Now that summer is here it’s fair to say barbecue and wedding season is in full swing – even if it seems to be raining all the time.
Cups of tea might seem the drink of choice to accompany our steaks and burgers this season given the damp and blustery weather, but for those moments when the sun decides to make an appearance from behind those clouds, many of us are going to want Champagne.
The great thing about Champagne, apart from those wonderful, refreshing bubbles, is the flavour spectrum it provides. More so than Cava or Prosecco, Champagne has so much depth and complexity that seems to satisfy so many British palates.
All that complexity, brought on by bottle fermentation and extensive ageing, doesn’t come cheap, of course. So when we’re hunting the supermarket aisles for some bubbly to pop on that sunny Saturday afternoon, it can be easy to be driven to sparkling wines from Spain and Italy given the typical Champagne often sells for £30 or more.
But if you know where to look, and you aren’t too concerned about what it says on the label, there are bargains to be found.
Granted, you are not likely to find anything spectacular for less than about £18 – although sometimes you can find a perfectly decent bottle for about £15 – but that Cava or Prosecco you buy for £10 or less won’t be profound either.
If it’s Champagne you’re after, there is a lot to buy around the £20 mark.
So where should you look? The best bargain Champagnes these days are not those being produced under house labels from producers in Reims or Ay. Rather, they are appearing under supermarket and wine retailer own-labels. Currently, some of the best bubbles can be found in Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Laithwaites. But don’t allow yourself to be choosy when it comes to supermarket brands either. Morrison’s, Th Co-operative and even Lidl and Aldi’s Champagnes all scored highly.
Wines to try:
Laithwaite Brut Premier Cru NV (£23.99, Laithwaites)
Perhaps not quite at the bargain price some may expect, this is a lot of wine for the money, particularly because it comes form premier cru vineyards. With complex, rich, nutty flavours and plenty of cellaring before it’s released, this blend of chardonnay and pinot noir won’t disappoint.
Oudninot Champagne Brut NV (£138 for 6 or £23 per bottle, Marks & Spencer)
This is considered one of the best own-brand Champagnes around and for the price paid, it is a complete bargain. If you want to spend more, the vintage version is also incredible for the money. This is crisp, refreshing and delightfully acidic, making it great for quaffing as an aperitif, as we’re all likely to do in this summer weather.
Waitrose Brut NV Champagne (£18,99, Waitrose Wine Direct)
At just £19 a bottle, this qualifies as being considered ‘cheap’ when it comes to bubbles. This is fresh, acidic and dry, with plenty of fruit on the palate to make it a enjoyable drink. If you want to go up a notch in quality, try the Waitrose Blanc de Noirs (£19.94, Waitrose Wine Direct) or the Blanc de Blancs (£21.84, Waitrose Wine Direct)
Morrison’s The Best Champagne Brut (£19.99, Morrison’s)
It might not win accolades for its self-congratulatory name, but it has gained attention for being very good at what it does. This wine was rated by Which? Magazine as being the best in a blind tasting of supermarket Champagnes, so don’t disqualify it based on its lack of pedigree. Lively and refreshing, it rivals wines nearly double the price.
Champagne Comte de Brismand Brut Reserve (£14.99, Lidl)
In what is likely another case of “don’t let where it’s sold tarnish its image”, this bubbly from Lidl packs in a lot of value for the price. Not only did it receive accolades from Which?, but Decanter magazine has heaped praise on it as well, so next time you pass by this discount retailer, perhaps you’ll want to consider picking up a few bottles to stock your supply of fizz.
Finally, The Co-operative, with its small yet impressive wine catalogue, comes int with its Les Pionniers Champagne (£17.99, The Co-operative). While it lacks a proper web page to link to, this one can be found in Co-operative supermarkets and has gained praise for offering all those deep, nutty aromas we love from good Champagne without the sticker shock.
(Pic courtesy of TinyTall via Flickr)