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10 best champagne bottles to celebrate with on any occasion

Made according to strict production rules and only ever from three grapes, these are the bottles to buy for Christmas

Terry Kirby
Thursday 04 November 2021 15:28
<p>Outside of France, the UK is the biggest consumer of bubbles </p>

Outside of France, the UK is the biggest consumer of bubbles

Champagne is, of course, the ultimate celebration drink and in the United Kingdom, we drink quite a lot of it, around 22 million litres each year, making us, in most years, the biggest consumers in the world, outside France.

And it is only in the small region of northern France of the same name that champagne is made, around 300 million bottles exported this year, made according to strict production rules – the methode traditionalle – and only ever from three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, both as a blend and as solo acts, although wholly pinot meunier wines are harder to find.

While prosecco is still astonishingly popular as a budget bubbly and English sparkling is coming up fast, it is still champagne most of us turn to when we mark out life’s key moments – achievements and anniversaries of all kinds. And an awful lot will be consumed over the coming festive season.

While everyone knows it is wonderful as a palate freshening aperitif, many also find it a magnificent partner to fine seafood or even just to make a take-home fish and chips into something very special.

While the big familiar name can be expensive there are some brilliant value supermarket own label and budget lines and lesser-known small producers can make really individual wines from their own grapes, usually known as “grower champagnes” to distinguish them from the big houses who will often take their grapes from a variety of vineyards.

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How we tested

For this selection below, we tasted a wide variety of chilled wines from across this spectrum, both with and without foods. We were looking for value for money, for individuality, freshness and for those characteristic bready, nutty flavours, with some orchard, citrus and red fruits, particularly in the pinot noir dominated wines. 

The best champagnes for 2021 are:

Lelarge-Pugeot les meuniers de clémence extra brut 2013

Best: Overall

This is very much a rarity – a 100 per cent, hand-harvested pinot meunier wine from a small organic boutique producer in the premier cru village of Vrigny. The brand has been making wine since 1789, and champagne since 1930, and is currently in the hands of the seventh generation of Lelarges. This champagne is made with minimum intervention to ensure the purity of flavour and aged in the bottle. This wonderfully balanced with intense, crisp, mineral, orchard fruit and citrus flavours and a fine and delicate mousse. A great wine for both an aperitif but also for fine seafood. We think it’s the best buy thanks to its distinctiveness and great quality.

Waitrose blanc de noirs Brut NV

Best: Supermarket own brand

Priced at less than £24 this is terrific value for money , so now is a great time to stock up ahead of Christmas. Made just for Waitrose by the small producer Alexandre Bonnet based in the Aube region of Champagne, its award winning, rich and biscuity flavours are remarkably food friendly, so it’s a great buy to make a takeaway fish and chips into something really special.

Veuve monsigny champagne brut

Best: Budget buy

You will be hard-pressed to find a better value budget champagne on the market at the moment. Sometimes Aldi has only small volumes on its shelves, so if you are looking to stock up for a party or the Christmas season and don’t want to go down the prosecco fountain route, then probably best to get down to your local branch pretty soonish. Of course, it’s not the most refined of champagnes, but yes, it is fresh, zesty and bubbly, with way more character than wines twice the price, so what’s not to like?

Taittinger brut prestige rose NV

Best: Luxury rose

Pink champagne always flew under the radar until some years ago when it was discovered by rappers and their circles who were content to spend several hundred pounds a bottle in overpriced nightclubs, putting rose firmly part of “bling” culture. Actually,  the cognoscenti always knew that rose was the champagne to drink with lobster or oysters but is also brilliant with fruity desserts. Taittinger is the last big independent family-owned label, with a massive tradition and reputation behind it and yet this wine remains relatively well priced, assured in its own excellence and precise, refreshing, red fruit flavours.

Krug grande cuvee edition 168

Best: Special occasion buy

The most special of the champagne special marques. Each edition is a mix of the most recent vintage with reserve wines from previous years, which derive from a variety of different grapes, vineyards and vintages. Often around 100 different combinations, some aged in ancient wood casks, deliver both extraordinary complexity of flavours – rich, nutty, buttery tones dominate – and nuanced variations between the editions. An ID code on each bottle allows the buyer to learn more about the edition by entering it onto the Krug website.

