December 29, 2016: prices and stockists updated.
I’m writing this a few days after The Wine Gang’s 2016 Ultimate Champagne Evening, so to say that I'm full of the joys of Champagne is to understate it. We got our taste buds into shape with an aperitif of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve (always a favourite) then showed Salon 2004, Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2007, Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004, Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002, Bollinger La Grande Année 2005, Bollinger RD 2002, Dom Pérignon 2006, Dom Pérignon Rosé 2004 and, finally, the wild card, Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs. The Salon was exquisite (but then it always is) and the beauty and intensity of the two Dom Ruinarts stood out for me. I presented the latter pair, so maybe I was swayed, but it’s a mystery why this prestige cuvée remains relatively under the radar. (Prices and stockists for Ruinart and Salon below.)
I don’t suppose anyone needs reminding but Armand de Brignac, aka Ace of Spades, is the brand with the metalized bottles – very loud and shiny with pewter labels – that’s now owned by rapper Jay Z. Should you be tempted, the quality of the range isn’t in doubt (The Wine Gang wouldn’t have shown it otherwise), but value is not what it’s about. The Blanc de Noirs is £695 in Harrods.
In contrast, value is a consideration, especially at the bottom end, for my seasonal round-up. The 16 Champagnes are listed in ascending order of price, so start at the end if you’re follower of Jay Z. I haven’t included any that were in last year’s Festive Champagne Guide, but have re-tasted all (except the Devaux and Belle Epoque 2007) and can recommend them again, especially Les Pionniers for value (£16.99, the Co-op). It’s good to see such consistency. It’s also good to see the arrival this year of many 2008 Champagnes – an excellent vintage.
For alternative stockists, including in other countries, use wine-searcher.com.
Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne
A crisp, delicate and well-balanced all-Chardonnay Champagne with lemon, apple, wheat and chalky flavours. Made by long-standing supplier Duval Leroy.
£16 on offer (down from £20), Sainsbury's
The Society’s Brut Champagne
Impeccable oak-fermented Champagne made by the small house of Alfred Gratien (read more about my visit there earlier this year). Full-flavoured (toast, honey, apricot, coffee bean, cream) and rounded, but etched with steely acidity. Ages extremely well.
£29.50, The Wine Society
Vilmart Grande Réserve Brut Premier Cru Champagne
Ripe red-berry fleshiness flowing into biscuity richness and fine-tuned acidity. Very expressive of Pinot Noir (a blend of 70% Pinot Noir with 30% Chardonnay).
£30, Virgin Wines, The Wine Society, Lay & Wheeler ; £30.99, Waitrose
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Champagne
Despite the rather long-winded name, this is Pol Roger’s standard non-vintage. It’s always one of the best of the big names, but is showing particularly well at present, Chardonnay’s floral notes overlaying the red fruit richness of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
£31.99 on offer, Waitrose until 3 January 2017; £30.73 in any 6-bottle mix, Majestic. Widely available at around £40. Marks & Spencer has magnums at £80.
Dumangin Extra Brut Champagne
The dominance of Pinot Meunier over Chardonnay and Pinot Noir gives fruity roundness to this elegant, laser-cut, minimally sweetened (Extra Brut) blend.
£33.30, Yapp Brothers
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2007 Champagne
Graceful, pure Chardonnay vintage Champagne from the small, quality-conscious Le Mesnil co-operative. Creamy, biscuity, lemony and mineral.
Deutz Brut Classic Champagne
Stylish, well-balanced Champagne that shows the virtues of the classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in equal parts. Surprisingly low-profile considering the quality and its ownership by Louis Roederer.
£34.10, Hedonism; £37, The Wine Society; £38, Oddbins
Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut Premier Cru Champagne
Very dry, Vertus (Premier Cru) Chardonnay blend with one-third reserve wines giving depth and texture to the fine-boned, streamlined profile. Flavours of apple, apricot, nuts, digestive biscuit.
£37.50, Lea & Sandeman
Veuve Clicquot Brut 2008 Champagne
A departure and a step up for Veuve Clicquot’s Pinot Noir-dominated vintage Champagne. A small amount of the 2008 wine was fermented in oak. It gives depth, complexity and creaminess, but not the taste of oak. Good cellaring potential and good value.
£34.99 in any 6-bottle mix, Majestic; £42, Tesco ; £50, Sainsbury's; £52, Oddbins
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Not the prestige cuvée Dom Ruinart, but the standard Ruinart all-Chardonnay non-vintage, with signature elegance, freshness and cushion-soft texture. Apple, pear, lemon, toasted wheat and chalky mineral flavours.
£49.99 in any 6-bottle mix, Majestic; £55, Jeroboams; £56.95, Lea & Sandeman; £59, Oddbins
Bruno Paillard Assemblage 2008 Champagne
Vintage Champagne combining power and concentration with driving freshness and finesse. Low dosage (5g/l) and flavours of red berries, red apple, spices and almond shortbread. Tailored for ageing.
£58, Handford Wines
Louis Roederer Brut 2008 Champagne
One of the stars of the excellent 2008 vintage. Dense, compact and intense, its nervy youthfulness contrasting with biscuity richness. Can be drunk now or cellared for a decade or more.
£47, The Wine Society; £62, Oddbins
Dom Ruinart 2004 Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Great Champagne from a great vintage. The purity of Grand Cru Chardonnay expressed through biscuity, floral, grapefruit and salty, mineral flavours, a succulent texture and thrilling freshness.
£112.50 in any 6-bottle mix Majestic (£125 single bottle); £145, Selfridges
The even more thrilling Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002 – opulent, intense and headily perfumed with ripe red berries, chocolate, coffee, brioche and citrus – is £220, Roberson.
Krug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne
Does Krug GC really need a mention? Maybe not, but here’s a reminder that this generous, full, complex Champagne is multi-vintage, is aged in Krug’s cellars for seven or more years, goes well with food and can be matured many years in bottle. You can read more about the current cuvée and get some food inspiration in my blog post about an amazing lunch I had at The Man Behind the Curtain restaurant.
£130-£150, widely available
Roederer Cristal 2009 Champagne
Superb. See my June blog for the tasting note (and notes on six earlier vintages).
Salon 2004 Champagne
Salon is made only from Chardonnay from a single iconic Grand Cru, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and only in the best years: 2004 was the 39th vintage since the first a century ago in 1905 and, despite it being a big harvest in Champagne, Salon made much less than usual. The result is powerfully aromatic (pineapple, lemon, brioche, cream, chalk, spice…), almost explosive concentration, but with the characteristic ethereal quality and purity, and a distinctive salty, crème fraiche finish.
All photographs by Joanna Simon