This year’s hand-picked sparkling recommendations for the holiday season. A shorter version of this list is published by the Financial Times. See 122 tasting notes and scores in Fizz – late 2022, in which the least expensive English wines were made by the team above at Langham Estate with owner Justin Langham in the middle and winemaker Tommy Grimshaw to the right of him.
Champagne has become a thing to invest in, prices have gone crazy, and some of the most famous names are in short supply. So it’s worth seeking out wines from the most accomplished smaller-scale producers, not least because grapes ripen much more reliably in Champagne than they once did. (Cheaper champagnes used to be an uncomfortable and disjointed blend of acid, unripe grapes and sugar when this was not the case.)
Another effect of the warming climate is that champagnes described as Extra Brut no longer bear any resemblance to paint stripper. Most that I encounter nowadays may not have had much sweetening ‘dosage’ added when the bottle-aged wines are ‘disgorged’ to have their final cork applied, but they tend to be well balanced.
England is now producing some seriously exciting sparkling wine, and that made on a single estate (the equivalent of the increasingly expensive ‘grower champagnes’) often have real individuality. But as you can see in my recommendations below, the cheapest champagne is cheaper than the cheapest English sparkling wine. Most of the least expensive alternatives are French crémants, all made in the same way as champagne but with less-expensive grapes, often varieties other than the classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier of Champagne and England.
A final word on Champagne: the late-picked 2013 vintage has produced some superb wine for long-term ageing but they are often too tightly wound for early pleasure. Dom Pérignon 2013, for instance, won’t be released until next year.
The wines below are listed in ascending order of price per cl. All wines are either 12 or 12.5% unless stated otherwise.
La Baume Brut NV Crémant de Limoux
This carries the label of the domaine near Béziers that once belonged to Hardy's of Australia but is presumably made by the co-op or some other operation in Limoux. Smells as though there was quite a bit of lees-ageing for this big, bold wine that’s just off dry. Really makes a textural impact on the palate. It's not the freshest and zestiest fizz so I wouldn't age it much longer but it offers a lot more flavour than many of its peers at this price.
£9 (reduced from £14 until 29 November) Ocado
Cave de Turckheim, Cuvée Brut NV Crémant d’Alsace
This satisfying blend of 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Pinot Gris was aged in bottle on lees for at least 18 months. Some weight and spice on the palate without the wine’s being at all sweet. Good value even at the full price.
£9.99 (reduced from £13.49 until 29 November) Waitrose
Divin’Aude, Cuvée Royale NV Crémant de Limoux
Blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, 10% Mauzac and 5% Pinot Noir that tastes not unlike a fine Crémant de Loire (because of the Chenin influence?) although it’s less tart. 12 months lees-ageing. Suitably dry. Good value even if absolutely nothing like champagne.
Calvet Rosé Brut 2019 Crémant de Bordeaux
Grapes that usually make red bordeaux are responsible for this extremely pale pink, almost white, fizz. Definitely more delicate and refreshing than the white NV version. Pretty satisfying for the money even if it's not bone dry. Good, clean acidity.
Dopff & Irion, Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Crémant d’Alsace
Mostly Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois and made by the Pfaffenheim co-op that has taken over the house of Dopff & Irion, based at Riquewihr. Some autolysis on the nose. Really well made. There’s fruit, rather than sweetness, and it’s very refreshing. A little more complex than the Turckheim example above.
£16.80 Tanners Wine Merchants
Leonardo Erazo, Liberamé Rosado 2021 Itata 11.5%
Pale salmon-pink blend of Cinsault and País grapes. Very fruity palate entry and excellent acidity. Good balance in an attractive, reasonably dry wine. Refreshing, and this even has a bit of persistence. This tastes like an artisanal product.
£19.90 The Sourcing Table
Jacques Boncoeur NV Champagne
From the co-op in Ville-sur-Arce in the Aube. 84% Pinot Noir, 16% Chardonnay. This smells much more mature than you would expect for the price (it’s aged for an impressive three years on the lees and then a few months in bottle before release) – and is attractively balanced, if not exactly complex, on the palate. Very frank. Amazing value at the reduced price.
£22 (reduced from £28.60 while stocks last) Bon Coeur Fine Wines
Jean de Foigny, Premier Cru Brut NV Champagne
Vegan. The Wine Society’s basic blend from the Reims co-op that supplies Charles de Cazenove. Blend of 35% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Meunier and 30% Pinot Noir with half of the blend made up of 2018 wines. Just the job. Not for keeping, but pretty and excellent value for early drinking.
