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Fizzical attractionTom Cannavan, 12/08
It's that time of year when wine writers are inundated with samples of Champagne and sparkling wine, sent for their attention in the knowledge that the festive season sees sales of this category of wine soar, with most people cracking open at least one bottle of fizz over Christmas and New Year celebrations. So this is a round-up of a fifteen examples from around the world, from £5.99 Prosecco to an extraordinary £720 vintage Champagne.
Note that all prices below are subject to the recent duty and VAT changes, and that there will of course be lots of deals on fizz around at the moment.
Cordoniu (Spain) Asda Extra Special Cava Vintage 2005
Lots of pungent, aromatic herbal and autolysis notes. Plenty of character here, though champagne-lovers beware that these are distinctly Cava characters from indigenous grapes, with herbs and sour lemon fruit. Lovely stuff. £5.97, Asda. 87/100
La Gioiosa (Italy) Prosecco Spumante Extra Dry NV
It is worth noting that Prosecco is both a D.O.C. area north of Venice, and a grape variety. Therefore, bottles of sparkling wine labelled 'Prosecco' may be wines from D.O.C. Prosecco or, as in this case, may be IGT wines from another part of Italy made from the Prosecco grape. This has a gentle effervescence and lightly yeasty, floral and apple nose. On the palate it is dry but not aggressively so, with sherbet and crunchy apple fruit and a clean finish. Not an outstanding example of Prosecco, but a classic base for a Belini and its modest 11% alcohol is useful. £6.96, Thresher. 84/100
La Gioiosa (Italy) Prosecco Raboso Rosé NV
It's very unusual to find a pink wine labelled Prosecco, but in fact the white Prosecco grape is only half the story here, the rosé hue coming from the blending of some red Raboso wine. It has a most delicate pink colour, with an appealing nose of downy peach skins and strawberry. On the palate the mousse - typically for Prosecco - is soft and delicate, with the pretty fruit flavours quite sweet, before good lemon and crunchy apple acidity. Is it non-PC to say a very girly wine this? But it is delightful and very good value one in Wine Rack's '3 for 2' offer. £8.99, Wine Rack (buy three at £5.99 equivalent), 86/100
Albet i Noya (Spain) Cava Brut Reserva NV
The excellent organic estate of Albet i Noya uses quite a high proportion of Chardonnay in this traditional method cuvée, as well as the native Maccabeu, Xarello and Parelleda. The bubbles aren't particularly small, but they rise steadily. The nose has vivid baked apple fruit, but also exotic hints of herbs, flowers and something like caraway seed. The mousse is good on the palate, and fills the mouth with the yeasty but fresh apple and lemon fruit and acidity, leading to quite a deep, complex Cava with a lot of style. £9.95, Vintage Roots. 89/100
Concha y Toro (Chile) Casillero del Diablo Sparkling Brut 2007
Made from 100% Chardonnay from Limarí, the cool valley far to the north of Chile's central valleys, this pale gold vintage wine has lots of small bubbles and a fruity, generous nose with lots of apple and a distinct touch of toastiness. On the palate it is very crisp and fresh, the palate flooded with Chardonnay wine flavour and again that backing of toasty character. Acidity is good in a well-made, flavourful sparkling wine. £9.99, Waitrose. 87/100
Simonnet-Febvre (France) Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV
A genuine oddity here, in the only sparkling, Champagne-style wine made in Chablis, a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. It has a distinctively waxy note to apple fruit, with herbal, nettly notes and a certain yeasty quality. In the mouth it is vibrant and crisp, with a lively mousse and zingy, fresh apple-fruited palate. Snappy without being tart or sharp, a genuinely nice and interesting wine. £8.99 - £11.99, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, Private Cellar, Whole Foods. 89/100
Roche Lacour (France) Crémant de Limoux 2003
This is a beauty from Limoux in the Languedoc, famed for its excellent Chardonnay wines. This blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc has lots of small bubbles and a particularly appetising nose, with some toffee and rich, apricotty fruit to a clean apple base. On the palate there's a gentleness about this, and a very ripe and sweet fruit core thanks to the got 2003 vintage, but it has toasty depth and structure too, with a full, long finish. £10.99, Laithwaites. 90/100
Bay of Fires (Australia) Tigress Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay NV
Part of the Hardy's group, this Tasmanian fizz is - I presume - made by the tank method, as there's nothing to indicate otherwise on the label. It pours with not a lot of bubbles, and quite a powerful, mealy nose that seems dominated by ripe Chardonnay characteristics. In the mouth it is quite rich and gently toasty, with opulent fruit that is quite sweet and almost tropical. It has good acidity, but doesn't really distinguish itself. £12.49, Drinks Direct. 87/100
Green Point (Australia) Brut 2004
A Champagne-like blend of 49% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier made by Moët's Australian outpost. Very composed and Champagne-like on the nose and palate too, with a yeasty, bruised apple oxidation and lemony fruit. The palate is racy, clean and dry, with finesseful flavours, though it perhaps lacks just a touch of drive and intensity into the finish. £13.99, in 25 branches of Waitrose and online. 88/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Chapel Down (England) Brut NV
From one of the biggest wine producing names in England, this sparkling wine is quite widely available and is a blend of Champagne's Pinot Noir with Germany's Rivaner and Reichensteiner. It has a pale straw/gold colour and fruity aromas of pear and apple. On the palate the mousse is lively and racy, with the quite straightforward, fruity character dominating. This does taste quite classy I must say, with a touch of biscuit and sweetness, then a drive of apple acidity into a good, long finish. £16 - £19, from Waitrose, Tesco Online, Great Grog. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Chanoine Frères Asda Extra Special Vintage Champagne 2002
Equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from an excellent Champagne year. There's nice development here with a touch of truffle and bruised orchard fruits. The palate has a lovely sense of depth too, with something apricot in the background and hints of burnt toast as well as fine, decisive acidity. High quality/price ratio. £17.97, Asda. 91/100
Heidsieck & Co Monopole Red Top Champagne NV
Part of the giant Pommery-Vranken group, Heidsieck & Co are not to be confused with either Charles Heidsieck or Piper-Heidsieck, though all three houses did spring from one original Champagne family house. Red top is available in the UK for the first time, a just off-dry 'Sec' Champagne with 24g/l of dosage. Predominantly Pinot Noir, it has a very nice stream of pin-prick bubbles and a golden colour. Very nutty and yeasty on the nose, there is also a hint of honey and downy peach fruit. That flattering softness on the palate makes it very easy to drink, with good apple acidity keeping it crisp. A nice style this. £23.96, Asda. 90/100
Waitrose Brut Special Reserve Vintage 2002 Champagne
A 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay blend from a superb vintage, made for Waitrose by Régis Camus at Charles Heidsieck. There are herbs and nettles in a classic Champagne character, with plenty of racy orchard fruit. Bright palate, with the lemon zest and pure, quite steely character coming through. A lovely sense of precision here, and very long, with pin-point sharpness to the fruit and acidity. £24.99, Waitrose. 92/100
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV
A Chardonnay-driven wine with a light golden colour and refined chorus of tiny bubbles. The nose is clean and fruity, with just a background nuttiness. On the palate this has lovely style; there's a lot of ripeness with fruit salad flavours that are even a touch tropical. The mousse is fine, and the cleansing acidity powers through. Stylish and sophisticated, yet very approachable. £25 - £30, Oddbins, Waitrose, Majestic. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Albert Le Brun La Vieille France Champagne Rosé NV
Made by Martell, this is a pink Champagne made by blending some Bouzy rouge with a Chardonnay-based Champagne. There's a yeastiness and some nice raspberry fruit, but I also found something just a touch medicinal. On the palate again some decent raspberry fruit and pretty clean and easy to drink, but a rather non-descript wine overall. I suspect you'll find it 'on offer', but at £30 I'd pass. £29.99, Tesco. 86/10
Balfour (England) Brut Rosé 2005
Ever since Nyetimber put it on the map, English sparkling wine has gained a new respect. But Nyetimber is not the only high-quality maker of fizz in England, and here the Hush Heath estate in Kent of Richard Balfour-Lynn (owner of the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin chains) has produced a classic blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Meunier. It has a delicate peachy-pink colour, and a Champagne-like nose with gentle red fruits and yeasty and herbal notes. On the palate this is cool and lemony, a touch redcurrant fruit joined by toasty, bready notes and the citrus acidity really cleansing on the finish. Impressive. £35.00, M&S (limited stores inc Westfield), Bibendum, City Beverage, The Vine King. 91/100
Taittinger 'Prelude' Champagne NV
One of several new cuvées from Taittinger over the past few years, this is a Grand Cru blend of 50% Chardonnay from Avize and Le Mesnil sur Oger, and 50% Pinot Noir from Bouzy and Ambonnay. It has good, steady bubbles, and a mineral and vegetal nose, with hints of sour lemons before a toffee character comes through. On the palate the mousse is lively and mouth-filling, with a real juiciness to the fruit, but then toast and broadening notes of peach and a touch of spice come through, as does a tangy core of orange acidity. Impressive. £39.99, Harrods, Lea & Sandeman, Soho Wine, Luvians. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Fleury Brut Vintage 1995
My colleague in The Wine Gang Tim Atkin gave this grower Champagne 95 points out of 100 as his top scoring wine in August, and who am I to argue? A biodynamic wine based on a barrel-aged base wine, it has a low dosage and is invitingly toasty and rich, with hazelnut and baked apple aromas. On the palate the mousse if rolling and persistent, and this is just beginning to take on aged characters of nuttiness and honey, with a pristine core of acidity. A terrific wine. £42, Vintage Roots. 95/100
Mumm Champagne de Cramant NV
Mumm's very elegant Blanc de Blanc is a very small production Champagne from the Grand Cru vineyards of the village of Cramant. It is bottled at slightly lower pressure, and opens with a soft pop. The nose is fresh and filled with very fresh floral, apple and citrus aromas, though there is just a suggestion of cookie dough behind. On the palate it is equally fresh and vibrant, with a lovely, shimmering core of precise, taut fruit and acidity yet just a softening note of something more smoky and peachy that keeps it very easy to drink. £43.00 Thresher, Waitrose Direct, Ocado, Harrods. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Krug Champagne Clos du Mesnil 1998
Well, what can I say about a Champagne at this price? You could buy 40 bottles of Asda's fine Extra Special vintage 2002 for the same price, and still have enough left over for a pack of Alka Seltzer. But this is an absolutely extraordinary wine from a tiny, walled Grand Cru vineyard, which if you have the money and inclination, will also cellar for generations. The nose is very fine, with bruised fruit and lots of orangy, intriguing herbal qualities. A little touch of buttered toast and a distinctive minerality comes through. The palate has huge acidity and wonderfully linear, laser-like precision. It's the sheer focus and brooding sense of depth that impresses. £720.00, Berry Bros & Rudd. 97/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.