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The Festive Champagne Guide 2020

I hardly need say that the past year isn't going to go down in history as very celebratory and that 2021 is looking shaky, but I don't need a celebration to drink Champagne (do you?). If I did, there are the first covid-19 vaccinations (my mother was one of the first to get one). And there's Christmas. And New Year.

Here then are my Champagne picks: not as many as usual, and fewer at the bottom end thanks to the absence of tastings and travel, but there are some crackers and in a variety of styles to cover the times when you just want a glass of something to perk you up and the occasions when you're really celebrating.

They're in ascending order of price as far as possible, bearing in mind seasonal offers, variations according to retailer, whether or not it's a gift-boxed version, and delivery costs.

Justerini & Brooks 250th Anniversary Extra Dry Special Cuvée Champagne

First made in 2000 to celebrate J&B's 250th birthday, this all-Pinot Noir cuvée is such a customer favourite that it's still going strong. I can see why. Aged on its lees for 3 years, it's welcomingly creamy and lightly toasty with yellow plum fruit and a smooth, fine texture. 12%

De Saint-Gall Le Tradition Premier Cru Brut Champagne

Biscuity, chalky, rounded and precise with supple fruit and a perfect balance of acidity. I'm delighted to have rediscovered this Champagne, a 70:30 Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend from smart Premier Cru vineyard addresses. It used to be in M&S but is now in independents all over the UK. 12%

Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2012 Champagne

Creamy, nutty, lemony and mineral. This is always a model Côte des Blancs Chardonnay from a model co-operative, but it's hit a new high in the outstanding 2012 vintage. Great value. I have it on good authority that stocks are running low of this vintage, so don't delay. 12%

£34.99, Waitrose

Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Grand Cru Bouzy XV Champagne

A very impressive Pinot Noir-dominant Champagne from an 11-ha family-owned and run estate in the Grand Cru of Bouzy. It's in the bone-dry Extra Brut style, so it's not the average crowd-pleasing party style but a Champagne to savour for its combination of power, finesse and length and the way the aromas and flavours of dried flowers, toast, grilled almond, peach and red berries unfurl around a deep, chalky mineral core. The base wine is 2015 (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) and it's made up of 22 individually vinified plots (parcelles), spontaneously fermented, blended and then aged on lees for 48 months. 12.5%

Chassenay d'Arce Cuvée Première Champagne

This is a new name to me. It's the brand used across the 12 Champagnes of a small co-operative in the Côtes des Bar (130 growers with 315ha spanning 12 villages). I also tasted their rare, low-dosage, pure Pinot Blanc vintage 2012, but preferred the pretty orchard and clementine fruit and subtle biscuity character (from ageing for 3 years on lees) of this non-vintage blend (Pinot Noir 61% and Chardonnay). 12%

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne

Long before all things rosé and the paler the better were fashionable, Billecart's pale pink Champagne was something of a cult fizz. The taste is as elegant as the colour, with wild strawberry, pomegranate and citrus fruit purity overlaying delicate cream and toast notes. 12%

Gosset Grande Réserve Champagne

I recommended this in last year's guide and don't usually feature something in consecutive years, but I've just tasted it again (in the cutest of half bottles) and can't resist mentioning the winning combination of toasty depth and laser-sharp freshness. 12%. If you want a rosé, see my summer rosé round-up for Gosset Grand Rosé, a favourite among pinks. 12%

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne

When I wrote recently about Ruinart's new second-skin eco case, a sustainable, reusable, ice bucket resistant paper case, I described the style of the Blanc de Blancs as being all about freshness, drinkability and creamy soft texture, notably pure fruit and a light mineral touch – and that sums it up. 12.5%

£65, in second-skin eco case, Clos19; £48–£59.99, Berry Bros & Rudd, North & South, Majestic; £35.45, half bottle, The Whisky Exchange

Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesimé 2012

An absolute joy in Charles Heidsieck's generous, rich style from an excellent vintage, reviewed fully here. 12%

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs 2007 Champagne

A Côte des Blancs blend of Grands Crus that starts quite quietly with delicate, buttery, almond aromas, moves gracefully through apples, pears and grapefruit to apricot and flowers and then lingers through mouthwatering creamy texture and saline, mineral intensity. 12%

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires Blanc de Blancs 2006 Champagne

I'm not going to say much here about this because I've previewed it for the next issue (no. 70) of The World of Fine Wine, which will be out soon, but I can confirm that it's superb – rich, generous, approachable but with the backbone to age. It's only the sixth vintage produced since the first Millénaires in 1983, which tells you something about how special it is. 12.4%

Dom Pérignon Rosé 2006

Fabulous, full-bodied rosé that took 11 years to elaborate and tastes a bit like a Grand Cru red Burgundy with bubbles, fully reviewed here. 12.5%

Photographs by Joanna Simon


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