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Champagnes For Christmas From Neil Sowerby

Mr Bubbly froths at the mouth

Published on December 17th 2012.

Champagnes For Christmas From Neil Sowerby


‘AUSTERITY Bubbles’ lacks joie de vivre as a title, I think you’ll agree, while the ten pound bottle of champagne seems destined to disappoint just as much as some overpriced Grand Crus at the other end of the price scale.
My special treat this Yule has to be Gosset Grande Reserve NV – one of the best value non-vintage champagnes around. 
Still there are plenty of proper bargains to be found
Really cheap bubbly is basically what the trade calls a loss leader. A kilo of champagne grapes costs around €5, excise duty on a bottle of sparkling wine is £2.43. Throw in VAT and you’ve reached £8 before it’s even made, a bottle found for it and it’s shipped and distributed. So be wary of basment bargains.
The cheapest champagne I tried this time was the Co-op’s Aubert et Fils Brut NV down £13 from £29.99 to £12.99 a bottle until January 2013. I wanted to like it but I couldn't. It's not a patch on the appley refreshing Les Pionniers, a perennial (but undiscounted) fave from the  Co-op, who have also reduced the price of Piper Heidsieck NV by £10 to £19.99.
My favourite supermarket deal, though, is Tesco Finest Premier Cru Champagne NV, down from £19.99 to £14.99 until it turns into a pumpkin on 1 January. Made from Premier Cru Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and given a lot of bottle age before release), this offers delicate bubbles, hints of pear, and a pronounced creaminess.
I also like two Sainsbury’s champagnes. Their Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, made from 100 per cent black grapes, is honeyed, full and fruity behind a lively mousse. Down £2.99 from £20.99 to £18 a bottle - £17.10 if you buy six bottles or more. Sainsburys Taste the Difference Vintage Champagne 2005 is a powerfully aromatic sparkler, with honeyed, toasty notes. The palate is rich, with zesty citrus balanced by a subtle creaminess and remarkably good value at £25.99.
Majestic are offering Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque, for £18 instead of the normal £25 (deal ends February 4 2013). The bouquet is bready with lemon and pear hints, the bubbles small and tight, the palate savoury and herby.
The Jacquart is also available for £22.50 at Great Western Wines, who also have a terrific, elegant growers’ champagne at a bargain price of £19.95 (20 per cent off six bottles). Thierry Gobbillard Premier Cru Grande Reserve smells of baked apples and toast, while the palate is honeyed with surprising minerality and a strong flavour of greengage. Asked for his credentials winemaker Gobillard said: “My house is ten metres away from Dom Pérignon’s grave.” 
Reserve of West Didsbury stock the attractive RH Coutier Brut Grand Cru at £29.99. The Coutier family have been making champagne in Ambonnay since 1619 and current owner Rene’s father was the first to plant Chardonnay hereabouts in 1946. This latest offering has a peachy nose with hints of lemon and is all silkiness and stewed pears on the palate with racy acidity. 
Wine Society members get many benefits. For 2013, the third year running, this co-operative (www.thewinesociety.com) has held its prices. That’s worth toasting with The Society’s Champagne Brut (£26), sourced from the excellent house of Alfred Gratien. Fermented in barrel to give it more length, it is dry and savoury with refreshing acidity. Classic stuff.
Part of the harvest for Champagne Bedel Origin’ Elle Extra Brut (Hanging Ditch, £39.99)  is vinified in oak barrels, too, to make the wines rounder. The bouquet is attractively peachy and raisiny with the same flavours dominating the palate. Splendid.
Still my special treat this Yule has to be Gosset Grande Reserve NV – one of the best value non-vintage champagnes around. Its nose is astonishingly complex – there’s marzipan, spice and stewed pears – and its toasty palate has equal concentration, the result of five years’ secondary fermentation in bottle. It’s an equal blend of Grand Cru Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier with some reserve wine from exceptional years. In the 2009 Hachette Guide it won the Golden Grape Award in competition with 35,000 other wines. Oh and its antique flask bottle makes it a lovely present. Harvey Nichols, £52.50 (half bottle £30) and Smithfield Wine £43.62.
There are, of course, lots of attractive alternatives to Champagne. Franciacorta is a small region in Lombard, supplying distinctive champagne method fizz to fashionable Milan. Franciacorta Saten Cantine Biondelli Cazzago San Martino (Berry Bros Rudd, £26.95) is serious stuff, the produce of only the first, finest pressing that's been aged on its lees for 30 months prior to disgorgement. 'Satèn' reflecting the satiny feel of this 100 per cent Chardonnay sparkler. The mousse is deliberately subdued, the flavour pure ripe pear with good length. www.bbr.com
The admirable Bakerie Tasting Store, off Newton Street in the Northern Quarter stocks a delicate pink Franciacora made from 80 per cent pinot nero (pinot noir) and 20 per cent chardonnay. The biodynamically produced Barone Pizzini DOCG Rose won gold at the 2012 International Wine Challenge. It costs £29.99 but for that you get peachy-nosed elegant fizz with real length.
If you fancy an English sparkler, look no further than the delightful Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2008 (Harvey Nichols, £35). It is produced by the traditional champagne method from the classic varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It’s an attractive all-rounder, balancing toasty, almondy richness and fresh citrussy fruit.
At little over half the price, Limney Estate Blanc de Blancs 2007 is a very distinctive English rival, made not from chardonnay and the pinots noir and meunier but from 100 per cent organic Reichenstener grapes. You’d be hard pressed not to mistake it for a light blanc de blanc champagne as you scent baked apple pie and toast on the nose and savour its creamy palate and lingering mousse. A real bargain at £18.99 at Bakerie.
Shop around carefully and you’ll find some outstanding cavas and proseccos as an alternative to champagne. Here are a couple I particularly admire...
Gramona Gran Reserva 2007 (Berry Bros Rudd, £17.95): Aged for a year in French oak and then for 30 months in bottle. It has lovely aromas of white fruit and fig followed by beautiful ripe fruit and a sourdough yeastiness. A far cry from the acid bargain basement cavas. www.bbr.com
Carpene Malvolti Prosecco Extra Dry: You can understand why this won this year’s IWSC Prosecco Trophy. Straw yellow with greenish tints its nose is of green apples and citrus zest; in the mouth, soft acidity and lingering mousse. (www.greatwinesdirect.co.ukwww.strictlywine.co.uk, £13.99)
Sparkling reds are still viewed with suspicion. What do you drink them with? Chocolate’s a good bet.
Harvey Nichols stock the gluggable Grant Burge Shiraz/Cabernet Sparkling Red at £26.50, while down the road at Hanging Ditch you’ll find Peter Lehmann Sparkling Black Shiraz 'The Black Queen' (£18.99). Of these two Aussies I marginally prefer the Lehmann, which was produced by the champagne method cellared on its own lees for six years and had 12 months in old French oak. It’s velvety, blackcurranty and, yes, there’s a big hint of chocolate tin there
Oh, I’ve strayed away from Austerity Bubbles. Here then is one example that really delivers and it’s a snip. Philippe Michel Cremant du Jura (Aldi, £6.99) is an ever reliable party stalwart at our house. It’s made from 100 per cent Chardonnay using the champagne method. It is crisp and appley with surprising persistence. 

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LewDecember 18th 2012.

Gosset also to be found in Spirited Wines Of Deansgate

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