RICHARD ESLING: It’s time to choose the festive fizz

Festive fizz
Festive fizz

Red wines, white wines, pink wines, fortified wines, they all come out at this time of year, but the wines that are the supreme leaders when it comes to celebrations are the sparklers.

There’s nothing quite like a drop of fizz when it comes to any form of celebration and the festive season is prime time to pop a cork or two.

The leaders in the sparkling wine charts, certainly in my mind, are those from the world’s leading region in France, namely champagne.

Although it is unfortunately still possible to find some very ordinary and quite frankly, unappealing wines from this area, the vast majority are delicious, complex and enjoyable.

Although its home country is the biggest consumer of champagne, we still run a very good second with more than 30 million bottles sold last year. The British palate is clearly very accustomed to bubbles and the choice of sparklers from around the globe, including our own home-grown varieties, gets ever wider.

The independent wine shops and the supermarkets are over-flowing with offers at this time of year with prices to suit all budgets and flavours to suit all tastes, but here are a few classics (and ‘not quite so classics’), which I recommend buying for the festivities.

One of the champagne ‘ greats’ is Taittinger, and a glass or two of well chilled Brut Reserve on Christmas morning will set you up for whatever is in store for the rest of the day.

With its distinguished, subtle, and complex elegance, this classic champagne can ease away the arguments, the disappointments and the minor catastrophes, which inevitably occur at this time of year, and help you luxuriate in pure enjoyment. On offer at a very appealing £27 a bottle in Tesco’s or find the vintage 2005 in a gift box at John Lewis for £49. An unbeatable gift for others or yourself.

An alternative champagne is the pink from Marks and Spencer. Oudinot Brut Rose, is a dazzling dry rose, with aromas and flavours of red summer fruits. Creamy and decadent, it is superb with smoked salmon, good quality Parma ham, Crustacea or fruit-based desserts. Made from the red champagne grapes of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, it is available at £28.

And now for something a little different and closer to home...

I have written many times of how the English wine industry is expanding rapidly, with English sparkling wines now being considered as some of the best in the world. Our temperamental climate can create both havoc and exceptional results, with a long slow ripening of the grapes (those that have survived the frost) producing wonderful flavours. Many of the best vineyards are situated on the chalky South and North Downs, one such being Jenkyn Place in Bentley, Hampshire. Jenkyn Place Brut is £24.99 from Waitrose and an excellent value English sparkler, which will definitely impress the neighbours round for drinks.

Even more exceptional is the Blanc de Noir 2010, my personal favourite style of traditional method wine. Aged for 42 months on the lees, the wine is mature, complex, deep and savoury, with brioche, almonds and toast. A little more expensive at £35 a bottle, but the quality is top notch.

From a Blanc de Noirs, to a Blanc de Blanc. From the same year as the previous wine, yet a completely different style of wine, made from Chardonnay grapes, is the Laborie 2010 from the Western Cape in South Africa. With aromas of citrus and melon, the texture is creamy and soft with a delicate mousse and biscuity finish. £15.95 from independent retailers, this is what Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties are made for.

Whichever you choose (perhaps all of them?), drink responsibly and enjoy the celebrations without excess. Season’s Greetings to all readers.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit

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