Christmas Fizz Roundup

sparkling wines for ChirstmasThere’s little doubt that some wine styles are seasonal, with sales of rosé booming during the summer, or the appeal of hearty red wine styles peaking during the colder winter months. Climate is an obvious influence on seasonal wine drinking, but so too is occasion. The festive period sees sales of certain wine categories soar: sweet wines, fortified wines and, especially, sparkling wines. With something to suit most, if not all budgets, here’s a round-up of sparkling wines I’ve tasted over the last couple of months which might aid your festive planning.

This selection is not meant to be comprehensive by any means: it’s basically just a couple of dozen wines I’ve been tasting and drinking. It includes both ‘charmat’, or tank method wines, and those made by the traditional method. The former is a cheaper production method that sees both primary and secondary fermentation (where the carbon dioxide bubbles are created) done in steel tanks, while the latter method, as used in Champagne, sees secondary fermentation in individual bottles, a much more costly and time-consuming process.

Under £20

(2019) A keen price in Sainsbury's for that Australian peculiarity, sparkling Shiraz. From the reliable de Bortoli, it is aged for only around six months in tank, but these wines are not about long lees exposure: with 17g/l of residual sugar it is designed to be an inexpensive crowd-pleaser. Deep, saturated red in colour, the nose is the melange of forest berries and chocolate that one expects from this genre, the palate exhibiting more of that dark, cocoa, berry and plum fruit. The sweetness sits against quite a bitter tannin and acid framework, and for me this really needs to be matched to some strong flavoured food - try a bittersweet chocolate dessert, or maybe even a powerful Indian curry.
(2019) I wrote recently about my tasting of the super-expensive Armand de Brignac Gold Brut Champagne, which comes in striking metallic bottle. Well, for Christmas 2019 those without the necessary £200 might consider this fun alternative, a limited edition sporting its own shiny gold party frock. There's no mistaking it for expensive Champagne, but it is a very nice rendition of Prosecco, a super-clean and fresh example, all cool pear fruit, touches of floral character and it is Brut, so not too much sweetness to finish. It's a bit of a gifting banker for Christmas with its glittery appeal, and it is down to £10.99 in Ocado from 4th December 2019 through until New Year's Day. Watch the video for more information.
(2019) Neither is a grape you think of immediately for sparkling wine, but coming from Bordeaux here we have the entirely local blend of Sémillon and Cabernet Franc from the chalk/clay soils of the Entre Deux Mers, and made by the traditional method with nine months ageing on the lees in bottle. Bubbles are moderately small, and the nose offers a nice biscuity character along with soft lemon and green apple fruit. In the mouth it is fresh and zippy, reminiscent of a Prosecco with its easy approachability, but the ageing does add a creamy layer before a smooth finish, framed by soft-ish acidity. An alternative to Prosecco, rather than to Champagne. A party buy - especially if there are discount deals on this for Christmas. Watch the video for more information.
(2019) Made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and aged on the lees in bottle for 11 months before release, there's an attractive peachy-pink hue here, and good moderately small bubbles. On the nose some hawthorne and blackcurrant and a pastille/confectionery brightness. In the mouth there's a flattering sweetness to this, emphasised by its relatively soft acidity that gives it copious easy-drinking, summery charm. Down to just over £10 at time of review, that's the target price for this excellent party fizz.
(2019) 100% Chenin Blanc sparkling wine, made by the traditional method and spending 14 months on the lees, this comes from limestone soils in the Loire Valley.  It has fresh but lightly biscuity aromas of peach and ripe apple, a fine mousse, and palate with plenty of dry, apple core acidity and a lemony surge of fruit. The creaminess of the lees does round the flavours out, a touch of toast even, into a long finish with enough dosage to add a sweet edge on the finish.
(2019) I have a soft spot for this wine, first tasted just after visiting Masi's lovely properties in the north of Italy, and seeing the drying lofts where grapes are dried for their Amarone and other wines. This is a blend of Verduzzo and Pinot Grigio, the Verduzzo having been dried, and though made by the Prosecco method it ends up tasting really quite different, much more herbal and slightly 'wild' character, less pristine and less simple than most Proseccos, some concentration and pithy lemon acidity giving a bit of weight and seriousness.
(2019) A Pinot Noir-dominated blend with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, this is aged on the lees for up to three years.Tasmania truly is Australia's darling for sparkling wine production, with one of its coolest climates. This traditional method fizz (or Méthode Tasmanoise as they would have it) has a very pale, delicate colour and nose that balances rosy red apples and a summer pudding berry fruit. On the palate it is straightforward and the fruit drives it, but the acid really is well-balanced and the dry finish where around 10g/l of dosage means it is quite soft and approachable.  
(2019) A terrific traditional method sparkling wine from the organic and biodynamic estate of Dirler-Cadé. The blend is 45% Pinot Gris, 35% Auxerrois and 20% Pinot Noir, in a 'zero dosage' wine with a negligible 0.9 g/l of residual sugar. It is immediately sheer and glacial, the cool, crisp fruits on the nose joined by subtle nuances of nettles and herbs, a tiny hint of the yeasty character from its time on the lees. In the mouth it is intense and invigorating, not at all tart of mean, but just riven with it zippy acidity and bold fruit concentration.

