Champagne is something to be enjoyed in times of celebration and in times of feel-good spontaneity – and with New Year just around the corner, the opportunity to do either will soon become a regular occurrence.
Quality varies greatly among the 15,000 growers and 290 houses – it is the whole village that is rated, not the individual vineyards or growers like in Burgundy – so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any champagne will be a good one. Having said that, it is indeed possible to find quality at a range of prices – some perfect for parties and others more suited for greedy private indulgence. You decide how generous to be with your guests.
1. Waitrose Brut NV: £18.99, Waitrose
This is an excellent-value champagne – deep golden in colour with good depth in flavour. It's fruit-focused, dry and well-structured with refreshing citrus, red berry and buttery notes and just a touch of oak. Served just out of the fridge will keep the flavours fresh and precise. This also gets bonus points for coming in a half-bottle version.
2. Bruno Paillard Brut Millesime Blanc de Blanc, 2004: £57.95, The Whisky Exchange
Bruno Paillard’s aim is to create wines of purity, elegance and complexity but always light on the palate, never heavy – essentially all the hallmarks of a great fizz. It's green-gold in colour, fine bubbles in the glass, citrus and saline on the nose, with almonds and minerality on the palate. There's a persistent finish too. Pair with fish and light dishes, nothing sweet.
3. Krug Grande Cuvée NV: £140, Majestic
Blended from 10 different vintages and 47 wines from 25 villages, Krug’s Grande Cuvée boasts almonds, brioche, truffles, marzipan and honey, as well as hints of grapefruit, apple and citrus. There's a plethora of depth, flavour and complexity without ever feeling too much or too heavy, and a rich finish that continues long after the last sip. A true gift in a glass – serve it with extra-mature parmesan to heighten the pleasure.
4. Henri Delattre Brut Grand Cru: £14.99, Lidl
Well rounded and off-dry with biscuit, toast and red apple notes, the Grand Cru Brut from Henri Delattre isn’t too complex but is great to buy in for a big party and smörgåsbord of canapés. A little sharp at the back of the throat, enjoy two glasses and then move onto another tipple.
5. AR Lenoble Brut Intense: £35 (or £30.20 when buying a case of 6), Stannary Wine
AR Lenoble was founded in 1920 by Armand-Raphaël Graser. Nearly a hundred years on, it is still family-owned, run by great-grandchildren Anne and Antoine Malassagne. The Brut Intense is a blend of Chardonnay from the Grand Cru and unique vineyards of Chouilly, Pinot Noir from the Premier Cru vineyards of Bisseuil and Pinot Meunier from Damery. This is full of character with a bouquet of mature, poached fruit on the nose (apricot, apple and prunes); plus almonds, hay, citrus and buttery oxidative notes from four years on lees. The longer cellar ageing and high proportion of reserve wines, conserved in wooden barrels, allows the dosage to be kept to a minimum and the overall taste to be exquisite. Pair with roasted scallops and pumpkin, oysters, tuna sashimi or nutty cheeses.
6. Jacquesson Cuvée 739 Extra Brut: £45, Berry Bros. & Rudd
Based around the 2011 vintage, this is a Chardonnay-driven fizz with 57 per cent of the grape dominating the blend. Labelled Extra Brut (i.e. 0-6g/L permitted sugar level), dosage is kept to a minimum to preserve the wine’s purity and elegance. Structured and feminine with white fruit and subtle spice, a glass of this will make your day significantly better.
7. Berry Bros. & Rudd Champagne by Mailly, Grand Cru: £26.95, Berry Bros. & Rudd
Sourced from the prestigious Grand Cru village of Mailly, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s own-label is golden in colour with brioche and blossom on the nose. A classic blend of 75 per cent Pinot Noir and 25 per cent Chardonnay, this boasts lots of toast, biscuit and autolytic character with over three years’s ageing on lees. Great for an aperitif or to accompany heavier dishes.
8. Veuve Clicquot 2008: £42, Tesco
This is the first vintage for Chef de Cave Dominique Demarville since taking the helm at Veuve Clicquot in 2006. Reclaiming the use of oak-aged wines that used to be the norm for this Grand Marque until the 1960s when they moved to stainless steel, the 2008 vintage has a roundness of flavour, with a harmonious balance of acidity and ripe fruit (baked apple, thirst-quenching citrus), subtle oak, complexity and freshness. It’s golden in the glass with elegantly fine bubbles.
9. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV: £39.99, Laithwaites
One of the most decorated champagnes in tasting competitions, this is made from a selection of 60 different crus and 40 per cent reserve wines (many of which are more than 10 years old). It's deeply golden in hue with a light nose of freshly baked brioche and citrus peel and a palate teaming with rich toast and cereal; baked stone fruits, ripe melon, red cherry and plum. The unique bottle shape is meant to increase the volume of wine in contact with the lees, intensifying flavours and aromas. Perfect for an aperitif.
10. Didier Chopin Brut NV: £14.99, Laithwaites
A classic, fuller-bodied champagne, this is made entirely from Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes. Artisan growers Didier and Karine Chopin have created a refreshingly crisp Blanc de Noirs – both fruity and toasty, with light floral aromas, a fine mousse, ripe stone fruit and toasty autolytic complexity. It's generously priced too.
The Verdict: Champagnes
If money is no option then plump for Krug - although at that price, you may not be too enthusiastic about sharing it. Waitrose’s own range is a star buy for quality and price, as is Berry Bros. & Rudd’s. AR Lenoble’s Brut Intense is really something special and your palate will not get tired of the complex flavours. For more citrus-focussed and refreshing styles, you can’t beat Jacquesson Cuvée 739 or Bruno Paillard’s Blanc de Blanc.
Nuria Stylianou is our WSET-qualified wine and spirits columnist. Email her on firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @nu_on_the_vine
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