Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Best fizz buys for New Year's Eve

There are serious Champagne bargains to be had at this time of year – but be wary of cut price Champagnes which appear out of nowhere and try a single bottle before you buy a case. A safer option is to look for offers on names that you have seen around all year.

Possibly the best sparkling wine bargain of all is Philippe Michel Crémant du Jura 2013 - £7.29, Aldi. 100% Chardonnay, made in the same way as Champagne and with great freshness and lively fruit.

Prosecco is an unstoppable force in UK wine retailing now. Here are a couple that I think offer more than most in terms of flavour and interest.
Follador Extra Dry Cuvée Torri de Credazzo 2014 - £14.99, Waitrose.
Majestic’s new own-label range, Definition, has a very decent Prosecco Brut NV for £9.74 (as part of a mixed case of 6).

Cheap Cava can be very dreary, but there are exceptions.
Cava Conde de Haro Extra Brut - £11.95 from The Wine Society
Unusually, this is from Rioja (rather than Penedès), made by renowned Bodegas Muga. Creamy mousse and citrussy, slightly pithy fruit.
Cava Prestige Brut NV – on offer at £7 (usually £10) from M&S
This is good value on offer, with nuanced flavours and a lively mousse.

English sparkling
Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée NV - £28.99 from The Wine Reserve, Cobham (and other independents); £30, Waitrose
My favourite of the newer members of the growing band of ambitious and successful English fizzes. Plenty of class and flavour, in a style that is 100% English.

Waitrose is the biggest supermarket supporter of English wines, so if you’d like to see in the New Year with something local, they are the place to head for.

If you’re not squeamish about putting a supermarket own label on the table, they offer great quality and value for money. Tesco Finest Premier Cru NV is just £14 now, for example, and is made by quality-conscious co-operative Union Champagne. I also found lots to like in Morrison’s M Signature Champagne Brut, reduced from £19 to £15 currently.

Charles Mignon Premier Cru Brut Rosé NV - £30 (usually £35) M&S
Rosé Champagne so often offers no more enjoyment than the regular Brut, yet always costs more. But I enjoyed this for its combination of definite red fruit flavour and proper lees-aged Champagne character.

Duval-Leroy Fleur de Champagne Premier Cru NV - £19.99 (usually £29.99) at Waitrose. Majestic have the broadly similar Duval-Leroy Brut NV for £15.99 when you buy any 6 bottles.
A pretty, appealing Champagne that would be perfect for aperitifs and parties.
If you are set on a particular grande marque Champagne, a quick squint at before you buy would be a good idea. Enter the name of your chosen fizz for a list of which retailers offer the best price now, both by the case and by the bottle.
Fizz lovers in a hurry should also check out online merchant  They offer same day delivery of grandes marques Champagnes and many prestige cuvées within London – next day delivery outside London. Some of their offers actually make them the best price available at times, especially if you are buying by the case.

Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV – best price currently is £32.79, Waitrose
One of the most elegant of grandes marques, that somehow combines wonderful flavour with poise and lightness of touch.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV - £29.98, Majestic (as part of a mixed 6 bottles),
Elegantly structured, with creamy mousse and a wonderful richness.
Bollinger Special Cuvée NV - £30, Tesco
For Bond fans, or anyone who enjoys full-flavoured, rich and savoury Champagnes.

Christmas wine survival kit

I won’t dilly dally on the way and instead get straight down to the wine recommendations.

Crisp white wines
Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc (£10 from Sainsbury’s and the Co-op), is classic Marlborough, with some tropical fruit, but with a broad seam of acidity that keeps things fresh.

Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé created the original mould for Sauvignon and I like Majestic’s own-label Definition Sancerre 2014 (£17.99 single bottle, £13.49 mixed six price), which ticks all the boxes with its floral-tinged, sweet fruit and herbaceous leafiness. If you’re looking to impress a wine buff (or are one yourself), look for Domaine Vacheron. Their Sancerre 2014 is £19.99 from Waitrose, £18.99 (mixed 6 price £17.09) at Majestic. The Wine Society have Vacheron’s classic Dame Blanche Sancerre 2014 for £15.50.

