A version of this article, an annual fixture, is published by the Financial Times. Matt Martin took this picture of a serious champagne tasting. See also Assorted fizzes 2020.
All these wines are champagnes unless stated otherwise. Virtually all of these wines are 12%, occasionally 12.5% alcohol but the first one is 13%.
Jaume Serra, Asda Wine Selection Marques del Norte 2018 Cava 13%
This could get tiring to drink in quantity but it is extremely good value. Very fresh and direct but not too aggressively youthful. I can see why it won a silver medal in this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards and am only sad for Cava producers’ sake that prices have sunk so low.
Dom des Dieux, Claudia Brut 2013 Cape South Coast
£18.50 Stone, Vine & Sun
This South African may taste slightly more like a sparkling Chardonnay than champagne, but look at the price! It’s an absolute charmer and a real bargain for a wine that was aged for nearly five years (much longer than most champagnes).
House of Arras, Blanc de Blancs NV Tasmania
£25 Harvey Nichols
Made by Australia’s sparkling-wine wizard Ed Carr, this is a new, all-Chardonnay product whose second fermentation takes place in bottle but the wine is then decanted into tank for clarification before (re)bottling. Carr swears by the so-called transfer method, though his traditional-method Brut Elite 1501, fermented in bottle (£29.99 Majestic, 'Mix Six' price), is pretty good value too.
Westwell, Pelegrim 2017 England
I came across this in a recent blind tasting of English sparkling wines and champagnes and it was one of the few English wines I thought was champagne. Not that that is necessarily a good thing but I thought it quite sophisticated and refined – obviously youthful but not uncompromisingly austere as some defiantly dry champagnes can be. Good concentration and good value from near Ashford, Kent.
Ashling Park Sparkling Rosé NV
£31.50 Ashling Park and about the same from Woodwinters, Ivy Wines, The Whisky Exchange and many other independent retailers
Dermot Sugrue made this very opulent (but still refreshing) only-just-pink fizz from vines planted in West Sussex in 2005. It was aged for five years and is very obviously Pinot Noir-dominated. Almost as distinctive and satisfying (and also a WineGB trophy winner) is Ashling Park Brut white (£27.49 Four Walls Wine Company and many others).
Pascal Doquet, Arpège Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Premier Cru NV
£34.42 Justerini & Brooks
Justerini & Brooks are good at seeking out keenly priced estate-grown champagnes. This is made from 100% organically certified Chardonnay and is a blend of 2010 and 2011 wines, so is admirably mature for the price. It tastes like the produce of a vineyard rather than of a salon or blending bench and is none the worse for it. Really appetising but firm enough to be drunk with food.
Michel Gonet, Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2011
£37.95 Keeling Andrew (on request), $34–$41 various US retailers too
This is a single-vineyard champagne of the sort that is now so fashionable, in this case from the village of Le Mesnil and made by a gifted winemaker. Another fully mature wine, like the Doquet, which gives it the roundness to compensate for not having been sweetened up as most champagnes are when the cork is finally applied. Very subtle and persistent.
Henriot, Blanc de Blancs NV
£39.50 The Wine Society
There’s a new broom at this champagne house and, as at Krug, it’s being wielded by a young woman, chef de cave Alice Tétienne in this case. Seriously zesty aperitif style – a bit like biting into a lime – although in fact it’s based on the 2014 vintage seasoned with 40% of older wines back to 2010.
Chapel Down, Kit’s Coty Blanc de Blancs 2014 England
£39.95 Master of Malt (or £100 per magnum at either Master of Malt or direct from Chapel Down)
From a single, south-facing vineyard in Kent that also produces some pretty good still Chardonnay. An admirably energetic, rather pungent wine that is not bone dry.
Larmandier-Bernier, Longitude Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Premier Cru NV
£42.95 Lea & Sandeman
Although this was one of the first so-called grower champagnes to earn an international reputation, its prices have not increased unduly and quality has been admirably consistent. I would be happy with any of Pierre Larmandier’s wines, such as the even more mature Terre de Vertus 2013 (£51 Woodwinters), but this one, a top-quality Chardonnay that’s livelier than many a famous grande marque, triumphed unequivocally in a recent blind tasting of champagnes and English sparkling wines.