£23.50 The Wine Society
Franz Künstler, Assmannshäuser Rosé Brut Nature 2018 Rheingau 13%
100% Pinot Noir grown on steep vineyards on a bed of red slate overlooking the Rhine. Made by the traditional method involving ageing the wine in bottle on its lees. Very pale salmon colour. Quite punchy and firm without the perfume and fruit of a typical
Pinot but it’s good value.
£24.50 The Wine Society
Arthur Metz, Grand Terroir Schiste Schieferberg Brut NV Crémant d’Alsace
Handsome bottle comes in its own special cylinder. A serious blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir grown on steep blue schist. This is not trying to be champagne but is a valid style of its own. Mouth-filling mousse but not too aggressive. Light-bodied and flirtatious. Complete. Truly like a well-made Alsace wine that sparkles. Tastes as though Arthur is proud of this.
£28 Wine Poole of Warwick
Langham, Corallian Classic Cuvée Extra Brut NV England
Price is kept below £30 because winemaker Tommy Grimshaw wants his mother to be able to afford it. Grimshaw is a fan of cult champagne producer Anselme Selosse and, like him, makes complex wine that happens to have bubbles. This blend, called after one of the chalk strata on this south Dorset estate, is their Chardonnay-dominant one (Culver, at the same price, is Pinot-dominated). 76% of the blend is from the 2019 vintage, 24% is older reserve wine. Very youthful but not aggressively acid at all.
£29.50 producer's website
Lancelot-Pienne, Accord Majeur Brut NV Champagne
Ambitious, interesting wine for the money. Mainly 2014 Pinot Meunier based on special vines selected by Gilles Lancelot’s grandfather.
£34.95 Lea & Sandeman
Guy Méa, La Tradition Premier Cru Brut NV Champagne
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. Good development on the nose. Mellow and attractively balanced with some light nuttiness. Pretty good value nowadays.
£34.95 The Whisky Exchange, £35.99 Harrogate Fine Wine Co
R & L Legras, Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Chouilly Brut NV Champagne
Well-balanced, rewarding, classic fine Chardonnay aperitif. Fills the mouth without any excess acidity. A pretty good price for the quality.
£36.50 (reduced from £39.95) Lea & Sandeman
Henriet-Bazin, Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Brut NV Champagne
Not the tightest texture – in fact rather loose – but you can really enjoy the heart and soul in this wine. And the balance is about right. I would happily go to a long reception where this was served. Need I say more?
£37.70 Haynes Hanson & Clark
André Robert, Rose des Vignes Extra Brut NV Champagne
Mainly 2018 Chardonnay, tinted with 10% Pinot Meunier with the majority fermented and aged in barrel. Quite rich on the nose with marzipan notes. A hint of something (attractively) brûlée so that although this is an Extra Brut it is not remotely austere. A seductive, flattering wine with a hint of both mint and tomato leaves though I don't think there is much to be gained by cellaring it. Whoever is buying champagne for the Vindependents group of independent wine retailers seems to be doing a very good job!
£38 Secret Cellar
Roebuck Estate, Classic Cuvée 2016 England
Made from a 'carefully curated blend of' 50% Chardonnay, 37% Pinot Noir and 13% Pinot Meunier – from an estate near Petworth in Sussex planted in 2006 and 2007. A small proportion was fermented in Burgundian oak barrels and the final blend was aged on lees for at least 48 months, followed by a further six months on cork. Increasing mellowness on the palate as the wine sits in the glass. Good-quality mousse, but a bone-dry finish so it’s not exactly a flattering wine. Bollinger style?
£38 producer's website, £38.75 Hennings Wine Merchants
Langham, Blanc de Blancs Brut 2018 England 11.5%
This was made by the previous winemaker, Daniel Ham, and then blended by Tommy Grimshaw. 70% was made in oak. It's labelled Brut though it actually qualifies as an Extra Brut. Very firm, with a real spine. Flavours are on the chalky/mineral/saline spectrum. Long and grippy on the finish but not astringent. No obvious oak. Very assertive. The sort of wine that would cure a sore throat.
£38.50 producer's website
Harrow & Hope Blanc de Blancs 2017 England
Late-disgorged 100% Thames Valley Chardonnay that suggests this cuvée from Henry and Kaye Laithwaite really benefits from extra lees-ageing. Fumy nose and a racy palate. Lots of pure citrus – lime-peel? – flavours. Very appetising.
£42 The Finest Bubble
Hundred Hills, Preamble No 2 2017 England
This is apparently the pouring aperitif at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons near this immaculate estate outside Oxford. The fruit spent all of 120 days on the vine before being picked. Some oak influence. Very pale apricot colour and notably energetic with fine acidity. A slow burner.