Don’t forget white Bordeaux; they are predominantly, if not exclusively, Sauvignon Blanc. I have a soft spot for Château Bel Air Perponcher Reserve 2014 (£8.50 from The Wine Society), which is lively, fruity and dry but not at all austere. Le Jardin d’Eolie Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (£5.79, Waitrose) is a good budget option for parties.

Finally, re-acquaint yourself with Vinho Verde from Portugal. Widely available for around £7, Quinta de Azevedo is the classic style: light in alcohol and body, with a hint of soluble aspirin-y spritz. Move up a step in quality and look for single variety Vinho Verde, from the Alvarinho grape. Soalheiro Alvarinho 2014 (£14.50 from The Wine Society) and Quinta de Gomariz Alvarinho 2013 (£13.49, The Wine Reserve in Cobham and independents) offer more in the way of stone fruit, combined with lovely marine-tinged acidity.

Richer white wines
If you’re looking for wines to stand up to Christmas dinner, White Burgundy is the classic: a full style of Chardonnay, usually with some oak ageing. Domaine Maillard Père et Fils 2013 Chorey-lès-Beaune (£19.49, Waitrose) has plenty of Burgundy class, with savoury, leesy flavours balanced with fresh acidity. While you’re in Waitrose, check out Domaine Vincent Prunier Les Vireuils 2013 Meursault (£30.99 Waitrose). Meursault vies for first place in the “wine most likely to disappoint” category, but this is just the thing: big, broad, rich, spicy and leesy.
There are plenty of Chardonnays that deliver the goods from outside Burgundy. Clos des Fous Locura 1 Chardonnay (2013 - £14.99 Waitrose Cellar, 2012 - £12.99 from The Wine Reserve) is a Chilean homage to Burgundy that is not fruity, but certainly multi-faceted. Bergström Old Stones Chardonnay 2012, Oregon (£19.50, The Wine Society, £24.99 The Wine Reserve) would make a delicious partner to turkey and the trimmings – a gunflinty nose, mealy texture and a hint of apple.

Lighter reds
Looking for a party or house red? Terre de mes Ancêtres 2014, Cité de Carcassonne (£5.95 The Wine Society) fits the bill admirably, with generous fruit and herbal undertones.

Pinot Noir comes into its own at Christmas and Burgundy again is the classic, but Chile is great for (relative) bargains that deliver plenty of cherryish fruit, spice and moreish charm – look for Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2013 (on offer at £17, Morrison’s; £19.99, Waitrose) or Errazuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2013 (£13, Morrison’s).
Other good non Pinot options: M Signature Fleurie 2014, Beaujolais (£8, Morrison’s) and Cono Sur Bicicleta Merlot 2014 (on offer at £5.25, Sainsbury’s; £7, Morrison’s and Tesco).

Fuller reds
Helderberg Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, South Africa (currently on offer at £8, Marks and Spencer) is a delicious, ripe Cabernet that is fantastic value on offer.

Rioja is possibly the most food-friendly style of red wine, thanks to ripe, maturing fruit and the mellowing effect of oak ageing. Rioja Reserva Beronia 2010 (on offer at £9.99 at Waitrose until 29 Dec) has a good balance of fruit and oak.

Proper claret is always going to find favour at Christmas. In Morrison’s look for Château Villa Bel-Air Graves 2011 (£15) and Château Andron-Blanquet 2009, Saint-Estèphe (£20). Caronne Ste-Gemme 2010 (£14.99, £13.49 as part of mixed six at Majestic) is a reliable name; as is Château Vieux Lartigue 2009, Saint Emilion (£16.50, The Wine Society).

The wines of Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France can be hard to negotiate – so much wine, so many appellation names, such variable quality. Here are a couple of useful names that usually guarantee enjoyment: Gérard Bertrand, whose Grand Terroir La Clape 2011 is £12 at Morrison’s. The other is Paul Mas, and his Vinus Grenache Noir 2014 is £8 at Morrison’s. You’ll find more of their wines at Majestic.

Brazin Lodi Old Vines Zinfandel 2012 (£10.25, The Wine Society; £9.74 until 29 Dec at Waitrose). Zinfandel almost defines full bodied – a mass of black fruit, plush tannins and never shy on alcohol. But this also has a lovely poise and is in no way a bruiser.