Quality rather than flashy marketing sets apart these top notch champagnes, says MARY DOWEY, who recommends five of the best champagnes for Christmas gifts this year
The concept of liquid luxury comes down to a single word: champagne. Or, for absolute clarity, three words: seriously good champagne. For those of us who love it (we are legion), there is no finer way to launch a special lunch or dinner or late night tête-à-tête; no faster-acting restorative; no more thrilling gift.
Last year I wrote about the small, below-the-radar producers who are shaking up Champagne’s familiar landscape by focusing on superb quality rather than flashy marketing. These new stars are growing in importance but they’re not for everyone. Well-known names tend to bring reassurance; maybe even a happy memory or two. The trouble is that quality varies wildly among the 24 grandes marques – the region’s most famous houses. Stylistically their wines differ greatly too.
It’s always better to buy a non-vintage champagne from a top source, by the way, than a vintage bottling from a lesser one. NV is every house’s flagship, made in a consistent style from year to year.
The first thing to say is that the best of the bunch are sublime. While my five recommendations are particular favourites, I should also mention Billecart-Salmon which combines finesse with a particular freshness; Ruinart (especially for its blanc de blancs) and Laurent-Perrier (for its rosé).
But that famous-name fizz isn’t always as impressive as it should be. The legendary Yellow Label of Veuve Clicquot seems to me softer and simpler than in the past. I’d also hesitate to splash the cash required for Pommery, Perrier-Jouët, Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck or Moët (although its prestige cuvée Dom Pérignon remains ravishing). As all grande marque champagnes are expensive, they should be exceptional and exciting – not just pleasant (or, the cheek of it, unpleasant).
Whichever one you choose, serve it with something to eat. If you can’t manage canapés, cheese puffs or cheese straws will work just as well, softening the champagne’s acidity a little so that it tastes its best.
Below find five of the best champagnes for Christmas gifts:
Champagne Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV. A first class buy to suit all tastes – refined, beautifully balanced and wonderfully invigorating with a firm, ample finish. From various wine specialists at around €55; particularly good value from Wines on the Green/Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin 2 and
Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV. From an acclaimed house moving increasingly into biodynamics, this has lively, juicy charm with striking purity and length. From O’Briens outlets; Dollard & Co, Dublin 2; Martins, Dublin 3; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Joyce’s Supermarket, Galway, €55-65.
Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV. A very distinctive, savoury style which marries toasty richness with freshness and vigour. (Bollinger NV rosé is also outstanding.) From www.mitchellandson.com; www.wineoneline.ie; www.celticwhiskeyshop.com; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Terroirs, Dublin 4; Bradleys, Cork, €55-65.
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV. After a period in obscurity, now justly regarded as one of the finest NVs, lip-smacking, full-bodied and lingering. From O’Briens outlets; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Redmonds, Dublin 6; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; World Wine Wines, Waterford, €65-70.
Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée. The king (and it ages majestically). Layers of flavour are packed into every mouthful – mangoes, peaches, ginger, honey – with a smoky overlay, terrific verve and a salty finish. From mitchellandson.com; O’Briens outlets; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Grapevine, Dalkey; Alain & Christine’s, Kenmare, around €215.
See more of Mary Dowey’s recommendations