Own Label and grower producers offer top value
Although the major international brands have all gone up in price again over the past few months, in the run-up to Mothers’ Day and Easter there are good deals on the punters favourite buy at this time of year: GH Mumm, a far better wine that it was only a decade ago, it’s now very decent drinking. Bollinger Special Cuvee is also being quite heavily promoted and for those that like a toasty rich champagne it’s hard to beat.
In the supermarkets the most attractive deals in terms of price are still on their Own Label and ‘exclusive’ brands. The trouble with these champagnes is their consistency and reliability. So I do try to taste them regularly and report on their current form. They can be very good indeed and offer great value for money. But the supermarkets can and often do change suppliers, particularly with their ‘exclusive brands’, and as a result the wine sold under the same label may be quite different in both style and quality to the last time you bought it.
It may seem unfair to pick out Waitrose as an example of this when over recent years they have had the widest choice and some of the very best ‘exclusive brands’, many supplied P&C Heidsieck, but they have changed their supplier for their Bredon exclusive label from P&C Heidsieck to Lombard & Médot. As a result the blend, previously mostly black grapes is now more of a three way mix and a lighter style.
More confusing still sometimes supermarkets have been known to sell two different vintage champagnes at the same time supplied by two separate suppliers but under the same label.
Clearly then some guidance about the supermarkets’ main own label and ‘exclusive’ champagnes, their style and who supplies them will be helpful for anyone looking for the best wines and deals. In another page here I have also put together something about pink champagne which includes a guide to the supermarkets’ current rosé offering.
Typically each supermarket chain divides its exclusive champagne range into two: its own Label range and what are called Buyers’ Own Brands (BoB). The best quality wines and the ones they take most care in selecting are their Own Label range which bear their name — for example Tesco Finest, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference and ASDA Extra Special. Discounts aren’t normally massive on these champagnes and the best prices recently have been when a particular grocer runs a blanket 25% off deal on all their wines.
The BoB lines tend to be the ones that are promoted at half price at key times of year, quality is variable and these often dull, sometimes poor quality champagnes are best avoided, though there are exceptions that are decent and good one off parcels. The De Vallois fizz, which Tesco has been selling at around £13 off and on recently, is decently made and develops a biscuity richness with extra age.
Tesco Finest range is on good form currently. The wine I like most being the Tesco Finest Premier Cru Brut NV, a refreshing, lifted, citrus-edged Chardonnay dominant style (with 30% Pinot Noir in the blend) that makes a classy aperitif and a bargain when it is promoted at under £15 as it sometimes is. If you are a fan of fresh, delicately fruity rosé, its new pink partner — Finest Rosé Brut supplied by Chanoine Frères — is also very appealing. The Finest Brut and Finest Brut Vintage 2007, both come from the high quality Union Champagne co-operative based in Avize in the Côte des Blancs. Union Champagne’s classy, great value De Saint Gall brand is available at M&S and knocks spots off most of the other ‘exclusive’ lines they sell.
Over at Sainsbury’s their Blanc de Blancs style of champagne is produced by the family-run house of Duval-Leroy which is located in the premier cru of Vertus in the Côte des Blancs and the current attractive, creamy, biscuity, fine-textured blend is based on the high quality 2008 harvest. Look out for this style when it is being promoted along with the delicious Blanc de Noirs made by the excellent Producteurs des Grands Terroirs co-operative.
I would also be tempted by the Louis Bernard Brut at ASDA which is supplied by Chanoine Frères, one of the oldest houses in Champagne. Chanoine’s 2007 vintage style available on the Tesco website is a good buy, especially when on promotion.
For lovers of more mature styles of non-vintage champagne like me, one of the very best champagnes on Tesco’s website is the often promoted Michel Gonet Brut Réserve NV. For current drinking I slightly prefer it to the Michel Gonet Blanc de Blancs that all comes from the Grand Cru village of Avize where this quality grower is based. The latter is still resolutely crisp and fresh and although it has the palate intensity to show its pedigree, it really needs a little more bottle age to reach its best.
Good vintage champagne is arguably the best buy in the whole market at present, certainly it’s usually far better value than non-vintage rosé, which is often priced around the same level. If you want to treat yourself to extra flavour and richness, it is a relatively small step up in price from the big names’ non-vintage wines, as those with the best image are all now regularly priced at over £35 a bottle. Some of the supermarket vintage wines are very decent currently and I’d add Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 2005, a 80% Chardonnay/20% Pinot Noir blend supplied by Duval-Leroy, to the Chanoine wines at ASDA and Tesco mentioned above. Tesco will have a terrific vintage 2008 wine from Chanoine later in the year which you must look out for.
If you are looking for an all-Chardonnay vintage I can also recommend the Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2005. At the end of 2012 I tasted this buttery, generous, palate rich champagne alongside the previous 2004, 2002 and 1999 vintages with Jacquart’s relatively new winemaker Floriane Eznack and it was her favourite in the line-up (see Tastings).
While Laurent-Perrier is not a house I particularly think of for vintage champagne, its last two releases from the top class and very good years of 2002 and 2004 have really impressed and they are both immediately appealing. Many other 2002s – although such generalisations are dangerous the 2004s are mostly more forward — would benefit from several years additional ageing before they reach their best. Look out too for deals on the delicious Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger 2004s.