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6:00am Saturday 28th December 2013 in Lifestyle
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris rounds up her favourite own-brand champagnes in the run-up to New Year's Eve.
The champagne factor
Nothing signals a celebration like the sound of champagne corks popping, and New Year's Eve is a night you want to taste that gentle fizz more than ever.
Whether it's before, or after the stroke of midnight, here are some brilliant bottles to sip with the chorus of good wishes, kisses and party streamers in the countdown to 2014.
The International Wine Challenge voted Marks & Spencer the toast of the town for its own-brand bubbles, and have awarded them four Silver medals for stellar sparklers like Charles Orban Blanc de Noirs NV, France (£30, Marks & Spencer). Vigorous and rich, this stand-out champagne is made only from black grapes and the 50/50 blend of pinot noir and pinot meunier balances freshly baked bread aromas with a full and luscious mouthfeel, finishing with refreshing citrus fruits on the handsome finish.
Elsewhere on the high street, Asda's Extra Special Louis Bernard Premier Cru NV, France (£17.50 from £19.75, Asda) also hit the right note with the judges and this gold medal winner is pinot noir dominant with just the right measure of chardonnay for some floral charm. Structured and elegant with toasted nuts and tropical fruit on the nose and a streak of minerality, these tiny beads of bubbles have a beautiful depth of flavour.
Surprisingly outstanding value is Selfridges Selection Esprit Brut NV, Henri Giraud, France (£26.99 from £29.99, www.selfridges.com), produced for Selfridges by Henri Giraud, owner of a string of vineyards making some of the finest wines in Champagne. His Esprit is 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay and this liquid gold is opulent and fresh with peachy fruit flavours, toasty vanilla notes, a powerful mouthfeel and a giant of a finish.
Lighter on its feet but just as classy, Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Champagne, France (£24.99, Waitrose) is made from 100% chardonnay and has a beautiful, feminine nose with aromas of hazelnuts and brioche, a rich mouthfeel with pure, ripe fruit and a delicious softness on the finish.
Best Wine Merchant of the Year 2013, The Wine Society carefully vet their own-label vino and The Society's Champagne NV, France (£29, www.thewinesociety.com) is everything you could ask for in an easy-drinking style. A classic blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, it's blessed with a generous bouquet of toasty nuts and yeast, a full and fruity palate with good acidity, and enough power and finesse to stand up to the occasion, the toasts, and the ubiquitous rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
Brits, as the largest importer of champagne, have always had a thirst for vintage wines (grapes from a single year), which normally indicate an outstanding harvest and a designer price tag. However, if you fancy the rich rewards of grand cru grapes without the over-spending, some supermarket own-label vintages offer excellent value.
Indeed, The Co-op scooped a gold medal for their The Co-operative Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004, France (£23.99 from £26.99, The Co-operative) which is testament to how well-sourced these own-label champers are... a typical vintage blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, it's made for them by Piper Hiedsieck. Rich and bright with zesty citrus fruit, brioche on the nose and a robust mouthfeel ending with a hint of hazelnut, there's plenty of appeal to keep this bubbly flowing long into the night.
From the following year, and another gold medal winner, Sainsbury's Taste The Difference 1er Cru 2005 Vintage Champagne, France (£25.99, Sainsbury's) is supremely elegant with fresh stone fruit flavours with lemony nuances, rich and structured with a pleasant mineral streak (its 80% chardonnay which also adds finesse) to keep it fresh and lively, but still seductive enough to keep coming back to, sip after sip.
Happy New Year!
:: Best buy
Spin the wheel... Rich and rounded, yet sweet and satisfying, Chocoholic Pinotage 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (£11, www.harveynichols.com) is a symphony of seductive flavours to pair with chocolate-based desserts and cheeses. Made from pinotage grapes in the Italian, Valpolicella style, it's a deliciously rich, deep brown colour with chocolate notes and subtle cocoa flavours, ending with a pleasant bitter-sweetness on the velvety smooth finish.
:: Liquid news
Happy Hour... Cheeky cocktails illustrated with witty designs, Tequila Mockingbird, Cocktails with a Literary Twist, by Tim Federle, £9.99, published by Running Press, available from www.bluk/shop, mixes up classic cocktail recipes with humour and spiritual histrionics to create a fun and functional cocktail book that definitely won't be left languishing on the back bar.
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