Over £20

(2019) From a house on the up, its wines much improved over the last decade or so, this is a Chardonnay-dominated cuvée (50%), and has around 30% of reserve wines in the blend. That along with extended ageing for three years on the lees does nothing to blunt the wine's vivacious fruitiness and freshness, but adds enough biscuit and brioche to be truly satisfying. Nicely balanced in the mouth between nutty dryness (less than 8g/l dosage) and zipping citrus fruit and acidity, it's a dependable and widely available Champagne, so there will deals around.
(2019) Taittinger Brut ReserveBrut Réserve is hte cornerstone of Taittinger's extremely impressive portfolio: indeed the selection of Grande Marque Champagnes featured in this report includes many of the best and most reliable 'standard' Brut wines  from the major houses, and that certainly includes Taittinger. It's also widely available in supermakets and indepedent merchants, and for Christmas many have offers on, bringing the price down to around £27/£28 which is an excellent price for the quality. It's an approachable and crowd-pleasing style with its upfront, fragrant aromas of peachy fruitiness, floral notes and biscuit, the 40% Chardonnay and three years on the lees enhancing that (also 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier). The palate is on the sumptuous side, expansive and creamy, a level of sweetness making it feel rather luxurious, thought that's not at the expensive of excellent acidity and clarity in the finish.  On offer in Ocado until the 2nd January 2020, but use the wine-searcher link for many other stockists and plenty of festive discount prices.
(2019) For me one of the absolute 'banker' Grand Marque Champagnes, of excellent quality and yet widely available and often on discount. Shop around to find it for £23-£25, and that's exceptional value. It's £23 in Tesco until 18/12/2019. It's a superbly refined blend of mostly black grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with 15% - 20% of Chardonnay and 9 - 10g/l of dosage. Around 10% -20% reserve wines give depth and a certain biscuity richness, but it is a direct, focused wine with wonderfully clear fresh-cut pear fruit quality and pristine acidity. There is nuttiness and a fine line of smokiness into a long tapering finish that is very elegant, classy, but also fruity and terribly easy to drink.
(2019) The flagship of the entire English wine industry, Nyetimber's Classic Cuvée is a blend of the three main Champagne varieties with 25-35% reserve wines in the blend. All Nyetimber bottles bear a code that you can punch into the Nyetimber web site for detailed information: this bottle for example, disgorged in July 2019 after a full four years in the cellars, is based on the 2014 harvest (70%) but with 4% 2013, 6% 2011, 9% 2010, 10% 2009 and 1% 2008 reserve wines. 10g/l of dosage gives an easy approachability. Biscuit, nutty almond and sweet apple aromas move on to a wonderfully zesty palate, with an infill of pastry and vanilla, but a shimmering brightness to the finish. A bargain at £27 on offer in Waitrose until 2nd January 2020, and some indies also have it for less than £30.
(2019) The blend is 53% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 7% Pinot Meunier, with a small percentage fermented in oak barrels, and a dosage of 8g/l. Having spent 34 months on the lees there is a biscuity character aromatically, but really this is driven by the Pinot fruit, bold and lemony, though the bruised fruit complexity is there. On the palate the ripeness of the fruit from this vintage is evident, quite fat lemony fruit with a hint of peach, very good acids adding structure, and a nice earthy/yeasty savoury note too. A rounded, mouthfilling style and very good.
(2019) Champagne Devaux DIn June 2019 Champagne Devaux's Cellar Master, Michel Parisot, presented a masterclass on the 'D de Devaux' range of wines to a sell-out audience at my Glasgow Festival of Wine. Each wine in this range is aged for a minimum of five years on the lees - seven years for magnums - including this Brut, disgorged in October 2017. A blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay, it shows plenty of yeasty, biscuity autolysis, and a fat lemony fruit character beneath. Perhaps the 35% of reserve wines, aged mostly in large oak casks, helps with the creaminess and the hint of gold to the colour. In the mouth plenty of ripe, rosy apple and peachy fruit, a fine, bitter edge of grapefruit or Seville orange to the acidity, and the 8g/l dosage meaning this finishes with some fruit sweetness against an element of salty minerals.