Frerejean Freres blanc de blancs premier cru NV

Best: Blanc de blancs

This is a 100 per cent chardonnay – the requirement to be designated a “blanc de blancs” made in Avize in the Cote de Blancs, using only grand cru and premier cru classified grape. The Frerejean-Taittinger family have been making champagne for many years, but only on a small, boutique basis and so bottles can be hard to find. This is elegant and complex with tropical fruits on the nose, with rich, creamy, bready, nutty and citrus flavours and a long clean, mineral finish. Another really special occasion wine.

Lanson green label organic NV

Best: Vegan champagne

Lanson is one of the most well-known names for mid-priced champagnes, particularly its popular “bllack label” brand. But this traditional and long-established house is now committed to organic and biodynamic production at its estate at Verneuil in the Marne valley and this new “green label” pinot noir dominated blend, which is produced according to vegan standards, has been garlanded with awards that recognise its fresh, pure, citrus flavours. A perfect aperitif wine.

Delacourt rose brut NV

Best: Supermarket own brand rose

Marks and Spencer’s own label champagnes are normally good value because of the brand’s hard work with reputable winemakers. The Delacourt wines are made for them by the highly experienced winemaker Elisabeth Sarcelet, who heads up the prestige house of Castelnau where she has worked since 1985. The rose here displays all that experience in an almost equal blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, with lots of fresh, zesty red fruit flavours and a hint of citrus.  This is a terrific everyday rose, perfect just as an aperitif or with crab or big prawns on the barbecue. Buy as a case of six for £132.

Champagne gaston declos brut NV

Best: Grower champagne under £30

Grower champagnes, because they are small, independent operations, can attract high prices to reflect their exclusivity, as you can see elsewhere here, so this is a great bargain. A pinot noir dominated blend from Aube winemaker Cyril Gyejacquot, who also produces highly rated wines under his own name, this has punchy, rich, rounded red fruit flavours but remains very dry on the long and satisfying finish. A great all around champagne, suitable as a party fizz or with fine seafoods.

A.Levasseur noir de terroir extra brut

Best: Blanc de noir

The black label with its elegant font and the wax sealed, rustic string cork tie – replacing the usual wire “cage” – immediately signal that this is not your normal champagne. A very small house, going since the 1940s, it makes just around 30,000 bottles a year from four hectares of vineyards scattered around the Marne Valley. This organic, very limited production 100 per cent pinot noir, a “blanc de noirs” has amazingly complex flavours of brioche, red berry fruit and quince, with a hint of citrus. A great conversation piece to start your dinner party.

Champagne FAQs

Why is champagne so expensive?

Champagne involves the most complex, time-consuming and labour-intensive method of making wine there is, meaning it’s no surprise the drink is more costly.

Firstly, grapes used for champagne are harvested by hand because many blends are made from black grapes and it’s important to ensure the fruit’s dark skins don’t contaminate the clear white juice inside the grapes. Unlike still wines, champagne goes through up to three processes before it reaches the shelves, adding further cost to production.

The sparkling wine also has to be laid horizontal in a dark cellar for anywhere between 15 months and sometimes up to 10 years while still wines, in comparison, can be sold almost immediately.

Champagne terminology explained

Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs 

The term blanc de blancs simply translates to “white of white”, meaning the tipple is made from just white grapes, while blanc de noirs means “white of black” which describes champagnes made from the juice of black-skinned grapes.

Cuvée

Champagnes produced by big houses or maisons are combinations of grapes grown all over the region and this final blend is called cuvée.

Grower champagne

Champagnes of this type are grown and produced at the same vineyard, making it highly specific to a certain wine growing region.

Vintage and non-vintage

Vintage champagne is labelled as having been made from a particular year’s harvest and must mature for at least three years while non-vintage is usually a blend of various years and can take around half the time to mature.

The verdict: Champagnes

There are a range of brilliant champagnes here to suit all budgets and all occasions, whether for a weekday treat or the special moments in our lives. While the big names are present here – Taittinger, Krug and Lanson – the excellence of own label supermarket wines is a testament to the quality on offer on their shelves. But we also urge you to explore the more individual “grower champagnes” which offer really exciting wines and that is why the Lelarge-Pugeot, les meuniers de clémence extra brut 2013 is our best buy champagne for 2021.

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