It’s everywhere at this time of the year. You can’t walk down a supermarket aisle without being bombarded with the stuff.
No, not the nuts that mysteriously dominate the shelves at Christmas. Who buys all these string bags of walnuts? Enough with the nuts.
I am, in fact, referring to Champagne, consumption of which goes up 400 per cent, or something like that, during December. We just can’t enough of the bubbly stuff and quite rightly so because a good bottle of Champagne is sublime.
Retailers run all sorts of deals and promotions at this time of year. Frankly, the old adage applies: you get what you pay for. Of course, it’s wonderful when you have the cash to spend on Bollinger, Ruinart and Dom Perignon. But buying supermarket fizz doesn’t have to mean buying second best. There are some outstanding value Champagnes on offer – and some not-so-good options.
Here is my own subjective review of some of the big chains’ festive fizzes. I have scored the wines taking into account price, the fact this is the supermarket sector, and whether they are non vintage or vintage. The highest weighting is given to simple drinking pleasure. I have awarded two McComb Star Buys.
The range in quality, I have to say, is fascinating and my views come with the standard warning: you might love what I hate, and visa versa. So take it all with a pinch of salt – and a smoked salmon canapé.
A perky blend of the classic Champagne grapes, dominated by pinot noir (70%) with pinot meunier and chardonnay.
Light, lemony, fresh and clean, it is made for the Co-op by Piper Heidsieck with the name referencing the Co-op’s Rochdale Pioneers. Excellent choice for parties and it won’t break the bank thanks to the seasonal £3 off the usual price of £19.99.
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, £21.99
A golden colour and a vigorous fizz in the mouth is delivered by a blend of the region’s “black” grapes: pinot noir and pinot meunier. There is a rich, biscuit dimension but the in-house panel found the wine rather too acidic for our tastes.
Light, pretty in pink, but oddly lacking in the burst of red summer fruits one might expect from such an attractive fizzer. It’s a jolly diversion rather than a long-term commitment.
A bit peppery. And a bit of a disappointment. The only rosé submitted for tasting.
McCOMB STAR BUY
Head and shoulders above its Morrisons own brand rosé cousin, the supermarket’s conventional three-grape blend (55% pinot noir, 30% chardonnay, 15% pinot meunier), by Louis Kremer of Epernay, offers staggering value. Our favourite non-vintage Champagne at a canter.
The wines are laid down for an average of 24 months before disgorging, so maybe this has an effect. Whatever the secret, this superbly effervescent Champagne is crisp, wonderfully refreshing, with enough lemony zest, minus the astringency, to cut through the dullest of December days. Score: 8/10
You know wine writers keep saying English sparklers are catching up with their French counterparts? They aren’t. Or at the least they aren’t on the basis of this wine from Surrey-based Denbies Wine Estate, which was produced to Sainsbury’s specifications.
A blend of PN, PM and chard, it’s tangy and moussey with hints of green apples and young apricots. You will need savoury nibbles to balance out the sharpness. Score 5/10
A very pretty Champagne with excitable little bubbles.
Very dry and full-bodied, it’s 100% chardonnay, which may explain one of the panel’s comment that it is “a little tart.”
Produced by Union Champagne in Avize, I think it’s a grower. But require a few more bottles to confirm suspicions.
A very elegant fizz, with honey colours, good crispness and a citrus character. A well-structured wine with suitably toasty notes for a special occasion glug in front of a roaring fire.
One panelist commented: “A proper vintage Champagne.” Which just about says it all.
McCOMB STAR BUY
Wow! Superb aromas of delicately stewed apple and citrus fruits are followed by toasty notes and a light nuttiness. There’s a nonchalance about the gentle bubbles, as if to say: “I know I’m gorgeous. I don’t have to overdo it.”
The wine has picked up gold medals at this year’s International Wine Challenge and Decanter World Wine Awards. Plus, the Cop-op is knocking £3 off its normal price of £26 until December 31.
Very classy. Considering the price, it’s our top tip for supermarket vintage Champers.
Waitrose Brut NV Champagne, £19.99
Biscuity with a bone dry finish, this works well as an aperitif rather than anything too serious – but is none the worse for that.
Hints of vanilla and pleasing, consistent length.
Marks & Spencer Brut Vintage 2005, £30
A proper, grown-up vintage fizz with a captivating light, golden hue. There’s a touch of caramel on the nose, playing off lemon aromas. 100% chardonnay.
There’s an uncloying light mousse and a long, rich finish. At £30, it’s the most expensive I tried but this is finesse and Christmas fun in a flute.