Festive fizz 2018


A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Picture by Matt Martin. 

All of the 26 wines recommended below are made fizzy by the traditional method, the crucial second fermentation taking place not in tanks, as in Prosecco, but in individual bottles as in Champagne. Look out for special offers at the supermarkets as we approach Christmas. Champagne is almost always 12 or 12.5% so I have included alcohol levels only for the non-champagnes.

Craft 3 Brut NV South Australia
£12 Marks & Spencer
A Chardonnay-dominant blend is responsible for this decent attempt at reproducing champagne Down Under at half the price. From the family company Yalumba. 12%

Ch Rives-Blanques 2016 Blanquette de Limoux
£13.90 Tanners
Limoux makes some of France’s best-value sparkling wine and this one is the classic local style rather than being modelled on champagne. Old Mauzac vines deliver aromas of baked apples and custard from grapes that were so ripe in 2016 that, although there is no dosage (added sugar when the wine was given its final cork), this would probably go better at the end of a meal than before one. 12.6%

Penet sparkling wines
Alexandre Penet produces some excellent Penet Chardonnet and Alexandre Penet champagnes, but also two very well-made sparkling wines: Solaine Extra Brut NV Provence (€16 a bottle from alexandre.penet@lamaisonpenet.com) and Comte Grimm Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV Crémant d'Alsace (€18). Solaine tastes like a sparkling St-Véran while the Alsace fizz is a little finer. Delivery costs have to be factored in. 12.5%

Dom des Dieux, Claudia 2012 Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa
£17.95 Stone Vine & Sun
Really exceptional fizz that was very obviously aged for four years on nourishing lees. 80% Chardonnay. Clean, fresh aromas of brioche. You could buy ahead for a summer gathering and it should still be rewarding. 12% 

Louis Bernard, Premier Cru NV Champagne
£19 Asda
Chanoine is responsible for this own-label supermarket champagne that is better than some with a bit of development on the nose and clean citrus flavour, even if it’s a bit astringent on the finish. Fair value, although paying a little bit more would get you a much better wine – and it doesn’t have to be champagne. 12.5%

Ruca Malen, Sparkling Brut NV Mendoza, Argentina
£19.95 Corney & Barrow
A blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay delivers a very pale salmon-pink fizz with a fine mousse. Excellent freshness and the reasonably complex aromas of lees ageing on the nose. Not absolutely bone dry but this is a very respectable sparkling wine indeed with more persistence than you might expect for the price and provenance. 12.7%

Tesco Finest, Vintage Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2012 Champagne
£25 Tesco –  reduced to £22 from 19 to 31 December
This all-Chardonnay wine, from the admired Union Champagne co-op in Avize on the Côte des Blancs, is the best supermarket champagne I have tasted this season. Good toasty, well-aged notes on top of a very firm, fresh, dry-tasting wine. Smart dark green and silver livery. VGV (very good value).

Forty Hall, London Sparkling Brut 2015 England
£28.99 from fortyhallvineyard.com
Competent, vibrant fizz from London’s first commercial vineyard since the Middle Ages, a social enterprise in Enfield that’s organic, no less. Will Davenport makes the wine; those benefiting from ecotherapy grow the grapes.

Cruse Wine Co, Monkey Jacket Pet Nat 2017 North Coast, California
£29 Roberson ($25 in the US)
Michael Cruse makes America’s best sparkling wine, Ultramarine, and also a range of quirky West Coast versions of the fashionable semi-sparkling pétillant naturel genre. He says he is ‘trying to get back to the style of wine that existed before the Judgment of Paris and Robert Parker: wine for drinking'. This is a brightly fruited, pale crimson blend of old-vine brambly fruit, mainly from Mendocino. It’s certainly fun, and refreshing, to drink. 13%

Tarlant, Tradition Brut NV Champagne
£31 Montrachet (but you may have to order in quantity)
An early adopter of the now-common practice of using oak to subtly add dimension and interest to champagne.

Louis Roederer, Brut Premier NV Champagne
£35 Waitrose (reduced from £45)
Thanks to technical director Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon’s exceptional attention to detail, this is the most impressive non-vintage champagne from a major house by quite a margin, so it’s great to see it on special offer.

