Good festive buys 2019 – fizz

More than 20 recommended relative bargains of a sparkling nature. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.

All over the world, in sometimes unlikely quarters, I’m discovering really thrilling sparkling wines. They tend to be made in strictly limited quantities and are not widely distributed but clearly more and more winemakers are determined to challenge the hegemony of champagne. 

An exhaustive list would be impossible but let me throw into the pot the new Krone offerings from the cool south of South Africa. An even more recent find was Karanika, Cuvée Prestige Brut 2014 (£25 Maltby & Greek) grown on Amyndeo’s mountain slopes facing North Macedonia in the far north west of Greece. Bairrada in northern Portugal has a long history of producing long-lived sparkling wine, and restless Douro winemaker Dirk Niepoort’s Água Viva from his Quinta de Baixo estate looks particularly promising. Then there are Michael Cruse’s sumptuous Ultramarine cuvées from the cool Sonoma Coast that seem to promise a whole new chapter for California sparkling wine.

Prosecco needs no help from me, whereas Cava very definitely does. The whole Spanish sparkling wine category seems in disarray at the moment, with the two giants, Codorníu and Freixenet, having been sold off to foreign buyers, and a plethora of new categories that seem to spell anything but Cava. All of this is rather a mystery as the way Cava is made, the fiddly traditional method responsible for champagne, is so much less industrial than that used to make most Prosecco. 

As for champagne itself, I could not help noticing in New York and San Francisco recently that the famous names seem to have been largely usurped by champagnes from small single estates, the so-called grower champagnes. Things may be very different in Chicago and Des Moines but the trend-conscious retailers and sommeliers I met seemed interested in only the most famous prestige cuvées of the big champagne houses rather than their non-vintage blends.

Perhaps this helps to explain some exceptionally enticing deals in the UK on non-vintage blends from some of the most famous names in Champagne. Lea & Sandeman usually apply alluring discounts on champagne at this time of year but this year the special offers at Waitrose and Berry Bros & Rudd are well worth checking out. 

Special offers on top-quality English wine seem to be rather thinner on the ground, with an ambitious £40 a bottle looking dangerously like the new normal for home-grown fizz.

The selection of sparkling wines below has been made with value in mind. The best UK stockists are cited but I hope you may be able to find some of these where you live.

Cave de Bestheim NV Crémant d’Alsace 
£8.29 Lidl
A clean, off-dry Pinot blend made gently foaming by the traditional method. The more assertive wine below at its discounted price is probably better value though. The label does not specify the producer (of this, or of the next wine), because of Lidl's policy.

Comte de Senneval 2013 Champagne 
Reduced from £19.99 to £11.99 as a lure, Lidl
From own-label champagne specialist Burtin, this is far from the most thrilling champagne you’ll encounter but it’s certainly a bargain, designed to lure you into this discount store, presumably. Slightly tart but it has not been excessively sweetened up. 

Cuvée Royale Brut NV Crémant de Limoux    
£11.99 (£8.99 from 4 December to 2 January) Waitrose
France’s crémants are all made by the traditional method and many use similar grapes. This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, 10% Mauzac and 5% Pinot Noir from hills in the far south of the Languedoc. Crémant de Limoux is a particularly useful appellation that is never overpriced. From Divin’Aude, this is not as dry as most champagnes but has grip, interest and persistence too. 

Jean-Louis Tissot Brut NV Crémant du Jura
£14.25 Yapp Bros, sold out but new stock expected by the end of the month
Jura is just east of Burgundy but seems delightfully unaffected by burgundian price inflation – especially the delicate sparkling wines that always seem underpriced to me. They are usually relatively light and simple, but this sparkling Chardonnay has a suggestion of the nuttiness of a Jura still white. Great value.

J Laurens, Les Graimenous 2016 Crémant de Limoux
£15 Cellar Selected of Yorkshire
Not bone dry but a very respectable, good-value party wine that foams gently rather than aggressively.

Dirler-Cadé Brut Nature 2014 Crémant d'Alsace
£20.95 The Whisky Exchange
Zero-dosage blend of Pinots from a certified biodynamic estate that delivers a zesty dry wine that would not be too tiring to drink throughout a party. Aged on the lees for 18 months, supposedly the minimum for a decent improvement in flavour. 

Breaky Bottom, Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011 England
£29.99 The Fine Wine Importers of East Sussex, £36.95 Corney & Barrow, £36.99 Butlers Wine Cellar 
An unusually mature offering from a long-standing Sussex producer. The name might confirm many a preconception about the quaintness of Olde England. According to C&B, this is ‘a rare cuvée named after Oliver Minkley  a talented comedian who used to tell jokes to the sheeps (sic) while working at Breaky Bottom’.

Chartogne Taillet, Cuvée Ste-Anne NV Champagne
£30 The Wine Society
This has long been one of the best-value champagnes and Alexandre Chartogne is now experimenting with a wide range of fermentation vessels. This blend is based on 60% 2016 and 40% 2015, the dosage is a low 5.5 g/l, and the wine is made deliberately not too fizzy. 

