The wines here run from £14.99 to a jaw-dropping £2,000 a bottle. I apologise for devoting space to wines that will be out of reach to most, but it so happens, as I reported recently in Mixed current fizzes, that both Roederer and Charles Heidsieck have each recently released rarities from their cellars in Reims that may be of interest to the real champagne aficionados that I know exist.
Many retailers have special champagne offers currently, but Waitrose’s, many of which run only until 26 December, please note, seem particularly well-selected.
All of these wines are 12 or 12.5% alcohol, have the level of quite pronounced dryness known as brut, and are champagnes, unless otherwise stated. They are listed in ascending order of price per cl. See wine-searcher.com for other stockists all over the world.
Bird in Hand, Sparkling Pinot Noir 2017 Adelaide Hills
Very, very pale pink, in a smart (rather too heavy) bottle aimed at those in search of a bargain who find champagne too dry and tart. It’s clearly far from complex but is well balanced, and the light level of fizziness and strong Pinot perfume are well judged. Just don’t expect sophistication.
£14.99 Waitrose, £18.70 in gift box Tanners
Duval-Leroy, Fleur de Champagne Premier Cru NV
You could (cruelly) argue that this proves that premier cru doesn’t necessarily signal superiority in a champagne, but you couldn’t argue with the value on offer here. This blend is relatively frothy and tastes a little like lemon curd plus bubbles – but is a much better bet than most supermarket champagnes. A good buy for those for whom it has to be champagne.
£18.99 (from £28.99; offer ends 31/12/17) Waitrose
Hattingley Valley, Classic Reserve NV England
I preferred Emma Rice’s Chardonnay-dominant blend to Waitrose’s own-label Blanc de Blancs, although admittedly the former costs £6 more a bottle. This is a particularly delicate wine with some light smokiness on the finish. (If you see a wine labelled Classic Cuvée, it is the same wine. Emma Rice explains: the Classic Cuvee has become Classic Reserve as it is now a true non-vintage with a good proportion of reserve wine in it. Waitrose have some stock remaining of the Classic Cuvée labels but they also have the Classic Reserve labelled stock now as well – some shops have both on the shelves.)
£24 (from £30; offer ends 23/1/18) WaitroseCellar.com
Laurent-Perrier, La Cuvée NV
This is the new name for Laurent-Perrier’s principal product, a serious Chardonnay-dominant blend with real depth and apparent age but great vivacity too. The full price is ambitious but the reduced one is certainly attractive for this quality.
£27.99 (from £41.99; offer ends 26/12/17) Waitrose
Hambledon, Classic Cuvée NV England
French champagne-making expertise plus Hampshire chalk and English determination are responsible for this pristine, fresh, but far from skinny fizz. Satisfying.
£28 The Wine Society, £29.95 Berry Bros
Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée NV England
The pioneer producer of top-quality English sparkling wine is now in the hands of top-quality Canadian winemakers who could not be more ambitious for the future of the brand. The bottle I tasted recently was very brisk and appetising but had not yet developed much aroma.
£29.95 Lea & Sandeman or £27.50 as part of a six-bottle minimum purchase, and many others
Louis Roederer, Brut Premier NV
Roederer is one of the most widely admired champagne houses – not least for the trouble its tireless technical director Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon takes with Roederer’s own enviably extensive vineyards and his determination to farm organically and, increasingly, biodynamically. This is a fair price for this very superior wine, that will also repay ageing.
£31.99 (from £42.99; offer ends 31/12/17) Waitrose
Larmandier-Bernier, Latitude NV
This is a very good price for a fine, characterful champagne from such an admired grower (as opposed to a big champagne house). The best growers’ champagnes used to be tremendous bargains but unfortunately most of them have realised this and acted accordingly.
£33.50 Lea & Sandeman (from £37.50; offer ends 31/12/17) or £30.95 as part of a six-bottle minimum purchase
Pol Roger, Brut Réserve NV
Another top emissary from one of Champagne’s great family-owned houses at what is now a fair price. Unfortunately.
£34.99 (from £42.99; offer ends 26/12/17) Waitrose
Bollinger, Special Cuvée NV
There are times when a half bottle of champagne is just the job, and what better than one from the house that produces one of the most distinctive, full-bodied, Pinot Noir-dominated styles of champagne? I tend to pick up a distinct and rather delicious note of mushrooms when this has had time in bottle.