François Secondé, Grand Cru Brut NV Champagne
£33.86 Scala Wine (three-bottle minimum order), £35.95 The Black Dog Wine Co, £19.99 for 37.5 cl The Winery
A notably well-priced, generously proportioned champagne (and past wine of the week) from nothing but the finest villages, including the family’s home town of Sillery, once one of the region’s most famous names. The same producer’s La Loge Blanc de Noirs (£42 Scala Wine, £44.99 The Winery) made exclusively from Sillery Pinot is even better.

Bollinger NV Champagne
£17.99 for 37.5 cl Waitrose (reduced from £23.99)
I was amazed recently to see the much-loved Bolly selling more cheaply than Nyetimber’s estimable English Classic Cuvée in my local Waitrose. This offer should be of particular interest to small households.

Taittinger, Prélude Grand Cru NV Champagne
£38 Noble Green and many other stockists
A superior blend from top villages from one of the big names that is tasting particularly well at the moment. Subtle and savoury with more than a nod to white burgundy. Very complete and impressive.

Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2011 England
£41.94 Firth & Co
Creamy texture, mouth-filling, this Gusbourne held its own magnificently when compared blind with vintage champagnes – some of them extremely smart and all of them much more expensive. 12%

Ridgeview, Rosé de Noirs 2014 England
£44 The Wine Society, £50 Butlers Wine Cellar, Ridgeview
Very pale salmon. Young, fresh, pretty and floral. Not complex but beautifully balanced. 12%

AR Lenoble, Terroirs Rosé NV Champagne
£44 Bowland Forest Vintners
Youthful, pungent, bone dry with a hint of quinine from a very serious producer. Good value.

Billecart Salmon, Rosé NV Champagne
From £55 (and £31.50 for 37.5,cl) from multiple retailers
A voluptuous wine with a rich rose-petal aroma. A speciality of this house, celebrating its bicentenary this year. Billecart believes in ageing its wines much longer than most of its peers and has only just launched (and renamed) its prestige pink Cuvée Elisabeth 2007 (£150 Millésima) which still tastes pretty embryonic to me. I’d go for the magnificent Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon 2006 (£159.95 The Finest Bubble).

André Robert, Les Jardins du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV Champagne
£56.64 Tannico (which is very expensive – better perhaps to order as one of three mixed bottles from Scala Wine who import it and offer it at £38 – combine perhaps with François Secondé wines which they also import)
Classic, sizzling aperitif all-Chardonnay champagne, the result of part barrel-fermentation and long ageing – a full five years – on the lees. Beautifully balanced grower champagne (ie not from a big house).

Pol Roger 2008 Champagne
From about £70 and widely available
The 2008 vintage is quite exceptional, and this is a particularly fine example. Drink 2009s, cellar 2008s.

Billecart Salmon, Cuvée Nicolas François 2002 Champagne
£129 Uncorked
Go for any 2002 champagne if you can, especially one like this prestige cuvée at a not-completely-silly price. Dry, complex and youthful.

Jacques Selosse, Brut Initial Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne
£148 Theatre of Wine, £160 The Sampler
Very obviously the product of oak ageing, but very sumptuously evolved too.

Dom Ruinart, Rosé 2004 Champagne
£225 The Whisky Exchange, £249.95 The Finest Bubble
Fully mature with old rose perfumes. Extremely luxurious. See English sparkling wine v champagne – a re-run.

Krug 2002 Champagne
£299.95 The Finest Bubble
The most thrilling vintage from this exceptional house for both current and future drinking.

Louis Roederer, Cristal Rosé Vinothèque 1996 Champagne
£2,220 Hedonism
An utterly glorious, late-released rarity (no more than 500 bottles in existence) from a sometimes disappointing vintage. For those who have everything. Some of the most impressive luxury champagnes I’ve been lucky enough to taste recently (see this guide to a Week of Effervescence) have been pink.

For more detailed tasting notes, see our 170,000-strong tasting notes database and find more stockists on Wine-Searcher.com.