More sparkling wine is drunk at Christmas and New Year than at any other time so here are a handful of pointers about what might work for your own celebrations.
The pandemic has blighted the last two Christmas seasons, so this might be a good time to let things “sparkle” a little more.
However, I recognise that cash rather than Covid may be the constraining factor this time.
With that in mind, I have tried to optimise value and, again, have “gold plated” selections I particularly rate.
In the usual way, hyperlinks and pictures are used where possible to help you locate the bottle in question.
Starting with Prosecco
2021 Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (£7.99 at Lidl and 11% abv):
Remember the rule about “what a difference a letter makes” (DOCG v. DOC).
DOC wines can come from anywhere in the vast Prosecco area provided they meet that classification’s basic rules.
Certain areas (often hiller ones) produce what are generally considered superior versions and have received DOCG status.
That extra letter means Garantita – the highest classification in Italy – and involves analysis and tasting by government–licensed judgement panels.
Light in texture with attractive sweetness on the nose, this example is from Valdobbiadene (one of those DOCG areas).
Its carefully controlled sweetness neatly underlines the pear and red apple flavours at work here which, in turn, are supported by restrained acidity, traces of vanilla and an overall softness.
Now to English Wine
Ellercombe English Quality Sparkling Wine (£22 at Sainsbury’s – but sometimes on promotion – and 11.5%):
This example from Sainsbury’s seems to be rather like the Vin de France category over the Channel with grapes sourced from several locations to create the blend the winemaker is after.
That can work well in France and, judging by this example, the process can be successful here too.
It is a chardonnay-led blend of the holy trinity of sparkling wine grape varieties with, obviously, the two black grape pinots joining in.
Despite limited bubbles, this neatly implants an invigorating zing into your taste buds.
That process nicely embellishes the wine’s rounded apple and lemon flavours, light body, yeasty backdrop and active acidity.
Moving up a step or two
2018 Rathfinny Blanc de Blanc (around £40 from several retailers and 12%):
Rathfinny produce some excellent sparkling wines and their chardonnay exclusive version is always awaited with keen anticipation -especially when it involves a summer as good as 2018’s.
This is right on the money with its combination of skilled winemaking and the special nature of great Blanc de Blanc wines.
Floral aromas and minute bubbles signal the opening of this wine and those are quickly amplified by soft and classy apple, orange and peach flavours on the palate.
That diverse foundation is accompanied by firm lemon acidity and a toasty background, along with attractive suggestions of vanilla and of contrasting savoury herbs.
But on 31 December, many thoughts turn to champagne.
Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut (£14.99 at Aldi and 12.5%):
Ever a great value High Street favourite, this still gives an amazing “bang for your bucks” even with slight changes in style.
The bottle I sampled seemed to have an unusual, soda-like savouriness that I do not remember from previous years.
However, that is quickly overtaken by lingering red apple, quince and stone fruit flavours, pastry type richness and, of course, sprightly lemon acidity.
Now to the other premium discounter
Champagne Montaudon Elixiris (£14.99 at Lidl and 12%):
Let’s be candid, budget priced champagne is often dominated by a fierce acidity that obscures everything else.
That is not the case here as the wine offers a nicely crafted meeting place where intensity, fruit elements and secondary influences like yeastiness, creaminess and freshness are equal partners.
Lidl’s champagne supplier seems to have changed but this newcomer does impress and thoroughly deserves its “gold plating”.
Its small bubbles lead into a surprising wide flavour range that includes raspberry, melon and a touch of peach beneath a classic apple foundation.
That base is joined by yeasty aromas, creamy texture and proportionate lemon acidity.
A slightly dearer but very reliable option
Les Pionniers Brut (£19.50 at the Co-op and 12%):
For the other “gold star”, I turn to one of the most consistent performers on the High Street.
It is made for the Co-op by a major Champagne House with a good stock of “reserve wines” and that helps it maintain its stable quality levels.
As a result, it brilliantly balances freshness, texture and flavours in a way few £20 champagnes can match.
Opening with gentle dough aromas, it delivers up-front and well-defined melon, orange curd and orchard fruit flavours that are neatly counterbalanced by sharp lime acidity and appreciable depth.
And something a little different
Waitrose Blanc de Noir Champagne (£22.99 – instead of £26.99 until 1 January – from Waitrose Cellar or Waitrose stores and 12.5%):
Blanc de Noir champagne is made exclusively from the juice of gently pressed black grapes where contact with the skins has been minimised.
This tends to produce fuller and fleshier versions than many peers with chardonnay in the mix.
Very lively with small, fast bubbles, this excellent example provides nicely balanced pear, ripe melon and plum flavours.
Those components are energised by sharp grapefruit acidity that makes an excellent contrast with its subtle digestive biscuit elements.
When you really love someone ….
OK I accept that this is a Christmas treat that will strain many budgets, but it is a very special champagne.
It has enjoyed 10 years of cellar time to help it develop the opulence that the wine delivers straight into your glass.
With marginally more (52% v 48%) chardonnay than pinot noir, grapes from Grand Cru villages are used for the illustrious Champagne Jacquart Cuvée Alpha – that has only been produced in three previous years.
Predictably, the result is hugely impressive.
It has all the richness you expect of vintage champagne but supercharges it with a melange of components (minerality, lively acidity and mild hints of sweetness) and a flavour range that is both unusual and extensive.
With new bread aromas, silky depth and a luxurious viscosity, it brings us restrained baked apple, orange peel, raisin and plum flavours enlivened by gentle lemon acidity and given complexity by biscuity richness, chalky minerality and that hint of sweetness.
Since the upcoming season is one for drinking wine not reading about it, this site takes its winter holiday now – returning in mid-January.
Meanwhile thank you for your support during 2022 and I trust that you and yours have a splendid time over these festivities.
Happy Christmas one and all.
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