Monday, 30 November 2015

Super Fine Fizz For The Festive Season

CCL: Sam Howzit

We all love fizz. Whether you're celebrating or simply sipping, it adds a bit of sparkle to any occasion, and there's no better need for popping the cork than the festive season. Christmas and New Year are prime time for cracking out the fancy flutes, so after attending a Champagne event at Cheltenham's Tivoli Wines earlier this month, I've got a quick round up of the best bottles to be stocking up with.

If it's English fizz you're after, then check out my previous post from the English Wine Trade Tasting; this one is all about the French! And whilst Champagne can reach ridiculous prices, if you're going to splash out, Christmas is the time to do it. Here's a selection of my faves from the night:

Pierre Gimonnet 

Gimmonet, a growers Champagne, is the only house in Champagne to preserve all reserve wines in bottle. Instead of the usual stainless-steel tanks, the reserve wines are aged in bottle and then several vintages are chosen to be blended with a young wine. Characteristics of each, small vineyard parcel are preserved, resulting in something that has great complexity and mellowness, yet also the freshness and vitality of young Champagne. Dosage is deliberately kept to a minimum in order to maintain purity of fruit, maximum acidity and freshness, and this no-oak 'house style' runs like a vein throughout their entire range.

Pierre Gimonnet NV Cuis 1er Cru is their entry level wine, but with 100% Chardonnay, it sure doesn't taste it. A pure, floral nose, its palate has a racy citrus energy, with stonefruit, acacia, and a faint nutty finish. At £23.70 from The Drink Shop, this is incredibly good value for money.

The 2008 Special Club, rated by many critics as one of the best in Champagne, is their top end offering, and at £53.95 from Plus de bulles, it's still not very pricey for fancy fizz. This is the winemaker's favourite vintage, and with more lees ageing, its much rounder. You pick up the same floral citrus notes as the NV, but there's a finer mousse, nuttier taste, and a bigger mouth feel. Delicious.


Based in Aÿ, right at the heart of the Champagne region, Ayala's roots date back over 150 years. Edmond de Ayala, established the house in 1860, and during the 1920's over a million bottles of Ayala were produced. As the Second World War began, Ayala took a step back and produced much smaller batches of quality champagne, then in 2005 Bollinger purchased the estate with the aim to restore it to it's former glory.

For the price, Ayala's Brut Majeur NV is excellent. Pale gold in colour, it has an expressive nose with citrus, flowers and fleshy fruits. It's clean and has a slick mousse, but there are toasty, caramelised biscuity flavours in there too, giving it a classic Champagne style complexity. At £24.95 from Champagne Direct, it's ideal as an aperitif on Christmas morning.


Billecart-Salmon, a medium-size Champagne House in Mareuil-sur-Ay, was founded in 1818 by the original owners Nicolas Francois Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon who combined their names on marriage to create the brand. Renowned for their quality and meticulous production techniques, they're one of the few remaining Champagne houses to remain family owned, and they consistently produce top-notch wines.

If the snow white label of the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV isn't enough to make you want it over the festive season, then the taste of it sure will. It has been elaborated from the five grand cru vineyards of the Cðte des Blancs and is a blend of two different years, ensuring the Chardonnay grapes are giving their all. Mineral lemony notes, along with peach and pink lady apples are both quenching and moreish, then the delicate bubbles and glimmering gold, match the slight buttery characteristics and elegant almond finish. Available from Amazon for £54.99.

Stepping up in the price point, Cuvée Nicolas-Francois Billecart 1999 has received high points from all the wine critics since it was released. There's a richer, creamier feel about this Champagne, which is 60-40 Pinot - Chardonnay, and a doughy plushness makes you want to keep diving in. It's balanced by lemon curd freshness and saline minerality, giving it a unique character and therefore making it worth the £74.99 it costs (from Amazon).


Over the past 25 years, owner Alain Thienot has remained faithful to the key values which have built this producer’s world renowned reputation – quality, modernity and luxury. His motto reads; “A single passion: wine. A single obsession: quality”, and this attention to detail is key in him producing some of the region’s finest vintages.

