Our wine columnist Giles Luckett raises a glass to the best Champagnes for party season
Hello! I’m in agreement with Andy Williams on Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year – though whether that time starts in October as the shops would have us believe is open to debate. What isn’t up for debate is that Christmas calls for champagne, and in this month’s column I’m running down my top 10 Christmas champagnes. So, without further ado…
10. Waitrose Non-Vintage (£21.99) – in my experience buyer’s own brand (BOB) champagnes can be disappointing – especially when it comes to supermarket wines. For some it seems the main aim is hitting a low price point with the wine’s quality coming second. Waitrose’s, however, is consistently excellent. Medium-bodied with lovely peach and apple fruit, a rich seam of creamy yeast runs through to the clean, red berry finish. This versatile wine makes for a stylish aperitif or goes well with white cheeses.
9. Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé (Majestic £18.99) – OK so technically this isn’t a champagne, unless the Champagne AC’s expansion has taken it to South Africa, but this is of champagne quality hence I’ve included it. Deep pink, the nose offers an abundance of blossoms, cherries, red fruits, limes and biscuity yeast. On the palate its weighty, fruit-laden – strawberries ad raspberries – with a lovely cherry sherbet finish. Serve this with smoked salmon or savoury canapés.
8. Adnams’ Selection Rosé Champagne (Adnams £33.99) – this is a champagne, and a very fine one at that. Produced by Champagne Blin, this is a traditional style of rosé, being full yet refined, fruity, yet dry. Opening with a nose of dried raspberries, strawberries, and buttery brioche, the palate offers pure, slightly savoury, raspberries and boysenberry flavours, followed by touch of blackcurrants and finishing with a taut, chalky finish. This is one of the best value champagnes I’ve seen in a long while.
7. Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus (Amazon £55) – Taittinger’s Prélude is a fascinating wine, and one that’s as much about the mind as the mouth. Made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from Grand Cru vineyards, it all sounds very classical. The twist is that It’s aged for five years in Taittinger’s magnificent chalk cellars (much longer than usual) before release. This drives a seam of yeast and savoury minerals through the apple, citrus, rhubarb and peach fruits, adding even more complexity and depth. A stylish aperitif, we had this with turkey last year and it was sensational.
6. Gosset Petite Douceur Rosé (Waitrose £59.99) – Gosset’s champagnes are things of rare beauty – and I don’t just mean the bottles – but this was love at first sip. Gosset’s wines are all about precision. Tiny bubbles, perfectly delineated fruit and a balance a tight rope walker would envy. This new wine takes their wines in a new direction by subtly ramping up the sweetness. Now while this is by no means sweet, there’s a sweeter tone to the red and white berry fruit, as flavours of orange and kiwi come through, and there’s honeyed hint to the long, grapefruit and white peach finish. A superb after supper sipper, it would partner fruit tarts and petit fours perfectly.
5. Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs Brut (Waitrose £53.99) – the best Blanc de Blancs champagnes – that is ones made from only white grapes – offer a subtler, more delicate style of wine. My recent encounter with the Palmer Blanc de Blancs reminded me that what these wines lack in power, they more than make up for in complexity. From the Palmer’s mid-gold body emerges notes of pears, hawthorn blossom and milk toast. Initially fresh and lively, it soon develops a quiet intensity in the form of baked apples, hazelnuts, peaches, and fresh vanilla cream. Sip this beauty on its own or with seafood.
4. Champagne Piaff Rosé (Master of Malt £52) has been another delightful discovery of 2023. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, it has a very ‘winey’ tone. By that I mean that is it is both full-flavoured and well-structured like a still wine. Salmon coloured, the nose combines fresh strawberries and cherries with savoury strains of beetroot and bread. The palate’s broad, with complimentary tones of red berries, black cherries, and lemons coming together at the finish with a creamy yeast touch. Try this with cold cooked meats or fish pâté.
3. Next I want to recommend a wine by Bruno Paillard. I was going to say try their Première Cuvée (Vinum £46.40) but in the spirit of giving an alternative view, I’ve gone for the Bruno Paillard Blanc de Noir Grand Cru (Wanderlust Wine £66.90). Released this year, this is made from 100% Pinot Noir and marries power with precision. The nose offers an enticing notes of roses, pink grapefruit and smoke. The palate, while firm and weighty, is precise, rounded, and packed with fruits of the forest, cherries, and loganberries with a hint of clove. On the long finish are fresh red fruits with their signature shot of salinity.
2. Dom Perignon is one of those wines that every wine lover should try to try at least once. I’ve been fortunate to enough to have had multiple vintages of this exceptional wine, but my recent encounter with the Dom Perignon 2013 (Waitrose £195) left me feeling this was the best young Dom Perignon I’ve ever tasted. Generous and welcoming, everything is perfectly appointed and perfectly rounded. Soft as a satisfied sigh, the white plum, peach, and apricot fruit mingle seamlessly with gentle spices, highlights of alpine strawberries, and cool minty notes to crisp, nuanced finish. Try this on its own. Or better still, on your own!
1. While all the wines on this list are amazing, the Dom Ruinart 2010 (The Champagne Company £256) is just magnificent. The bouquet blends brioche, white berries, pears, and citrus with yeast. In the mouth, it’s extraordinarily rich, layered, and full, yet precise and poised. Creamy tones of melon, green pears, apricot, orange, vanilla, chalk, and gentle spices come together to create a mesmerising mouthful. Youthful and sleek, this has a long, long life ahead of it, but if like me you enjoy your champagne young and vibrant, then this is perfect. Yes, it’s expensive, but for those special occasions, to my mind, this is worth it.
Well, I hope you will have a fine Christmas and enjoy some fine wines along the way.