Raventós i Blanc de la Finca 2015 Conca del Riu Anoia
£30 Woodwinters
Made by a particularly skilled refugee from the Cava category, mainly from the local Catalan, and rather fashionable, Xarello grape. No copy of champagne, this fine-boned wine was aged on lees for a full 30 months and had no dosage (added sweetness), the equivalent of champagne’s popular Brut Nature category.

Gusbourne Brut Réserve 2015 England
£35 Noble Green Wines, £38.95 Lea & Sandeman
Quite fruity and accessible already, but with a dry finish. This would certainly make a good party wine – not too complicated and not too tart or dry.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV Champagne    
£33 Tanners Wine Merchants, £33.75 Berry Bros & Rudd (back to the usual price of £45 on 1 January)
This is also a relative steal at £34 Waitrose and WaitroseCellar.com (and goes back to the usual price of £46 on 4 December)
The Wine Society have reduced the price of a six-bottle case to £180, the equivalent of £30 a bottle
Consistently the most impressive non-vintage champagne, and no wonder with the ever-questing Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon in charge of production and moving ever-closer to full organic or biodynamic viticulture. A good 75% of grapes are said to come from superior Premier Cru or Grand Cru villages and it benefits fom 10% reserve wines that may be as much as five years old. A full three years' ageing in bottle on lees too. 

Eriz Rodez, Cuvée des Crayères, Ambonnay Grand Cru NV Champagne
£34.88 Gauntleys of Nottingham
From the intense mayor of this Pinot Noir village, a spring 2015 bottling of many vintages back to 2009. Three years on lees and then recipient of 4 g/l dosage. A tight, harmonious wine as emphatic as its maker. Good value direct from the UK importer.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2013 England
£35 Ministry of Drinks and Lay & Wheeler 
This all-Chardonnay wine really does taste like a Blanc de Blancs, with marked, though not excessive, acidity and a convincingly delicate texture. A ballerina of a wine with convincing persistence. Rather pure. Not trying to be champagne.

Krone, Kaaimansgat 2016 Elandskloof
£35 Swig
The talented Rudiger Gretschel of Reyneke’s new South African answer to champagne, from a particularly cool site in the south coast hinterland. Krone, Amphora 2017 (also £35 from Swig) is even more intriguing than this sparkling Chardonnay but both are exceptional.

Roebuck Estates, Classic Cuvée 2014 England
£35 roebuckestates.co.uk
Only the second wine from this estate near Petworth, Sussex managed to win a gold medal in this year’s English wine awards. Made by the talented Emma Rice of Hattingley in Hampshire. Subtly oak aged and particularly vivid.

Gatinois, Tradition Grand Cru NV Champagne
£35.15 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Aged for at least 36 months before release. Not the most refreshing aperitif, this 90% Pinot Noir blend is almost a digestif champagne. I could imagine sipping it by a fireside after a rather indulgent meal, although the finish is drier than a demi-sec champagne, for example.

Gusbourne Rosé 2015 England
£38 Noble Green Wines, £38.50 Vin Neuf
Both I and my guests preferred this to Taittinger Rosé when we tasted them side by side. Some quite pronounced strawberry Pinot aromas with approachable fruit but then it tightens up to be admirably refreshing.

Laurent-Perrier 2008 Champagne 
Another great buy at £37.50 Waitrose and WaitroseCellar.com (back to the usual price of £50 on 4 December)
This is acknowledged a very superior vintage for champagne, producing long-lived wines that have taken their time to come round. (Many houses released their riper 2009s before their 2008s.) Tense and fine with smokiness on the nose. Winemaker Michel Fauconnet thinks it tastes 100% rather than 50% Chardonnay because it’s so tightly wound. 

Furleigh, From the Oenothèque 10 England
£49.50 Furleigh Estate
This really demonstrates how well English sparkling wine ages. Aged for five years on lees and two in the bottle, this creamy, racy wine would compare well to many an aperitif champagne. But it’s not given away. 

Pol Roger 2009 Champagne
£60 Berry Bros & Rudd (back to the usual price of £75 on 1 January)
£64 Waitrose and WaitroseCellar.com (from 4 December, back to the usual price of £80 on 3 January)
Pol’s 2009 is pretty seductive, full bodied and very easy to like, thanks to its relatively high dosage of 9 g/l. Hand-riddled and aged eight years. 

Dom Pérignon 2008 Champagne
£139 Hedonism, £140 The Finest Bubble and widely available
This showed particularly well, and was relatively well priced, in a blind tasting in October of pairs of top prestige cuvées, one fully mature and one, like this one, much younger. 

Charles Heidsieck, Blanc de Millenaires 2004 Champagne
£145 ChampagneDirect.co.uk, £150 Sunday Times Wine Club and many more

A stunningly satisfying, well-balanced Blanc de Blancs that has benefitted from more than 11 years on lees, from a vintage that is drinking particularly well now.

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com. See this guide to our wide-ranging champagne coverage in summer 2019. International stockists on Wine-searcher.com.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier poured into the wrong glasses