(2019) Arlaux is a Champagne grower, the family having farmed only Premier Cru vineyards in the Montagne de Reims since 1852. The Grande Cuvée spends a full three years on the lees (this bottle disgorged 3rd July 2017 according to the label), and is a blend of the three Champagne grapes. It is immediately appealing, the toast and depth of nutty autolysis melting into a deep orange fruitiness, a little spice and the zest of lemon completing a very alluring picture. The palate does not disappoint, both ripe and relatively full-bodied, creamy and toasty depths of flavour shot through with fine salt and lime freshness of acidity. Long and very beautifully balanced, this is my first experience of Alaux, and most impressive it is too.
(2019) A terrific Blanc de Noirs from the 2012 vintage, 100% old vine Pinot Noir with around 8g/l dosage. Pale gold with a mass of miniscule bubbles, aromas are gently biscuity, something a touch peppery, but mostly about ripe orchard fruits, some floral hints too. In the mouth a powerful and concentrated wine, a great, rushing sweep of intense acidity that drives it across the palate, but then a more broadening core of grapefruit or blood orange, edging towards peachiness, a waxy lemon zest crispness developing toward the finish which is long and beautifully balanced. This feels very youthful and yet eminently enjoyable right now. No UK retail stockists at time of review.
(2019) Deep and meaty aromas compared to the 2009, rounder, less sharply - crisply - lemony, but there is good thrust and fruit precision too, quite a bright orange character, then some delicate toast and spices. The blend is 41% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 26% Pinot Meunier. Excellent potential here if cellared for a few years.
(2019) Quite a deeply coloured rosé, lovely red fruits, summery raspberry and strawberry, strawberry shortcake, then the gorgeous freshness and zip comes through on the palate. Creamy mid-palate and that dazzling orangy freshness. The blend is 42% Pinot Noir (of which 13% of the total blend is red wine), 23% Pinot Meunier and 35% Chardonnay.
(2019) With 40% of reserve wines in the blend, from harvests up to 15 years old, this is always one of the most complex of the Grande Marque Brut NVs. The wine is also unusual in that the 60% of the base vintage is made from one-third each of the three main Champagne grapes. It has a sumptuous nose, creamy, toasty, with fig and hazelnut, a hint of ripe peach then onto the palate where that toastiness is alluring, but the sweet nectarine of the fruit fills the mid-palate before excellent, shimmering acidity gives great accuracy to the finish.
(2019) Paillard 2009This is a terrrific Champagne from Bruno Paillard, an equal blend of Chardonnay from Oger and le Mesnil and Pinot Noir from Mailly, of which 20% was barrel fermented.  It has been aged for 10 years in the Maison’s cellars, seven of which were on the lees. It was disgorged in September 2017, and has a low dosage of 5g/l. With very fine and persistent bubbles, it has elegantly brioche- and biscuit-like notes that sit among creamy and nutty aromas, but lovely fruit freshness too, a direct, crisp character even with the leesy and biscuity autolysis of age. In the mouth the rolling mousse has luxurious texture and firmness, the fruit is all about crunchy Asian pear and citrus, then the delicate hazelnut and oatmeal character comes through. The finish is long, elegant, and although dry, there is charm, ripeness and no lack of approachability. A very fine Champagne this, pin-point accurate and taut, yet in no way austere or difficult.
(2019) The sparkling wine in this inaugural Winemakers' Collection is 100% Chardonnay from the 2012 and 2013 vintages, that spent 12 months in Burgundy barrels before a further five years in bottle on the lees. It has zero dosage and the colour already appears quite deep through the clear glass bottle, tinged with gold. Bubbles are small, and the initial aroma is of bruised apple and pear, a touch of pastry, and a custardy touch. In the mouth the mousse if fine and racy, and the wine streaks across the palate with a surge of lemony fruit. There's a fascinating lick of saltiness to the acid profile, but it perhaps lacks a bit of palate depth given the barrel treatment and long time on the lees, finishing taut and fruit driven. At the price I would have hoped for a little more complexity, and wonder if just a few grams of dosage would have given that?
