Food Critic Richard McComb trawls the supermarket shelves to find out the best festive Champagnes for last-minute shoppers.
It’s a bit showy drinking Champagne in a recession, but if you can’t have a glass of fizz at Christmas then things have come to a pretty pass.
While a host may come across as trying too hard by serving a big-hitter from a prestige label, family, friends and your hedge fund manager will be impressed with your restrained elegance if you opt for one of the supermarkets own brand Champagnes.
There is a huge choice on the shelves, much of it seasonally discounted to lure in party-goers. Do your research and you can bag some seasonal bargains.
I joined an enthusiastic panel of judges to put seven supermarket Champagnes to the test, both vintage and premier cru varieties. We tried bottles from Waitrose, M&S, Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Morrisons and the Co-op. The findings are very much those of Mr and Mrs Average.
The sparklers varied dramatically in price, from £14.99 at Aldi to £24.99 at Tesco for a 2004 vintage
So do you get what you pay for? Well, no.
On the whole, our panel favoured the bargain-basement varieties and there appeared to be little benefit in taking price as a guide to quality.
Some of the Champagnes went unfinished, which is usually an unspeakable crime with French fizz.
But every drop was drained from the bottle containing our 2010 Birmingham Post Christmas supermarket champion – Asda’s Extra Special Vintage Champagne 2002.
It’s yours for £18.98. Yes, that’s Asda price. It’s a snip for this liquid gold.
Our least favourite was actually the most expensive Champagne – Tesco’s 2004 vintage. It’s nearly six quid more than Asda’s premium own label – and garnered half the number of points.
Aldi’s £14.99 premier cru may be the best value Champagne, pound for bubble, on the market this Christmas.
1 The Co-op: Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2002 – £18.99 (on promotion until January 4, originally £20.99)
A golden hue with a full taste of almonds and walnuts rather than the promised shortbread and freshly-baked brioche.
Foamy in the mouth but needs more depth. Quite pronounced yeast. Slightly disappointing for an eight-year old wine from P & C Heidsieck.
2 Asda Extra Special Vintage Champagne 2002 – £18.98
A pale golden wine with a light, gentle bubble and great depth of character from the fine 2002 vintage. Lovely citrus and honey on the palate and a good foam with pleasant yeasty notes.
Created for Asda by Chanoine Frères, based in Reims, it’s a 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, although annoyingly it doesn’t tell you this on the label.
Huge bangs for your festive bucks and a steal under £20. Our clear favourite.
3 Tesco Finest Vintage Champagne 2004 – £24.99
Produced by Union Champagne, we looked for finesse and elegance but were disappointed by a thin (“It’s like pop”) taste.
It’s a 100% chardonnay which may explain the sharpness and high acidity.
Five years’ maturation in the bottle had not added depth or complexity. We didn’t bother polishing it off.
4 Waitrose Brut Special Reserve 2002 Vintage Champagne – £22.99 from Dec 8 to Jan 4 (originally £27.99)
Like the Co-op’s own label vintage Champagne, this is also made by Heidsieck (it’s the same year too), but carries far more elegance.
An energetic 100% chardonnay fizzer, it kicks off subtle biscuity and lemon notes. A classic blanc de blancs exuding fruit rather than overworked acidity. Classy.
5 Aldi Carlin Premier Cru Champagne – £14.99
With a burnished gold colour and a light, delicate mousse, this is unbeatable for a Christmas party quaffer.
Aldi has sourced a stunner from Chigny-le-Rose in the Montagne de Reims which out-performs some major brands of twice the price. Produced from 75% pinot noir/pinot meunier and 25% chardonnay, this well balanced wine was the cheapest we tried and one of our favourites
6 Marks & Spencer St Gall, Premier Cru – £26
A light, pale gold Champagne carrying a toasty complexity on the palate, this is classic Christmas fizz territory, although far from overwhelming. The finish is short with a crisp mousse and good acidity. Good enough for the smoked salmon.
7 Morrisons Best Champagne £19.49
Light, lemony and luscious, this non-vintage fizz may lack the complexity of some of those tried but it more than compensates with finesse and all round drinkability. A blend of two-thirds pinot noir and a third chardonnay, it’s produced by Boizel.