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.

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”

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.