THE biggest sales surge in sparkling wines and champagne occurs at this time of year. However, because most large retailers are showcasing numerous promotions, it can be difficult to separate genuine bargains from their unimpressive neighbours on the shelf.
Here, then, are a few pointers to help you pick your way through the maze.
House champagne is a good starting point but, sadly, all that sparkles is not gold. Both the UK’s major discounters, however, have respectable versions at keen prices. Champagne Veuve Monsigny Philizot & Fils Brut (currently £9.99 at Aldi), for example, has a zesty, bouncy opening bringing you flavours that combine the softness of red apples and the crispness of green ones. Pursuing the apple theme, the aromas remind me of an apple crumble dessert – courtesy, perhaps, of the yeast and vanilla influences.
Over at Lidl, the house version is a little deeper and rounder and the biscuit-centred aromas and flavours in Champagne Comte de Brismand Brut Reserve (£9.99 until the New Year) are a little more pronounced. Despite a gentle toastiness, there is still some zippy citrus acidity that gives the whole thing impressive life and lightness. Both of these versions are excellent value and well worth a tenner of anyone’s money.
Let’s step up now to some higher level non-vintage champagne. I was hugely impressed by Champagne Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus (£40 in Majestic). As the name implies, this uses only grapes from the top 10 per cent (grands crus) of the region’s vineyards. Another good sign is that only pinot noir and chardonnay grapes are used in its assemblage. The result is both vivacious and creamy with a brioche and nut background that mingles nicely with the orange and peach fruit and the apple-style acidity.
Another champagne I greatly enjoyed was Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs (£43 at Oddbins). Here there is a restrained, steady mousse, an attractive toast and bready backdrop to the lively lemon and red apple fruit; its concluding chalkiness appears to reaffirm perfectly that we are dealing with 100 per cent chardonnay. Especially impressive is the overall balance in which the totality exceeds the sum of the parts.
Moving away from champagne, the quality and popularity of prosecco seems on a continual upward curve. Its freshness and softness certainly resonates well with the British public. Of the dozens on the market, I find Carpene Malvolti Conegliano Extra Dry (£11.08 at www.thedrinkshop.com) to be especially good. It has a delicate colour with light but clear touches of orange and red apple supplemented by lime acidity, small bubbles and a mildly yeasty backdrop. There remains however, a dry enough finish to work well as an aperitif.
Our neighbours to the south should not be ignored, however, because the quality of sparkling wine there is also rising dramatically. Look, for example, at Cornwall’s 2010 Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut (£27.99 at Waitrose Direct – the online service). The smooth and gentle texture with those mildly yeasty and orange flavours give a pretty clear indication why some English sparkling wine can outperform parts of Champagne.
For sparkling rosé I am going suggest moving back to France - but to Burgundy rather than to the Champagne region - for Simonnet- Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé (£15.49 at Forth Wines). It has creamy raspberry and red currant flavours and an impressive vibrant style.
2012 Secano Estate Sauvignon Blanc - Leyda Valley, Chile, 13.5 per cent
Anyone who remembers this estate’s terrific sauvignon gris will need no urging to take up this excellent offer. The wine is perfectly balanced with fresh and bright lime sherbet acidity yet nicely textured touches of kumquat to give its gooseberry fruit added complexity.
• £5.99, instead of £8.99 until 1 January, at Marks & Spencer
2010 Signature Crozes Hermitage - Rhone Valley, France, 12.5 per cent
A typically good, ripe and smooth red from the region’s excellent 2010 harvest. The black cherry, raspberry and plum fruit is already surprisingly soft yet still retains intensity and an attractive savoury depth containing touches of all-spice and just the right level of tannin.
• £9.99 at Morrisons