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”

Dom Pérignon launches 2002 P2

Dom Pérignon 2002 P2 and the original release

Bruno Paillard, who has long championed the use of disgorgement dates on his own champagnes, and those of the brands in the wider BCC group, has an anecdote he is fond of bringing up to emphasize the importance of post-disgorgement ageing. He feels the more venerable the wine, the longer it needs to recover from the shock of disgorgement. In much the same way as an older person is likely to take longer to recover from a serious operation than a younger one. It makes sense. Champagne is unlikely to perform at its best Continue reading “Dom Pérignon launches 2002 P2”

Robuchon dies after long illness

Very sad to hear the news (yesterday) that celebrated chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon has died after a long battle with cancer. He’s the man whose restaurants have been awarded more Michelin stars than anyone else – they hold 23 round the world currently. I have been lucky enough to meet him, and eat his sublime food, twice in the past five Continue reading “Robuchon dies after long illness”

Canard-Duchêne celebrates 150th anniversary and launches new prestige Cuvée V

Alain Thiénot raises a glass of Cuvée Léonie to 15 years of work at Canard-Duchêne

Last month Canard-Duchêne hosted guests from around the world in Ludes to celebrate the house’s 150th anniversary. It has been 15 years since Alain Thiénot bought the house from LVMH, Continue reading “Canard-Duchêne celebrates 150th anniversary and launches new prestige Cuvée V”

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”

Dom Pérignon launches P2 2000: an exploration of extra lees ageing

Vincent Chaperon, right hand man of Dom Pérignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, was in London earlier this month to launch the P2 version of Dom Pérignon 2000. Interestingly, he also bought along the original 2000 release aged on the cork since its disgorgement several years ago in 2007. We went along to see him and asked him to talk us through the quite considerable difference in tasting profile the same wine has when it gets a decade and a half of lees ageing.

See the interview video:

Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008

In a previous interview with Benoït Gouez, the chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, when I asked about the, as yet unreleased Moët vintages in the Epernay cellars, he expressed a strong preference for 2009 over the much more acidic 2008. Two years on, at a time when many other major producers have released their 2008s, how does it compare with the previous ample and forward 2006 vintage?

Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez
Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez

It’s much tighter and fresher, as Gouez himself says, it very much majors on a bright, grapefruit-lifted, zestiness, Continue reading “Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008”

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”