£17.99 a half (from £22.99; offer ends 26/12/17) Waitrosecellar.com
Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve NV
This is a champagne house with extraordinary cellars and stocks of ancient wines. Under new ownership, it is in full revival mode.
Louis Roederer 2009
Along with Pol 2008 (see below) and Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne 2006 (over £100), this was the most popular wine apart from Roederer’s luxury Cristal 2009 (about £160) in the blind tasting I reported on recently in which prestige cuvées were compared with standard vintage champagnes from the same producer.
£50.10 Hedonism, £54.95 The Finest Bubble, £55 The Wine Society
75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay from an array of top villages. The Billecart team pride themselves on their reserve wines and rely particularly on age rather than dosage for mellowness. This had the low dosage at disgorgement of 4 g/l sugar but doesn't taste at all austere. Tense but fully ripe. Very successful.
2007 was not an easy vintage for growers, threatened by rot in the vineyards in late August, but houses as meticulous as Bollinger, who picked much later, seem to have made very successful 2007 vintage champagnes. This is both honeyed and muscular. Great stuff. Dosage 7 g/l.
£59 The Wine Society, £63.70 Hedonism
Pol Roger 2008
See comment on Louis Roederer 2009 above. This is a great wine by any measure and should continue to improve in bottle for many years. A smart buy for those with cellars.
£62 The Wine Society
Philipponnat, Clos des Goisses 2007
Single-vineyard wines are a rarity in Champagne and this, from a steep, walled slope, has long been a favourite. There is absolutely no hurry to drink this but its sinewy creaminess and beautiful balance make it a joy to drink already.
£82.50 Lay & Wheeler (collect at Majestic), Justerini & Brooks
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2004
An all-Chardonnay prestige cuvée that did very well in the blind tasting of prestige cuvées with regular vintage champagnes. Made in a particularly good year for Chardonnay, this wine is as tense as the tautest of violin strings.
£144 Hedonism, £149.95 The Finest Bubble
Dom Pérignon 2004
This is the vintage of Moët’s flagship prestige cuvée to head for while waiting for the 2009 and 2006 to mature and the 2008 to be released. This lacy-textured wine with great tension and depth is fairly widely available and sometimes offered at a discount to lure new customers.
About £150 and widely available, £160 Majestic, for example
A great combination of house and vintage, relatively recently released. This is a champagne classic that – heaven forfend – you could buy for investment as well as for pleasure.
£270 RRP many independents, and £265 clos19.com, LVMH’s own direct sales site
Charles Heidsieck, Collection Crayères 1983
A very special museum release from the network of chalk cellars underneath Reims that are now the responsibility of the talented Cyril Brun, ex Veuve Clicquot. This may look old but certainly doesn’t taste it. Disgorged in 1990, it is still incredibly youthful with tangerine notes. This tastes drier than the Blanc des Millénaires 1983 described below.
£299.95 or £660 a magnum The Finest Bubble, £685 a magnum Handford
Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires 1983
This was the first-ever vintage of Charles Heidsieck’s prestige cuvée (the current vintage of which is the extremely senior, copious and impressive Blanc des Millénaires 1995). Fully mature, it’s entrancing now with beautiful balance, real intensity and verve.
The star in a starry line-up of all vintage Krugs since 1988 tasted blind recently. Massively intense and beautifully mature.
£549.95 The Finest Bubble and others including Fine + Rare
Charles Heidsieck, Collection Crayères Cuvée Royale 1981
A museum piece in every sense. Cuvée Royale was killed off in 1983 but only because it was decreed that the house had too many different products, not on the basis of its undoubted quality. Very dense but beautifully precise.
£650 The Finest Bubble
Louis Roederer, Vinothèque Cristal 1995
These museum releases of one of the most famous champagnes of all are quite simply exquisite, the rosé even fresher than the white – which seems an odd word to describe champagne perfection. The tiny quantities available help to explain the prices. Compare and contrast with the original white Cristal 1995 released in 2007 with much shorter ageing on lees and still available retail for about £300 a bottle.
£950 to £1,000 a bottle for the white and £1,900 to £2000 for the rosé from Harvey Nichols. It may also be worth trying London stores such as Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Hedonism and Selfridges.