To create a luxury product of fun, prestige and celebration from a wine that struggles in the vineyard to reach more than 11 per cent alcohol is the ultimate in vinous alchemy. Faced with the most magical name in wine, it is sometimes easy to forget that Champagne has many different levels of quality and that a Champagne by any other name might also taste as good.
For my Christmas challenge, I embarked on a blind tasting with Champagne expert, Giles Fallowfield (champagneguru.co.uk) of a range of 18 supermarket Champagnes priced at under £20 interspersed with an English fizz, a Kiwi fizz and a posh merchant's own-label Champagne. Depressing as it was to find so many average bottles of fizz often oversweetened and barely worthy of the Champagne name, a handful emerged with credit.
The front runner was the appetisingly rich and savoury Veuve Devanlay Brut NV, Morrisons, whose £28.99 is slashed to £12 until 4 January. It shared top billing with the creamy, toffee-apple rich Abel Charlot Brut NV, from Marks & Spencer, its £32 price tag cut to £16 until New Year's Day.
The delicately toasty Laytons Brut Réserve NV, Jeroboams, was good value at £4 off the £19.95 list price until 5 January, and of the non-Champagne fizzes, both the attractively complex, honeyed Chapel Down Brut Vintage Réserve NV, Wine Rack, down from £20.99 to £16.99 performed well, along with Cloudy Bay's distinctively vanilla-tinged, savoury Pelorus, with its creamy mousse and tangy finish, normally £19.99, Wine Rack, currently £15.99.
The discount Champagnes with fancy made-up names did not include the regular supermarket own-label Champagne stalwarts, a number of which are considerably superior and worth the extra. Among them, I would include Sainsbury's rich and biscuity, all-chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Brut, £20, the beautifully balanced Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut, down to £19.99 from £24.99, and the superbly toasty 2004 Les Pionniers Champagne from Charles and Piper Heidsieck, £24.99, the Co-operative.
I should add that this is the best time of year for good deals on brands. Tesco, for instance, has 33 per cent off Lanson and 25 per cent off Moët.
For quality fizz at an attractive price, cava is increasingly coming into the frame with wines like The Wine Society's Reserva Brut Cava, £8.50. From the little-known Jura in Eastern France comes the creamy 2012 Philippe Michel Crémant du Jura, £7.29, Aldi, while the foaming rich nuttiness of the Cape's 2009 Graham Beck The Rhona Blanc de Blancs, £13,99, (buy two = £10.50), Marks & Spencer, might even fool you into thinking you're drinking the real thing.