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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.