Friday, 30 December 2016

Best Champagnes for New Year's Eve

If you want to toast the arrival of 2017 in style, but haven’t yet chosen what to drink, then Champagne should be top of the list as the instant shortcut to celebration and luxury. Here’s a selection of my all-time favourites and new discoveries from this year which you should be able to pick up between now and tomorrow evening. These tend towards the luxury end of the scale, so for more affordable bottles see my festive party fizz recommendations here:

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV - £31 Cellar Wines Ripley (who also list magnums for £69), £31.99 The Wine Reserve Cobham, on offer until 3 Jan at £29.99 from Waitrose, £29.99 mix six price at Majestic, £34.99 Taurus Wines Bramley
Roederer’s style is all about finesse and elegance, but with a hint of underlying richness. Perfect as an aperitif, or with the bongs of Big Ben.

Mailly Grand Cru Brut NV - £29.99 (as part of a case of 6) The Wine Reserve Cobham
This Pinot Noir based Cuvée is more seriously structured and would be wonderful with food, even relatively hearty chicken or other fowl.

Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV - £31.99 (as part of a case of 6) The Wine Reserve Cobham, on offer until 3 Jan at £31.99 at Waitrose, £34.99 mix six price at Majestic. M&S have magnums for £79.99
Pol Roger was Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne, and I have always found it a beguiling mix of elegance and freshness, but with perfectly judged depth. Any time is a good time for a glass of Pol, and I love to savour it on its own. Or you could trade up to Pol Roger Vintage 2006 - £56.99 Waitrose, £54.99 (as part of a case of 6) The Wine Reserve Cobham. There are many layers of flavour with hints of maturity but still so lively.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV - £39.99 (as part of a case of 6) The Wine Reserve Cobham, £39.99 Taurus Wines Bramley
Charles Heidsieck may not be as well-known as the more celebrated grande marque houses, but it makes Champagnes of such quality and deliciousness that no Champagne fan should ignore them. The high proportion of reserve wines (from previous vintages, used to add depth and character) make this a sophisticated Champagne that is also incredibly food friendly and so much more than just bubbles. For a real treat I would heartily recommend Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 - £139.99 (as part of a case of 6) The Wine Reserve Cobham. This mature vintage, 100% Chardonnay wine is a hedonist’s dream. Pure heaven.

Lanson Extra Age NV - £45 from M&S
I find the regular Lanson Black Label rather hard work, but this longer aged prestige cuvée, based on wines from the 2002, 2004 and 2005 vintages, is a treat. There are hints of almond and marzipan on the nose and it is rich, yet with no heaviness, thanks to Lanson’s hallmark high acidity. This would wow with seafood.

Bollinger Grande Année 2005 - £68 at Cellar Wines Ripley, £69.99 mix six price at Majestic, £64.99 (as part of a case of 6) The Wine Reserve Cobham
If you’re a fan of Bollinger’s non vintage Special Cuvée, then treat yourself to their vintage to find all the verve and intensity that you love, with added refinement.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 - £120 from M&S, £99.95 from Finest Bubble (next day delivery available). Taurus Wines have the 2005 for £139.99
This prestige cuvée from the famous house of Taittinger is a pinnacle of the Blanc de Blancs style of Champagne. 100% Chardonnay and 100% class - lovely, fine, refined and full of flavour.

Krug Grande Cuvée Brut - £126 Majestic, £129 Taurus Wines Bramley, £114.95 from Finest Bubble (who offer next day delivery outside London)
I have never not completely enjoyed a glass of Krug. If you are willing to give it your full attention it rewards you with a stimulating and beguiling feast for the senses. If, however, you just want to enjoy it, it is simply incredibly delicious.

Do magnums matter?
A magnum is exactly double the size of a regular bottle – 1.5l compared with 750ml. As you can see from the list above, there is usually a price premium for the magnum, which costs more than simply buying two bottles. Why should that be? And should you pay the premium?
Partly it is a matter of scarcity and prestige – magnums say celebration, with knobs on - but there are also genuine reasons why you might prefer a Champagne from magnum to a bottle.
Champagnes in magnum age more slowly and gracefully than those in bottle, partly because there is a greater volume of wine in magnum, yet the same amount of oxygen between the surface of the wine and the bottom of the cork as in a bottle. I can tell you from experience, that exactly the same Champagne aged in bottle and in magnum can and do taste different.

The champagne in the magnum combines the liveliness and freshness of youth, but with the depth and complexity that come with maturity. This effect becomes more pronounced over time, so it is especially important with longer aged vintage and prestige cuvées. 

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