Raise your glass to the world of festive fizz

Quality of both French Champagne and Australian sparkling has never been higher, so which should you choose?

By Nick Stock, December 9 2019

This is the season to celebrate – and that means countless bottles of ‘fizz’ will be bought, chilled and popped in the coming weeks. But while the idea of a celebratory glass is a simple one, the world of wine with bubbles has never been so complex and the quality never so good.

As you venture into the festive run of catch-ups and events and are greeted with the pop of a cork, pause to check what you’re about to drink.

You can tell a lot about a person from their choice of bubbles, and these are drinks that often tap a famous vein through history as much as they are fashionably of the moment.

Christmas and New Year represent peak season for Champagne.
Christmas and New Year represent peak season for Champagne.

A sparkling past

Take the late Sir Winston Churchill, for example, who reportedly drank so much Pol Roger that the maison named their flagship cuvée in his honour. Then there’s the revered Cristal of Champagne Louis Roederer first made in 1876 for Russian Tsar Alexander II.

The famous Champagne Dom Perignon takes its name and legacy from a monk who made wine in the region in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Much has changed since, and Champagne quality today is at an all-time high.

Cristal by Louis Roederer is a perennial favourite and has a distinguished history.
Cristal by Louis Roederer is a perennial favourite and has a distinguished history.

Price is often the main driver for choice; but when the year is wrapping up and a new one being rung in, it’s a great time to step out with some adventurous forays into Champagne.

In any case, the best Champagnes are a bargain in comparison to the equivalent quality in categories such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, so treat yourself and loved ones to a special bottle or two.

The festive fun zone

Champagne producers look to differentiate themselves and capture their stories, heritage and prowess with their flagship wines.

It is a very rarified and competitive world where makers must assert their desirability and defend their reputation, often built over more than a century of production. In this category you will taste styles from the finest and most elegant, to the richest and most complex. This is the festive fun zone.

I’ve developed a real love of Krug Grande Cuvée, which is a non-vintage Champagne (they prefer to call it multi-vintage) that is made to the absolute highest level of quality and pedigree.

Krug Grande Cuvee is a consistent winner when you want to impress.
Krug Grande Cuvee is a consistent winner when you want to impress.

This is the most consistently impressive high-end Champagne in the market and it has a fiercely defended reputation for absolute quality, deliciousness on release and its ability to develop handsomely when cellared.

Play the vintage game

Unlike Krug Grande Cuvée, most top-end Champagnes are vintage releases, which means that they shift around in style according to the season from which the grapes are harvested. This means you need to read up on the style of the vintage to know what to expect.

Seek out 2008 and 2012 as two great recent vintages. 2008 is one of the greatest of all time and the recently-released Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 is an exceptional Champagne to try this season, or tuck away for a few years.

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 is an excellent example of an all-time great vintage.
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 is an excellent example of an all-time great vintage.

There’s also a very dynamic category of smaller-production Champagnes that are sometimes called “grower” Champagnes. These are stylistically very distinctive and tend to be produced with such fine attention to detail that they make for really interesting drinking. Try Larmandier-Bernier, Savart, Geoffroy, Selosse, Chartogne-Taillet and J-M Sélèque.

Below these there’s a band of very well-made bigger brand non-vintage Champagnes being sold at very competitive prices.

These are bottles that will tick the box of high class and quality, and you’re well-advised to shop around at this time of year because prices are never normally this sharp. Find the one you like and buy it by the dozen. This is your festive staple.

Chartogne-Taillet is among a group produced with such fine attention to detail that they make for really interesting drinking.
Chartogne-Taillet is among a group produced with such fine attention to detail that they make for really interesting drinking.

Viva la Francais, or C’mon Aussie?

Then comes a tricky cross-over point where the price of high-quality Australian sparkling wines and lower-grade French Champagnes collide between $40 and $50.

This is a conundrum of sorts because the quality of the Australian sparkling is undoubtedly better, but the aura of Champagne has, well, a certain “je ne sais quoi”! Both have their place.

Have a good look around the world of wine with bubbles this season and explore the myriad options it brings.

If you’re like me, you’ll have many different occasions to cater, from the impromptu and casual to the considered and highly curated. Your very enjoyable job is to find a perfect bottle for each and every one.

Nick Stock

Nick Stock is one of Australia’s most popular and well-travelled wine critics, covering great wine from all corners of the globe.

22 May 2011

Total posts 54

Due to it bring in a similar price point to Dom or Krug - Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame is a rare treat and I feel is underrated - it's perfection in a flute

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 37

Home grown Arras, often overlooked, especially the Vintage extended-aged releases

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 140

Jacques Copin make some incredible champagne and priced very well. Unfortunately no suppliers in Australia for this small producer.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Feb 2017

Total posts 10

Can't go past a good ‘bolly' myself. Tried the ‘96 RD a few years ago & it was superb!! If not for a great discount on the last bottle from our local go-to gran cru wine shop, it would've passed us by. The RD is left on Lee's for up to 20 years, rather than 10 for other bollys & the difference was striking. Being disgorged for a shorter time, as the initials hint at, changed the tasting experience from those of the 10yr & longer disgorged types. All in all, for us, it was a wonderful drinking time & we appreciated it very much. Although, wouldn't say no to a bottle of Krug if someone shared it with me! ;-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Apr 2017

Total posts 118

I tried over 300 sparkling wines this year, which is odd considering I usually get to try about 50 or so.

I tried no new champagnes so will keep to my usual recommendations: Perrier Jouet at less than $100, Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc/Vintage at less than $200 and Taittinger Comtes/Pol Roger Winston Churchill at $200+. If you can find it, Diebolt Vallois Prestige Blanc de Blanc is incredible at $120.

Australian Sparkling, my personal preference is Kreglinger Vintage from Tasmania at value end, and Levrier by Jo Irvine in the Barossa produces an amazing brut (technically a rose) that will keep everyone happy. Going non-traditional method, Freeman Prosecco is great value and getting widespread.

Most of my new experiences comes from American and South African producers and dear God the South Africans have some amazing stuff. Every MCC I tried punched well above it's weight and it should really be more widely available in Australia. Due to overwhelming amount of what I tried I can't come up with a singular recommendation off the top of my head, will have to look through photos!

And another surprising spectacular wine is Split Rail Daft Pink Remix in Methode Ancestral, all the way from Idaho, USA. Won't find it anymore, but I Imported a couple of dozen and it was a huge success with casual drinkers and wine enthusiasts alike.

For me though, I've found if you spend $200 or more on a bottle of wine, the extended family won't appreciate it, so I just go big and picked up a 12L bottle of Pol because everyone appreciates the fun of a large format!


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