Hambledon, Première Cuvée NV
£40 The Finest Bubble, £45 Hambledon Vineyard, £45.50 Hedonism
Tasted blind, this was obviously a top-quality English wine. Made with great care from the classic three champagne grapes in Hampshire, and rather more mature than their Classic Cuvée. Truly refreshing.
Gusbourne, Blanc de Blancs 2014 England
£50 Mr Wheeler
Another wine from near Ashford, Kent, and quite evolved. Not the driest sparkling wine but very charming at this point. Filigree texture. Admirably long and complex. This could be the English wine to serve French friends as its acid level is not too obvious.
Dhondt-Grellet, Terres Fines Blanc de Blancs NV
£54.90 Hedonism, £62.23 Lay & Wheeler
A subtle rather than showy champagne with no shortage of Chardonnay fruit based on the 2016 vintage but deepened by the addition of 30% of a solera of older vintages.
Lanson, Le Black Réserve NV
£54.99 Selfridges exclusively
The more approachable of two new cuvées from this famous champagne house, created by winemaker Hervé Dantan who has been gently softening the house’s traditionally tart style. I love the amount of useful information on the back label, which tells us that this was based on 2014 wines but with a full 45% of reserve wines up to 20 years old. Pinot Noir constitutes half the blend and I enjoyed its sophisticated, savoury character.
Eric Rodez, Blanc de Noirs Ambonnay NV
£58 The Finest Bubble
Eric Rodez is mayor of the famous Pinot Noir-growing village of Ambonnay and a highly opinionated eighth-generation vine grower currently handing over to his son Mickael. This is a wine that’s rather like the popular (though probably inaccurate) Bollinger stereotype, providing lots to chew on with great density and a bone-dry finish but no shortage of refreshment.
Philipponnat, Cuvée 1522 Extra Brut Grand Cru 2012
£69.42 Justerini & Brooks
I tasted a range of Philipponnat wines recently and was blown away by their sheer quality and distinction. This particular one seemed the best value and is named for the year in which the family were first documented as vine growers. Today Charles Philipponnat runs the company that now belongs to the group run by Bruno Paillard, who has his own personal house also making fine wine. This is a Pinot Noir-dominated blend from some of Champagne’s finest vineyards and tastes as fine and beautifully balanced as many champagnes that are quite a bit more expensive. It should age well too. Even more gorgeous is the single-vineyard Philipponnat, Clos des Goisses Extra Brut 2011 (£135.43 Lay & Wheeler and also in bond from Bordeaux Index, which has been known recently as BI Wines & Spirits).
Bollinger PN VZ15 Brut NV
£72 The Finest Bubble and £73.63 Lay & Wheeler provided you buy six bottles, and also in bond from Bordeaux Index (in whom Bollinger have invested)
The first new wine from this famous family house since it daringly launched a rosé in 2008. The plan is that each new edition will be a 100% Pinot Noir that showcases a different cru, or village. The dominant one in this launch blend is Verzenay with 2015 the principal year on which its based. It’s an accomplished, elegant, well-integrated interpretation of Pinot Noir with a long finish, though it's arguably too complex to be a suitable aperitif. A champagne for geeks?
Bérèche, Rilly-la-Montagne Premier Cru 2015
£68.33 in bond Bordeaux Index
This small family estate on the Montagne de Reims could not be more focused on quality. This particular 100% Pinot Noir wine is very slightly pink and is delicate, mouth-filling and flattering.
Sanger, Porte Noire Blanc de Blancs 2010
£89 Connaught Cellars
I am deeply sceptical of the rash of celebrity-endorsed wines that have been appearing on the market recently but this selection by actor Idris Elba of a mature Chardonnay from an important champagne-making school, now co-op, in Avize is thrillingly good. I even finished off the dregs of a bottle that had spent six weeks in my fridge.
Krug, Grande Cuvée 168ème édition NV
£147 The Champagne Company
Few who can afford Krug will need an introduction to it but the current Grande Cuvée is particularly exciting, and approachable.
See tasting notes on our Purple Pages, not least Assorted fizzes 2020.