(2019) Famously the oldest house in Champagne, founded in 1584, Gosset is a small, premium house and their Grande Reserve spends a full four years on the lees - way beyond the legal requirement. A blend of 46% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier the blend has 12% of reserve wines from previous vintages. It's a fruity, bright and vinous style, miniscule bubbles leading on to a creamy mousse and flavours of spiced orange and fig. Some biscuity, toasty and smoky notes develop, but it maintains its fresh, zesty and cool elegance into a long finish.
(2019) LGA 2008This tasting note comes from the launch of the 2008 vintage of La Grande Année at Champagne Bollinger's cellars. A full report on an extraordinary event and other wines tasted will follow. The blend is 71% Pinot Noir, 29% Chardonnay from 18 crus, mostly Aÿ and Verzenay for the Pinot, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Cramant for the Chardonnay. The wine has 8g/l of residual sugar. Super fresh, intense and tight at this stage, gentle creamy autolysis from nine years on lees, lovely delicate truffle and floral notes, subtle nutty apple and creamy fruit in a wine that is tightly-wound, but just hints at hazelnut polish and depth. The palate is sweet-fruited and has an apricot and peach flesh juiciness, it is also long and beautifully fresh with a shimmer to the acidity. This is a taut and vital Bollinger LGA, fabulous concentration and surely destined to be a great wine within the considerable lineage. Tasted from magnum the immediately has more sense of depth and sumptuousness, but so incredibly vibrant. Obviously the same wine, but the expressive dial just notched up half a point. And tasted from jeroboam, superb again, a little tighter and more obviously youthful character. So nutty, the reductive notes very apparent, but tight and fabulous streaking freshness.  Note that the wine will sell-out very quickly.
(2019) Fabulous and a bit of a rarity, I confess this bottle came from my own collection where it had been cellared for five or six years, so although bottles on sale now will have a more youthful character, I couldn't help but include it in this round up. Krug Rosé is a blend of the three main Champagne varieties, from a wide range of years with a high proportion of reserve wines, and it is an 'assemblage', made by blending still Pinot Noir before at least five years ageing in bottle at Krug’s cellars. It has a moderately deep pink colour and a wonderfully expressive nose: strawberry shortcake aromas of berries and buttery pastry, floral highlights adding lightness. In the mouth more of those red berry and vanilla flavours, decidiely smooth and refined, the acidity making its presence felt ever so subtly, giving this an effortless freshness too. Majestic stuff. Most retailers are charging between £210 and £250 per bottle.
(2019) The blend here is 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier and like all of the wines in this tasting, it is a blend of vintages 2009, 2010 and 2012. The dosage, made from wine aged for one year in oak, is 9g/l. Beautifully creamy and refined nose, the sheen of almondy richness over quite full, peachy fruit, quite toasty but fruity too. Rich and rolling mousse, with lots of toast and nuttiness, buttery, but very good, precise acidity. Lovely and long, a tang of Seville orange in the finish.

2 comments

  1. I look forward to Tom’s seasonal fizz guide an ever a reliable road map at this time of year. Some fine selections encompassing a variety of taste profiles as well as price points. I am going to seek out that Bruno Paillard Assemblage, and can confirm he is spot on about the Bolly!!

    1. Cheers Ray. Yes, the Paillard was fabulous – I knew his Nec Plus Ultra zero dosage deluxe cuvee which is very good, but with 10 years of cellaring and the bit of oak ferment this is very different.

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