Should I buy ready made Bucks Fizz?
Nooooo! The pre-mixed bottles range from toxic to barely acceptable. And how hard can it be to pour fizz into a glass or jug and top up with orange juice? Don't consider putting anything grander in it than the most basic Prosecco or Cava - but do make sure the orange juice is top quality. Freshly squeezed, if you're up to it, would be the most delicious option.
What sort of fizz is best for Christmas Day?
If you are having a glass of something to sip while you open the pressies (I do, don't you?) then something tasty but not hugely expensive would be my preferred option. People will be busy with their presents, poring over the favourites and putting a brave face on for the more "interesting" gifts, so attention will hardly be on what's in their glass. And you don't want anything that you might cry over if it gets knocked flying in the mêlée.
As rosé is an ever-popular option these days, a fresh and flavoursome crémant rosé from the Loire might be just the ticket. Try Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire (£13.15 from thedrinkshop.com and independent merchants). At the budget end of things, Lindauer Special Reserve from New Zealand has a reputation for being a cut above many New World sparklers, as well as great value for money at around the £10 mark at Majestic and Waitrose. These two would also make great choices for party fizz over the festive period.
A pre-dinner aperitif needs to be light and preferably dry to get the appetite sharpened for the meal ahead. A Blanc de Blancs Champagne (or Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine labelled "traditional method") would be a good option here. If your tastes are for the really dry, then search out Champagne labelled Ultra Brut or Zero Dosage, the absolute driest ones available.
Pudding, whether the traditional steamed variety or other rich treat, should really be matched with something as sweet and weighty as the dessert itself - like an Oloroso Sherry or Australian Liqueur Muscat. But if you don't like that style of wine, or just want to contrast with something lighter and frothy, then a sparkling wine can make another appearance in the form of a Moscato d'Asti, with its featherweight grapey flavours and gentle sparkle.
If buying fizz as a gift, does it have to be Champagne?
Well no, but there is undoubtedly a cachet attached to the real thing. And if you are faced with the awkward situation of giving a bottle of Champagne to someone who you think knows more about it than you do, what will impress wine buffs?
Billecart-Salmon Rosé is a classic Champagne lover's pink fizz: elegant, restrained and dry (£56.99 from Adnams; £60 from Berry Brothers, bbr.com). Laurent-Perrier Rosé is a bit more bling, but its easy charm means it's sure to be welcomed (£44.97 as part of Majestic’s Mix and Match offer, £40.72 at thedrinkshop.com).
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (£42 from Berry Brothers; £36.05 from thedrinkshop.com) has long been a favourite amongst wine insiders and they are right back on their best form now, fine and full flavoured in style. One word of warning, there are many Heidsiecks in the Champagne world, so make sure you've picked up the right one.
A non-snobbish Champagne lover would be happy to receive an award winning supermarket own label Champagne - Tesco and Waitrose have both done well in competitions this year and a little online research should point you in the right direction. I particularly liked the Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV (currently on offer at £19.99 and winner of a Gold medal at the IWSC and Bronze at the IWC) and Waitrose Brut Special Reserve Vintage 2006 (currently £26.99).
What’s hot in the world of Champagne?
Grower Champagnes have become hip this year, so choosing one shows you have your finger on the pulse. But what are they and how do you spot one?
The big name Champagne houses, the grandes marques, usually own some vineyards, but never enough to supply them will all the grapes they require, which they need to buy in from growers across the region.
An increasing number of these more than 15,000 growers are now making their own Champagne from their own vineyards, giving scope for a much more individual, artisanal and, some would say, authentic style of Champagne. But it can be difficult to tell the difference between one of these grower Champagnes, which will have an unfamiliar name on the label, and one of the profusion of unheard of Champagnes that populate supermarket shelves at this time of year.
The biggest clue is price - grower Champagnes are not going to be on offer for half price at £10-12. The concrete proof requires sharp eyesight and a good look at the label.
A bottle of grande marque Champagne will have the letters "NM" and some numbers printed in small type at the bottom of the front label, which stands for "negoçiant manipulant" – an organisation which buys in grapes or wine and makes Champagne. What you are looking for is "RM", for “récoltant manipulant”, meaning someone who harvests grapes and makes wines from their own vineyards.
There are so many offers on Champagne at this time of year. How can you make sure you don't pay over the odds for your Champagne?
A little light internet browsing is all that's required. Check out www.bringabottle.co.uk to see who is offering the best price for your chosen fizz and make use of their historical price chart to judge if a special offer really is special, or just par for the course.
Have a sparkling Christmas!