This coming Friday, October 28, is Global Champagne Day. What better excuse do you need to say ‘cheers’ with some first-class fizz? asks Times drinks editor James Viner.
France’s iconic fizz is pricey but dizzyingly celebratory. Peter the Great seemingly took four bottles of the stuff to bed every night, and rapper Jay-Z adored one brand so much that he purchased the company and then sold half of it to luxury goods company LVMH.
Coco Chanel avowed: ‘I only drink Champagne on two occasions – when I am in love and when I am not’, while Napoleon held that ‘in victory you deserve it; in defeat you need it’.
Respect is due since making Champagne requires an intellectual acuity that can be daunting. All Champagnes are blends of dozens of separate still wines. Indeed, the art of blending is considered THE paramount skill that a winemaker in Champagne must possess. Such are the sensory demands involved that big Champagne houses employ a team of winemakers.
Try this dazzling selection…
Always bargainous, Tesco’s own-label Champagne is now even cheaper
(until October 31, when buying mix 6+ selected bottles). Tesco Finest Premier Cru Champagne NV (£23, Tesco, Alc 12.5%)
For budget Champagne, Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny Brut NV (£14.99) ticks all the right boxes (Aldi also lists a decent Crème De Cassis de Dijon to make a Christmassy Kir Royale, £5.99), but you’ll have to go to Tesco and Co-op if you want the best own-label Champagnes on the high street. Tuck into this elegant, lemon mousse, biscuity and creamy blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Union Champagne (the top quality Avize-based co-op). It is unfailingly one of Tesco’s best ‘Finest’ wines and always a highlight at the Tesco press tasting. Incredible value here on or off the offer (a steal now with the current offer, above). You have the scoop. Carpe vinum!
Toasty and creamy vintage Champagne
Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2013 (£27, Co-op, Alc 12%)
Made from a glorious blend of still wines from a single harvest year that’s considered exceptional (and from first-class vineyards), vintage Champagne spends a much longer time than non-vintage Champagne on its lees, or spent yeasts, which adds complexity and a sense of creaminess. The minimum ageing ‘sur lie’ for vintage bubbly is three years, as opposed to 15 months for NV. Admirably energetic, great-value, 60:40 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend made by Émilien Boutillat, Chef de Cave at on-song Maison Piper-Heidsieck, all savoury, buttered toast, subtle almond, acacia and lemon charm. A lot going on from extra bottle age, and it’s all good with the promise of uncoiling excitingly over the coming decade. Finishes long and satisfying. A savoury and wonderful thing – hail the vintage and price!
Stupendous top-tier (very dry) aged non-vintage Champers
Ayala Brut Majeur NV (£34.99 mix six, Majestic, Alc 12%)
All class from the reborn Bollinger-owned Champagne house in Aÿ. It makes me think of freshly baked apple tart, with peach, poached pear, nougat, toast, and a little dab of hazelnut at the very end. The mousse is fine, energetic and delicate. Runs fine, lingers well and is just so impressive from extra ageing. Top quality by any measure. Chapeau to energetic Chef de Cave Caroline Latrive! Well worth seeking out and deliciously flavoursome. Refreshing low dosage, too.
An accomplished Pinot Noir forward rosé, boldly launched by the classic house of Bollinger in 2008
Bollinger Rosé NV (£46-£55, Waitrose, Ocado, Majestic & Asda Alc 12%)
Wow! Founded in 1829, family-owned Bollinger is one of the most storied of the historic illustrious Champagne houses – and the wines are always rich, round, vinous, opulent and toasty. This is a sophisticated joy of a rosé, always rich, mineral and powerful yet elegant, with notes of redcurrant, rosehip, cherry, strawberry shortcake and a little spice. Extremely persistent, too. As reliable as the sun is burning. A tiny measure (between 5 and 6%) of Pinot Noir is vinified as red wine, serving to add a potent element to the Pinot Noir-forward blend. Would be fantastic with cold meats, lobster and salmon. Drink it in the short term to catch that vibrancy and drive.
Planning a party? Try this celebratory magnum from a family-run estate in Épernay that’s managed by sixth-generation brothers
Magnum of Champagne Boizel Brut Réserve NV (£71.50-£73, The Champagne Company and The Wine Society, Alc 12%)
Go on, splurge on this swanky, bone-dry, Pinot Noir-led Champagne in a magnum with gorgeous, concentrated, floral, acacia honey, orchard fruit and satisfying light brioche-laden finesse. Plenty of charm. Long and of such precision that it pulls the saliva from the mouth in readiness for the next flute – and the following one. Pair it with seafood and grilled fish. What a treat for celebrations (hello Christmas and New Year’s Eve). This magnificent magnum will likely make you stop and think as you partake… a wonderful thing.