemaker Francis Tribaut, it is mostly based (81%) on the very high quality 2012 harvest and (this particular sample) was disgorged in February 2015, so it had around 24 months’ lees ageing plus about five months on the cork when I tried it, not particularly long for top-notch un-vintaged champagne — or champagne sans année as the French more elegantly describe it. But top-notch champagne it certainly is with a refreshing tang plus an unusual richness and depth for a relatively youthful wine.

Tribaut has, it appears, borrowed and put his own spin on an idea from the Chiquet brothers at Jacquesson whose NV champagne each year (currently Cuvée 738 based on 2010) is a different blend that seeks to reflect the particular harvest and show it in the best light possible. The key here in the Lallier wine is however, I suspect, the quality and age of the reserves wines that are used in the blend. They come from the 2002, 2004 and 2008 harvests which some would name as the three best of that decade – though ‘06 and more recently ‘09 are also making waves. The high quality of the base year 2012 is almost universally agreed. And 85% of the blend comes from grand cru sites like Aÿ (where Lallier is based) and Ambonnay (Pinot Noir), Cramant and Oger (Chardonnay).

Producers more typically use reserve wines from the two or three years prior to the harvest base year in their non-vintage blends– so that would be the un-exciting 2011, 2010 harvests and the ripe high quality ’09. But picking very specific, more venerable reserve wines all from good to great years, makes a difference. Or it certainly appears so here. I’m a big fan of the Jacquesson 700 series NV wines but they are quite a bit more expensive than this Lallier newcomer – currently Cuvée 738 is £43.95 at bbr.com . Lallier makes very good champagne across the whole range but doesn’t yet have the cachet of Jacquesson so the value is very decent too.

Normally priced at £28.95 a bottle, champagneguru readers have the exclusive chance to buy a six bottle case of this wine at an attractive discount until the end of September, thanks to a deal we’ve put together with on line retailer Slurp. For details of the deal turn to the Latest Retail Offers page.

Magnums and Own Label the best buys at Waitrose

With Waitrose 25% off all six bottle purchases of wines and champagne running for a further four days, it’s a good time to take a quick look at the champagnes they showed at last month’s tasting to pick out the best deals. As I have mentioned in the latest retail offers page, these are mainly on the wines that don’t usually get discounted by this much and are regularly well priced, namely the Own Label champagnes.

2015-05-07 Roed & Bolly magsOf these the stand out wine on tasting last month was the 2015-05-07 13.32.11Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV which is supplied by Maison Burtin — part of the BCC group, the largest in Champagne after LVMH, that also owns Lanson and Philipponnat among other brands. This was showing very attractively with some peppery, spicy notes and a distinctive biscuity textural complexity in the mid-palate which many big name brands would be happy to boast of. Buy six bottles and the price comes down from an affordable £24.99 to a bargain £18.74.

The other wine I’d stock up is the Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2007 vintage, down from £33.99 a bottle to £25.49. I thought it was the non-vintage blend of this wine, still very good indeed which I tasted last week at a brilliant Berry Bros & Rudd ‘Artisans Champagne’ tasting (of which more shortly). But in fact Waitrose no longer sell the non-vintage cuvée this is an all Grand Cru vintage cuvée and an even better buy. One reader has already pointed this out to me, buying some last week when sadly the discount was a little smaller, but hopefully he will still be happy with the quality in the bottle. (I’m opening a bottle of the Le Mesnil 2004 in a minute to remind myself how delicious this wine gets with more age).

I also notice that on the groceries website (waitrose.com) Heidsieck Heritage which is made by P&C Heidsieck and was very decent the last time I tasted it (it wasn’t shown at the May tasting), is just £17.99 so this would come down under the 25% off deal to just £12.49 which makes it a pretty good buy for a party.

In praise of magnums

Waitrose champagne buyer Ken McKay told me that under their recent full review of sparkling wine and champagne they have delisted some champagnes in order to increase the range of sparkling wines, but at the same time, because magnums have been selling well, they have increased the range of larger formats they are offering from the start of June and they had five different champagnes in magnum at the tasting. They were Lanson Black Label (£67.99), Laurent-Perrier (£77.99), Pol Roger £77.99), Louis Roederer Brut Premier (£84.99) and Bollinger Special Cuvée (£89.99).

These all showed well, except for the Pol Roger which was curious subdued – in my experience magnums of champagne nearly always taste better than bottles of the same wine, sometime significantly so. Speaking to James Simpson MD of Pol Roger at the London Wine Fair this may be explained by the relatively recent disgorgement of this wine and I note that is doesn’t appear on the Waitrose list yet, so perhaps they have decided to hold it back a couple of months, by which time it should have recovered from the shock of disgorgement.

Helpfully Lanson actually put the date of disgorgement on the magnum — in this case June 2014 – so you can make a judgement about when to drink it. Given the already fresh, crisp Lanson style, I’d keep it until Christmas, by when it will have mellowed further. Of the other three, Laurent-Perrier, a good all round aperitif style that’s light and refreshing, will be on offer from 24 June, so I’d wait until then if you want to buy some. The Bollinger Special Cuvée, which usually really shines in magnum, is not quite mature enough but already good. The star of the quintet is the Louis Roederer Brut Premier, very good in bottle the last few times I have tasted it this year, in magnum it is even better, deliciously lively, spicy, complex, with a long long finish. This too will be at a great price from 24 June if you can bear to wait that long to try it. Sadly magnums are not included in the present 25% off deal.

There are two ways you can shop this offer at Waitrose online by going to www.waitrosecellar.com to buy by the six bottle case or through the grocery channel at www.waitrose.com  There are 61 champagne options in waitrosecellar.com and 41 through the grocery channel, but more magnums on the former site.