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Neil Sowerby's Fave Dozen Champers And Sparklers

Bubbly man from the hills writes about bubblies

Published on December 12th 2011.

Neil Sowerby's Fave Dozen Champers And Sparklers


I MAKE no apologies for starting my choice of festive sparklers with the most expensive prosecco you are ever likely to contemplate buying. I suggest you do (online or when you are next dashing through Harrods) since it takes to a whole new dimension a popular bubbly style that often is no more than inoffensive.
My dozen include another, very different, Italian sparkler that represents outstanding value, an English winery producing champagne-alikes of great refinement, a quartet of (pure chardonnay) Blanc De Blancs, the best organic champagne around, just two supermarket examples and one widely available grande marque.
1 Prosecco Bisol Cartizze (Bibendum, £24.29, and Harrods)
Family-owned company Bisol, own the finest terroirs of all Prosecco, including a vertiginous three hectare chunk of its effective Grand Cru, the the Hill of Cartizze. The result: this pale golden beauty with a persistent delicate mousse. A floral honeysuckle nose, abundant peachy fruit balanced by keen acidity and minerality make it a captivating tipple. Click here
2 Cava Gran Bach Brut (Rodney Densem, £8.59)
The token cava? Much, much better than that as I issue my annual supermarket sub-£5 cava warning: DON’T. Crewe-based Rodney Densem have a real party winner here, honey on the nose, toasty on the palate, clean and delicate. Click here
3 Altemasi Riserva Graal 2003  (Hanging Ditch, £27.50) 
From Northern Italy’s Trento region
This is a full-bodied, honeyed sparkler with backbone that’s a real bargain. Two thirds chardonnay, one third pinot noir, it possesses the elegance of a grande marque vintage champagne with an intense fruity thrust in the aftertaste. Click here
4 Gusborne Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Hanging Ditch, £30)
Until Ben Stephenson at Hanging Ditch introduced me I was unaware of this Kentish rival to Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Camel in the pantheon of English bubbly. The Gusborne Brut Reserve 2007, Kent (£25), made from a classic Champagne grape blend, excited me with its nose of bread and rhubarb and firm apricot-laden fruit (Ben says it will get more biscuity with time), but it was surpassed by their new Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 per cent chardonnay. Pale gold, beautifully balanced with tiny bubbles that persist beautifully, this is benchmark appley blanc de blancs. Click here
5 Sainsbury’s Blanc De Blancs Brut NV Champagne (£20.99, reduced to £13.99 until January 3)
A French 100 per cent chardonnay champagne at half the price of the Gusborne, it lacks the complexity but it is bracing and refreshing. A lovely crisp, creamy Christmas morning aperitif. Click here
6 Waitrose Blanc de Noirs NV (Waitrose, £19.85)
Quite different in style, this 100 per cent pinot noir champagne is made for Waitrose by  small grower Alexandre Bonnet in the southernmost part of the region. It offers a nose that smells of rose petals and upfont, ripe biscuity flavours. Great value. Click here

7 Taittinger Reserve NV (Widely available from £35.99)
The last time I was in Asda they were selling this at an amazing £20 a bottle. I expect that rollback price is no longer with us, but even at full price this is among the best grande marque NVs. A  strong bubble, firm fruit and just the right splash of acidity in another champagne where chardonnay predominates.
8 Tanners Extra Brut Reserve Champagne (Tanners, £20.95) 
Tanners, one of our great regional merchants, source this from a clutch of small growers tending above Epernay. A high proportion of older reserves and ageing on lees results in a lingering creamy champagne with hints of pineapple and a discreet toastiness. Unusually Pinot Meunier forms 55 per cent of the blend. This will be my Christmas staple.  It forms part of an attractive half dozen Champagne Taster Case for £150. Click here
9 Wine Society Champagne Brut (Wine Society, £26)
A close runner-up in the good all-rounder class to Tanners, full, rounded and distinctive. It’s made for the Society by the estimable house of Alfred Gratien. Fermentation takes place in barrel rather than stainless steel, which gives the wine more depth. The malolactic fermentation is suppressed so the wine retains a high level of acidity and, therefore, an ability to age. I wouldn’t wait. Click here
10 Delamotte Brut Blanc de Blancs 2002 (Corney and Barrow, £44.99) 
At this price, a bit of a self-indulgence, I know and, after being aged on lees for eight years, this austere product of a stellar vintage and Grand Cru vineyards will improve over a further decade or more. Still its mineral complexity is well worth exploring now. For a similar, more honeyed experience check out the refined, all-chardonnay, non-vintage Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, also exclusive to the trad London wine merchant and a tenner cheaper. Click here
11 Fleury Vintage Extra Brut 1995 (Vintage Roots, £55)
We are now entering the world of fabulous Christmas treats. This complex, organic vintage wine is all hazelnuts and honey with perfect balance and an extraordinary length. If this is out of your price range, there’s consolation from Jean-Pierre Fleury Blanc de Noirs Brut (£26), savoury, creamy and persistent. Winos and Barrica wine stock Fleury champagnes, and it will be available at the new tasting store at Bakerie, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, early in 2012. Try these sites:
12 Moutard Brut Cuvee des 6 Cepages 2004 (Winos, £32.50, Spirited Wines, Barton Arcade, £40) 
Now for something completely different. This blend harks back to the 19th century, when the familiar Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier where often joined by Arbane, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc. There’s a distinctive tropical/smokey nose and a prominent yeastiness combined with a crisp acidity. Complex and edgy, love it or hate it, it’s difficult to ignore. Another Blanc de Blancs is an easier introduction to the Moutards, who have beenin the champagne trade since the 17th century. Moutard Champ Persin Cepage Chardonnay (Winos, £24.95, Hanging Ditch and Spirited Wines £30) is pale, citrussy and beguiling. Christmas 2011, Champagne Chardonnay Rules!

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NoelDecember 16th 2011.

Moutard 6 cepage for 32.50??? looks below ex cellar cost price! id buy that whilst phil still has it!

Neil SowerbyDecember 19th 2011.

Just checked with Phil and that's correct. You can get it for £40 at Spirited Wines, saving yourself a long bus ride to Oldham

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