Fantastic festive fizz worth a pop!

Round & About


Round & About’s resident wine columnist Giles Luckett gives his top ten choices for bubbles at this most wonderful time of the year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” So the song goes, and while I wholeheartedly agree with Andy Williams on this, I do wonder if our reasons for thinking so are the same. For while he seemed focused on marshmallows toasting and kids “jingle belling” (1963’s equivalent of TikTok?), for me it’s all about the fizz.

The festive season gives me the excuse (like I need one!) to indulge my passion for sparkling wines. When I first started taking a serious interest in wine, this meant champagne. While there were non-French sparkling wines out there most were either brilliant but expensive (Californian), lovely but hard to find (New Zealand), or affordable, available, and avoidable at all costs (Lambrusco).

“The festive season gives me the excuse (like I need one!) to indulge my passion for sparkling wines.”

Roll forward 30 years, and the world of fizz is a better place. From Spain to South Africa, Australia to England, the US to France (yes, I was surprised) great, affordable sparkling wines now abound.

So, in my final column of 2022 for Round & About, I’ll run down my top ten festive fizzes, wines that are bound to put some sparkle in to your Christmas.

10. Tesco Rosé Cava – at the time of writing (and until mid-December if my inside source, OK our delivery driver) is to be believed, the Clubcard price and 25% off any six wines makes this £4.50 a bottle. At such a price I’m prepared to forgive the fact that this should be called “rosado” rather than rosé. Pedantry aside, this is an excellent bottle of affordable fizz. Pale pink, the nose offers red cherries, raspberry sherbet, and earth. On the palate its fresh, with strawberries leading the charge, quickly followed by cherries, boiled sweets and just a hint of salinity. Great fun, and amazing value.

9. Champagne Bruno Paillard “Dosage Zero” MV (Multi-Vintage) (Hedonism Wines £49.80) A wine I came to late in the year, from a producer I fell for early in my career. Bruno Paillard is an exceptional champagne house, one that has consistently wowed me with the quality of their wines, and their willingness to innovate.

The “Dosage Zero” element refers to the fact that this wine doesn’t receive a shot of sugar before bottling, which is the case for almost all champagnes. This is a bold move as dosage can balance out a wine and add creaminess to the mouthfeel. Paillard have achieved a similar effect by using 50% reserve wines from previous years, and by giving it extended ageing of three-to-four years prior to release.

The result is a striking, fascinatingly complex wine with a style that is all its own. The nose is piercing and intense, with notes of white berries, citrus, and yeast. The palate is at first clean, and lively, but soon a creaminess joins the pear, grape, grapefruit, and chalky tones, so that by the time the finish hits you get a taste of brioche with lime marmalade. Bravo, Bruno!

8. The Wine Society’s Celebration Cremant de Loire 2019 (£12.95) – a vintage fizz for under £20, yes please. Cremant de Loire is one of the world’s oldest sparkling wines and is traditionally made from Chenin Blanc, though a proportion of Chardonnay is also often included these days. Cremant’s have slightly less C02 than Champagne, and this and the choice of grapes can give them a richer, more luxurious mouthfeel. Produced by leading producer Gratien Meyer, the bouquet is complex and subtle, with notes of yellow plums, apples, and honeysuckle. In the mouth it’s well-fruited, but elegant and stylish, the white fruits balanced by a clean acidity and a ripe note of yeast.

7. CVNE Cava (Majestic £9.99 when you buy any six wines) – CVNE is one of my favourite producers. They make a huge range of wines including the Rioja Reserva (Sainsbury’s £12), which is never out of my cellar, up to world-class fine wines such as the Contino Viña del Olivo (Waitrose £66) a wine I would urge any lover of Rioja to try. Their Cava is a new wine, to me, and it didn’t disappoint. Rich, creamy, and full of autumn fruits, there’s serious depth and complexity on show here, with highlights of citrus and white currant, balanced by honey and yeast. Another class act from CVNE.

6. Balfour Hush Heath Estate 2018 Blanc de Blancs – English sparkling wine has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, and is now rightly said to rival the world’s best. I’ve enjoyed several excellent examples this year, and many have come from Balfour. We toasted the Jubilee with a bottle of their joyous Hush Heath Estate Rosé (Waitrose £33.99 on offer, down from £39.99), and two of their wines make this list.

The Hush Heath Estate 2018 Blanc de Blancs ( £45) is a serious, refined, elegant wine. The citrusy nose is tinted with coconut and lime leaves, while the palate offers apples, melon, biscuity yeast, and touch of peachy ripeness on the finish.

5. Balfour Hush Heath Estate 2018 Blanc de Noirs ( £45) provided a fascinating contrast. Still young, I let this breathe for a couple of hours, and it opened with a shot of pure raspberry fruit before robust tones of brambles, red apples, minerals and pears come through. This impressive wine will age well, I suspect, though it’s hard to resist now, and would be glorious with smoked salmon.

If you feel like pushing the boat out, Balfour have just released their Archive Collection 2008 ( £120). Showing the remarkable ageing potential of English fizz, it’s on my must-taste list for 2023.

4. Taittinger 2015 (John Lewis £60) – my second champagne is an absolute pearl of a wine, 2015 was an exceptional vintage and Taittinger have taken full advantage of this. Typically stylish, the nose combines grapes, white flowers, peaches and yeast. In the mouth flavours of white berries, peach stones, black grapes, vanilla, and minerals effortlessly flow together, to give a silken, seamless experience. It’s a beautiful wine, one the despite its delicacy has the capacity to age and develop.

3. Gosset Grande Reserve (Waitrose £50) – there are many wonderful things about Gosset’s wines. They are made to exacting standards in the pursuit of perfection, they are stylish, strikingly powerful and intense, yet have such charm. The Grande Reserve is incredibly precise, the nose wonderfully delineated with notes of red berries, citrus, yeast, and dried pears. On the palate it seizes your attention with an intense attack of red and white berries, followed by rich, creamy tones of peaches, vanilla, mirabelles and minerals. Try this with smoked fish and white meats.

2. Graham Beck Vintage Rosé – I’ve been an admirer of Graham Beck’s wines for decades. The Graham Beck Brut (Majestic £11.99) has been our house fizz for years and yet every time I open a bottle I exclaim “Such a good wine.”

The vintage rosé takes their efforts to a whole new level. This is a sublime, a fizz that’s fit to grace anyone’s festive table. Deep pink with amber highlights, the nose is a blend of strawberries, cherries, and a hint of minty citrus. The palate is broad, rich, and offers a range of red berries, cherries, lime, and orange zest. The best value rosé sparkler in the UK? Probably.

1. Taittinger Prelude (John Lewis £55) – and so we come to not only my wine of choice for Christmas, but my wine of the year. I had this for the first time in 2020 and I’ve used any excuse to open a bottle since. Made from grapes from Grand Cru vineyards and given a luxurious six years of bottle ageing (double the usual amount for a non-vintage wine), this is a remarkable wine. The nose is a mellow mix of yellow skinned fruits suffused with vanilla, and a lovely savoury tone. The palate is succulent, packed with fruit and has Taittinger’s signature peaches in syrup tone to finish. This is a wine that fascinates and delights in equal measure, and will certainly make for a happy Christmas in my house.

Well, that’s it for 2022 from me. I hope you will try some of these wines and that you will have a fine Christmas.

All together now, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…