Thiénot Cuvée Garance Blanc de Rouges 2007 is 100% Pinot Noir, but instead of 'Blanc de Noirs' they've chosen to call it 'Blanc de Rouges' because of the effort that they put into keeping the wine feminine (whatever that means). A large proportion of the fruit comes from the grand cru Ay that the family purchased from Krug, as well as from Garance's own personal vines in the village of Tauxieres, on the border with Bouzy. A red-fruit and floral nose leads to a long soft palate of sweet fruits, and subtle yeastiness, finishing beautifully balanced and delicately dry. Available for £61.99 from The Wine Library.

At basically the same price, Cuvée Alain Thiénot 2002 exemplifies the trademark faire and exacting standards that are synonymous with the Thiénot Champagne house. A stunning blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which is only crafted in outstanding years, this has a great balance between tropical fruits and figs, toasty hints of brioche maturity and a lemon curd finish. The fine bubbles ensure an impressive length. For £62.00 from Drink Finder, I'd find it hard to pick between the two Thiénot's.

Charles Heidsieck 

Charles Heidsieck is generally considered the 'badass' Champagne house, thanks to Charles' do-what-I-want winemaking legacy.Being titled 'Sparkling Winemaker of the Year' at the International Wine Challenge fifteen times proves that they create great, hand-crafted wines, with heritage and high quality.

I personally found the Rosé Réserve NV more attractive than the current '06 vintage. Coral-like in appearance, it has a just-ripe strawberry scent that gradually leads to more of a buttery french toast aroma. Not too sweet and not too fruity, I'd say that this is a rosé that even rosé haters would like, and the silky-rich texture is divine. Get it for £45.00 from The Fine Wine Company.

If you're feeling flush, then you should try the Blanc des Milénaires 1995; a blend of Chardonnay from five crus - Cramant for complexity and ageability, Avize for verve and minerality, Oger for creaminess and weight, Mesnil-sur-Oger for balance and Vertus for floral freshness. With a slightly green tinged golden hue, its perfumed bouquet is instantly balanced with biscuity aromas; rich, buttery, vanilla spice, with sweet apricots and hazelnuts; it tastes as good as it sounds. It is super smooth, it looks swish, it's perfect for drinking now, and it has great potential for ageing; get it for £135.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Moet Hennessy

The clear 18th-century style bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV is a reminder that this is a Champagne that is meant to be drank now. The pale yellow nectar gives off gorgeous stone fruits and white flower aromas, which evolve into a fresh, lime-citrus and salty-sweet palate. This is a very user-friendly Blanc de Blancs; its seductive mousse will charm anyone at the dinner table this Christmas, and it's currently £47.98 from Majestic when you buy any six bottles of wine.

If you want to make a statement, these last two Champagnes are the way to do it. Firstly, Krug Grand Cuvée. Krug's uncompromising and single-minded determination to produce the best Champagne is legendary. It's continually classed as being one of the finest Champagnes in the world. A blend of more than 120 wines from at least 10 different harvests, has historically been sold as Krug Grande Cuvée, although since 2011, the label has featured an ID number, which can be entered into Krug’s website to tell consumers information about each bottle, including the vintages employed and the date when the wine was disgorged. This means that if you're a Krug snob, you can check the ID before you buy, just to check to see if it's they blend that you like!

Light toasted brioche, dried fruits and marzipan lead you in, with a peachy sherbet tang that's exceptionally fresh. It's rich and winey, as you'd expect for the price, but it retains some subtlety with fine and elegant bubbles. £126 in a mix six case from Majestic

The big boy; Dom Pérignon 1998 Plenitude P2 is probably only achievable if you've been given a huge bonus this year. This is the second release of the 1998 Plenitude (P2), being said to be in a new quality level where it will plateau for many years in terms of improvement; P3 is expected to be released 20-30 years after the vintage. Honeysuckle, lemony notes and smoky undertones are enticing, but it's the rich and creamy, chewy flapjack flavours that make it so exciting. It's edgy, embracing and has a persistent finish; I'm just not sure I'd want to pay £229 for it - from The Wine Press...

What are your favourite fizzes for the festive season? Let us know!

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