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Seasonal Champagnes

Neil Sowerby’s chosen dozen bubblies

Written by . Published on December 16th 2010.


Seasonal Champagnes

Champagne prices are a bit of a downer in Austerity Britain. Thirty quid plus for certain Grande Marques that don’t always hit the mark? Supermarket own-label bargains at a tenner cheaper that have left me flat (Tesco at £19.49 a reliable exception)? I’ve never been a cava man but, if you must, I’d stick with the various Codornius or Waitrose’s own label at £6.99.

Still I’ve found some characterful bubblies. Prosecco, recently promoted to DOCG status in Italy, is a lovely palate freshener on Christmas morning. Beware the bargain bottles, though. They aren’t. One that tickled my palate is Harvey Nichols Prosecco)(£14.50). For this money you get complexity and focus. Behind the spicy pear fruit and ripe peach there’s a mineral streak and crisp acidity. Another winner is Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Tevisol Le figli)(Berry Bros Rudd, £11.95). There’s minerality here too but slightly more appley charm and refreshing length (mail order www.bbr.com).

Rose champagnes can be serious beasts like the huge Perrier-Jouet Blason Rouge), but I prefer a lighter more seductive, fruity style Champagne Lallier Premier Cru Rose NV)(Hanging Ditch £35) fulfils these criteria. It is made from 100% pure Pinot Noir, sourced from Grand and Premier Cu sites. Matured in bottle on its lees for 48 months, Lallier is pale pink with a charming softness on the palate.

Famous champagne non-vintages next, with apologies to Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label)(£32.99, various stockists), which was just squeezed out.

Bollinger Special Cuvee )(Tesco and elsewhere from £38.79). It smells of honey, offers just the right blend of creaminess and acidity and has never disappointed. Worth the extra quid or two on its prestige competitors.

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut NV (Waitrose, Majestic, £35.99).Up there with the Bolly, it layers sharp citrus fruit, lime and grapefruit predominating with spicy wood and light toast. Impeccable balance. One for before Christmas dinner.

One vintage champagne from a traditional Epernay house dating back to 1864, wine captured my heart.

Champagne A Gratien 1999 (Hanging Ditch, £47.50, two for £80). Utterly harmonious, the oak element beautifully balanced, it’s just what I want from a champagne. Toasted brioche on the nose, peach on the palate. Aaah.

Posh mail order operations can throw up surprising bargains , especially when it comes to seeking out growers’ champagnes, ie small producers making from their own grapes. Here are two balanced beauties:

Champagne R&L Legras Blanc de Blancs)(Berry Bros Rudd, £26.55).Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are 100 per cent Chardonnay. A beautiful floral nose is followed by a peachy bready fruit that lingers long.

Selection Esprit Brut, Henri Giraud (Selfridges, £29.99) Twelve generations of Girauds have made Champagne at the family estate near Ay and the heritage is maintained superbly by this 70 per cent Pinot, 30 per cent Chardonnay beauty recommended in Oz Clarke’s best 250 Wines guide this year. The pale colour is at odds with the rich, slightly smoky nose. On the palate there’s an engaging nuttiness and a grapefruit-like zest. It finishes long.

Champagne du Mont Hauban Brut Reserve (Wine Society, £20)From a co-operative just outside Epernay, this is a generous, round, Chardonnay-dominated bargain. There’s honeyed oak and some sherbety lemon on the nose, which follows through into the palate. Surprisingly firm, its mousse persists beautifully.

My festive bargain buy, at a ridiculous £6.99 from Aldi, is hardly a discovery. Aldi’s Philippe Michel Crémant du Jura) (Aldi £6.99) has won a rack of deserved awards in recent years for its creamy pear and apple flavours and creamy yeasty notes. Somehow for £6.99 a bottle, this company in eastern France uses 100 per cent Chardonnay and the traditional Champagne method, giving it two months in bottle to gain richness and complexity before release.

I was generally disappointed with the New World bottles I sample, but I enjoyed mightily Pirie Sparkling Brut)(£15.99, Reserve, Didsbury). It’s from Tasmania, made by Dr Andrew Pirie, who produces some fine Pipers Brook pinot noirs. Toasty-nosed, its lemon hue is matched by some lemony acidity sparring with a creamy mouth feel.

Finally a curiosity from Italy (where else?). Brachetto Acqui Cavallino 2008) (Harvey Nichols, £10.50). It’s a five per cent medium-sweet sparkling red with just enough acidity in a slim, elegant bottle from Piedmont. Fresh fruit salad in a glass, that’s just the dish it should partner. Like the Proseccos I started with,very moreish.

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