As I write, rumours are swirling around that there’s going to be a shortage of champagne in the run-up to Christmas. It seems hard to credit given the squillions of bottles the Champenois produce every year, and it doesn’t exactly come into the same league of inconvenience as petrol shortages, but if you enjoy a glass of bubbly on New Year’s Eve and want to get it at a reasonable price, there’s no harm in picking some up now.
According to Rob Cooke, chief commercial officer of Majestic, it’s not so much that there will be a shortage than that shoppers may not be able to find their favourite champagne at a discounted price. “The choice will be: do you stick with your normal brand if it’s not promoted, change brands or go for another sparkling wine?”
Cooke’s hunch is that champagne still ticks the box for most when it comes to celebrations, so Majestic is focusing on lesser-known labels such as the smart, modern-looking 12% Labbé et Fils Brut Tradition, which sells for £27.99 as part of the store’s mix-six deal (which can be any wines, not just champagne). Unless, for you, the point of drinking champagne is that your guests should recognise what you’re pouring for them, this is a good strategy.
Own-label champagnes such as the Tesco Finest Premier Cru below or Adnams’ very decent house champagne (£23.99, 12.5%) cost considerably less than big household names such as Moët or Veuve Clicquot. And if you appreciate champagne as a drink rather than a status symbol, you can get a top-quality growers’ champagne for the price of a basic grand marque.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that champagne is getting even richer and toastier than it used to be, partly due to recent good vintages and partly to the higher proportion of dark-skinned grapes (pinot noir and pinot meunier) many houses are using. This is great if you’re planning to drink it with a meal (champagne is actually terrific with turkey), perhaps less good if you want it as an aperitif.
“There’s an increasing polarisation between this and the very lean and mineral style,” says Cooke. “The middle ground is disappearing a bit stylistically.” If you like a lighter style, look for non-vintage rather than vintage champagnes, a lower “dosage” (the sugar solution that is added at bottling) or blanc de blancs – champagnes that are made purely from white-skinned grapes, generally chardonnay.
Five of the best value champagnes
Gallimard Père et Fils Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Noirs £25.06 Master of Malt, £26.50 NY Wines, £27.25 The Whisky Exchange, 12%. If you love champagne as a drink, this is one of the best buys around, with a gorgeous toasted brioche and baked apple character.
Tesco Finest Premier Cru champagne £21, 12.5%. Scoops awards every year – consistently one of the best supermarket champagnes, and amazing for the price.
Champagne Jean de Foigny Premier Cru £22 The Wine Society, 12.5%. Light, fresh and delicately honeyed. Great for seeing in the new year.
Champagne ‘Yapp’ J Dumangin et Fils NV £36 Yapp Brothers, 12%. Super-smart, elegant grower’s champagne that demonstrates why it still has the edge over rival sparkling wines.
Champagne Gatinois Brut Tradition, Grand Cru Aÿ £35.15 Haynes Hanson Clark (£31.25 if you buy a case), 12%. A beautifully crafted champagne that deserves some serious seafood, such as grilled sole or scallops.
For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com