£44.50 The Good Wine Shop, also Hedonism and Salusbury Wine Store
Simpsons, Flint Fields Blanc de Noirs 2018 England
This wine from a Kent estate established by the owners of Domaine Sainte Rose in the Languedoc won the Best English Sparkling Wine trophy at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2022. 20% of the base wine – all of it a Burgundian clone of Pinot Noir – was barrel-aged and the blend spent 27 months on lees. There is slight oak influence on the nose but impressive delicacy on the palate. Nice bite on the end. Long and neat with very light chewiness on the end.
£45 producer's website, also The Finest Bubble, Wine Republic
Simpsons, White Cliffs Blanc de Blancs 2018 England
100% Chardonnay. This was the second vintage of this wine and it was given the Simpsons' longest-ever lees-aging, 36 months. 20% of the base wine was barrel-aged. Real energy on the nose. Open texture on the palate but great vitality overall. Very pure and pretty with depth and potential.
£45 producer's website
Legras & Haas, Chouilly Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut 2012 Champagne
Established by husband and wife team François Legras and Brigitte Haas in 1991, Legras & Haas is now run by their three sons Rémi, Olivier and Jérôme. Not cheap but bullseye expression of a Blanc de Blancs with some age on it. Seems to have quite a bit of dosage. But it does taste like a please-all with an impressively long finish.
£55, £111 per magnum Private Cellar
Louis Roederer Collection 243 NV Champagne
The third edition of this impeccable house’s new, numbered non-vintage blend. Based on 2018, described by chef de cave Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon as 'a truly magical year', blended with oak-aged wines from 2009, 2011 and all vintages from 2013 to 2017 inclusive that make up his perpetual reserve begun in 2012. Wonderfully complex aroma rises from the glass as soon as the wine is poured. So complex on the nose and uncompromisingly dry but well balanced on the palate. Lightly smoky but with no shortage of fine, ripe fruit in an interesting honeysuckle and lime spectrum. Clean and fresh and extremely long. This definitely deserves to be priced above regular non-vintage champagne. Not quite delicate. Not quite creamy. Just hits the right note for a superior blend. Halves can be useful!
£26.99 per half Uncorked
Lancelot-Pienne, Marie Lancelot Blanc de Blancs Cramant Grand Cru Extra Brut 2015 Champagne
Lots of excitement and tension. Very pure and dry with masses of energy and very obviously a grower champagne with a certain austerity but with an undertow of real class. Bone-dry finish.
£61.95 (reduced from £69.50) Lea & Sandeman
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2012 Champagne
Intense, minerally nose with real attack. Tastes of salted lemons. Very tight-knit and zesty. An excellent aperitif style. Complete and tastes much drier than many Pol Roger blends.
£86.96 GP Brands
Bollinger RD 2007 Champagne
The extra-aged late release of Bollinger’s vintage-dated Grande Année cuvée. Rich and mushroomy in Bollinger style on the nose with a notably dry finish. Looking very good now. I think I might stand a good chance of identifying this wine blind…
£165 The Wine Society
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2007 Champagne
Pale strawberry colour with an orange tinge (none of this provençal pale nonsense... ). Lots of evolution and real bite on the end. No attempt at being smooth; this wants to finish dry, making a really textural impact on the palate. Mixed-citrus-peel sensation – a bit like the flavours you get in Sicilian cannoli. Extremely appetising and unusual. Long and complex. Food wine really … and cheaper than the younger 2009!
£178 Berry Bros & Rudd
Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siècle No 23 NV Champagne
This iteration of Laurent-Perrier’s prestige cuvée, a blend of 2006, 2004 and 2002 given an amazing 14 years' ageing in bottle, is still looking pretty beautiful. They traditionally release iterations in magnum a few years after the same wine in bottle so the current iteration available in bottle is No 25. (Imagine how confusing this was before they numbered their blends!) Deep straw colour but still with amazing tension on the palate. This is explosive and minerally on the nose and more approachable than the Grand Siècle No 25 in bottle at this point. Creamy-textured with strong lemon-syllabub notes. Maturing very nicely and, actually, relatively good value compared with some prestige cuvées.
£360 per magnum Hedonism
Billecart-Salmon, Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé 2009 Champagne
Very pale, glowing salmon-orange colour. Rich, complex, burnished copper (somehow) nose. Very luscious and seductive. Strawberry flavours but not sweet and simple at all. Creamy-smooth texture but with quite enough acidity – even in this ripe vintage – to keep this wine appetising and intriguing on the finish. Great stuff! A wine to serve at the table with a really luxurious meal...
£181.50 Lea & Sandeman
See also 122 tasting notes and scores in Fizz – late 2022.