Brian Elliot: 'It is significant that the word femme appears in a flagship wine'

IN A gentle dig at the trade's tendency for London centric thinking, Mike Hothersall, UK director of Duval-Leroy, declared: "We are really keen to boost our exposure to the 60 per cent of UK champagne consumption that falls outside the M25 corridor."

This excellent news for Scottish champagne drinkers builds on some very helpful trends within the Champagne region. Taken together, they should increase the volume and diversity available here without escalating its price. Personally, I welcome the plan to enlarge the boundaries of the Champagne region. Increasing supply in that way should absorb the massive upturn in demand pre-recession rather than allow it to drive up prices.

Equally good news is the increased diversity in the champagnes available here created by the surge in "grower champagnes" (the ones with "RM" for Recoltant Manipulant, in tiny writing on the label). Here, artisan producers bypass the big houses to bring distinctive boutique wines often with a strong sense of terroir. The down side is that quality can vary between growers and between years.

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Here and now, nevertheless, there are some excellent large-scale outfits (those with "NM" - Negociant Manipulant - on the label) and Duval-Leroy is one. An example is Champagne Duval-Leroy Extra Brut NV, though it is not yet widely available in Britain. It has much less residual sugar than orthodox brut and is an excellent ambassador for this increasingly fashionable category.

Another excellent blanc de blanc (ie exclusively chardonnay) is Champagne Duval-Leroy Clos des Bouveries 2004. This is made from 50-year-old vines in a single vineyard. It has concentrated flavours, first-rate structure and touches of appealing minerality. Spies tell me it may be available at Edinburgh's Castle Terrace Restaurant soon.

A special mention, too, for the prestigious Champagne Duval-Leroy Femme de Champagne (75, Harrods). It has excellent toasty flavours but, above all, a crisp lemon and lime-based acidity that is remarkable for wine enjoying well above average cellar time.

Refreshingly, the company regards Britain as its priority market - with Glasgow and Edinburgh as key cities for development.In line with that plan, Duval-Leroy champagnes seem about to appear in Hotel du Vin and Villeneuve as well as the Castle Terrace Restaurant.

It is significant that the word "femme" appears in a flagship wine because not only is the company president a woman (Carol Duval-Leroy) but so, too, is the head winemaker, Sandrine Logette- Jardin. She maintains that the substantial feminine influence in the company (43 per cent of staff) boosts the all- important attention to detail. Whatever the reason, there is no question that Logette-Jardin is a brilliant wine-maker. She is one the few women ever shortlisted by the International Wine Challenge to be Sparkling Winemaker of the Year.

That recognition at such an early age underlines the very high levels attained by Duval-Leroy champagnes - something Scottish wine enthusiasts should have the chance to verify soon.

Best buys

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2010 The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13 per cent

Gooseberry and pear drop acidity with a peach or nectarine finish. Down to 5.99 until 31 Jan when you buy two, Majestic

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2005 Ramon Lopez Murillo Rioja Reserva, Spain, 13.5 per cent

Deep plum and blackcurrant flavours with an almond finish; good with food. 5.99, Aldi

2009 Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 12.5 per cent Lovely fresh wine with a slight prickle and complex flavours of green apple, fennel and orange. 9.99, Villeneuvex

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