My Round: The joy of cheap fizz

Champagne is often our costliest wine buy of the year. Now's the time to snap up the pre-Christmas bubbly bargains
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Remember the Millennium? Not the infamous Dome, which is remembered by no one, but the threatened champagne shortage. Hundreds, if not thousands, of the gullible were hoodwinked into "investing" in bubbly by enterprising businessmen who said there wouldn't be enough of it to drink. The press was awash with reports of the crisis. In the end, there was plenty to go round and (cue chagrin among retailers and producers) lots left over. I'm not sure who was responsible for the alarmism, but it sure made for exciting reading at the time.

Remember the Millennium? Not the infamous Dome, which is remembered by no one, but the threatened champagne shortage. Hundreds, if not thousands, of the gullible were hoodwinked into "investing" in bubbly by enterprising businessmen who said there wouldn't be enough of it to drink. The press was awash with reports of the crisis. In the end, there was plenty to go round and (cue chagrin among retailers and producers) lots left over. I'm not sure who was responsible for the alarmism, but it sure made for exciting reading at the time.

Today, there are no such reports, but it's worth starting to plan for the upcoming festive season, and if champagne is on your shopping list then you're in luck. There's a lot of good wine out there, and a lot of it is being sold at reduced prices.

As always, two verities apply in the world of UK champagne-buying: the best list (among multiples) is at Waitrose and the best deals will be found at Majestic. Majestic's list is probably longer than Waitrose's, but the supermarket packs a remarkable variety into its offering, not least because of the consistent excellence of its own-label wines. The Blanc de Noirs (£14.99), Blanc de Blanc (£16.99) and 1996 vintage (£19.99) are all fine, with the Pinot Noir-dominated vintage wine providing especially good value. It also has a knack for picking up slightly off-the-beaten-track wines, such as the beautifully delicate Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut (£18.99), and the rich, creamy Fleury Père et Fils Brut NV (£20.99), 90 per cent Pinot Noir and produced organically to boot. All that plus the usual well-known brands, some luxuries (Roederer 1996, £50, is astonishingly classy), and good non-champagne sparklers including Britain's own Ridgeview Bloomsbury Cuvée Merret 2001 (£14.99) and Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Brut 1996 (£19 for Britain's best wine, still or sparkling).

Majestic doesn't quite match up in the imaginative stakes, but it more than makes up for it in bargains. At the time of writing, on quaffersoffers.co.uk, the excellent website listing all current wine discounts, 41 out of 70 champagne listings come from Majestic. Its offers are always of the multi-buy variety: buy two or sometimes three and get 20, 25 or 33.3 per cent off. It's a clever way to do business, and clearly hasn't hurt the company: it recently reported net profits up 10 per cent for the first half of the year and is expecting a bumper Christmas. A couple of its holiday-season offers are listed below. Of the others, I'm particularly keen on Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Spéciale 1997 (£15.99 from £23.99 if you buy three) and Jacquart 1996 (£19.99 from £29.99, same terms). Some of the wines are marginal buys at full price; at the discounted offer, they tend to be Premiership bargains.

In emphasising these two retailers I am not, of course, suggesting that you buy champagne only from them - though both retailers have a lot more to offer than shaved prices on good fizz. It's just that Christmas tends to place inordinately large demands on budgets for wine as for everything else, and any chance to reduce expenditure is devoutly to be wished for.

But Oddbins is weighing in with its own offers, as is Thresher/Wine Rack and the other supermarkets. Do try them. Do try the independents, such as Lea & Sandeman (020 7244 0522, www.londonfinewines.co.uk) if you live in London and can qualify for free delivery on its champagne buys, including a trio of good-value cheapies. But if you end up in the arms of Majestic, I won't be at all surprised.

Top corks: Three from champagne

Krug 1990 £115 to £127, selected Waitrose stores, Berry Bros 0870 900 4300, www.bbr.com, assorted independents Yes, I know. But taste it and you'll see. Champagne at its best.

Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus NV £23.99 from £31.99 for two or more, Majestic Deep and rich but fresh and vivacious. Taittinger's ordinary NV is also on form at the moment.

Veuve Clicquot 1998 £29.99 from £39.99 for two or more, Majestic Pinot Noir-dominated and very complex stuff with a long life ahead of it. Good now, better in 2009.

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