With Christmas fast approaching, here are a few thoughts on some sparkling wines for the festive season. Hopefully these wines will give you interesting new options to consider, but if you are contemplating buying Champagne this year, it's worth casting your net further than the three or four brand leaders that dominate New Zealand sales. There are so many other wonderful Champagne choices out there; many of which undoubtedly offer better value. Chance your arm. You are very likely to find a new favourite.
Available from $27.99
This is excellent buying. Vinted by Alpha Domus using the Methode Traditionelle process (the same labour intensive method used in Champagne production where the wine undergoes a second fermentation inside the bottle), this is crisp and dry sparkling vinted from 100% chardonnay. Malolactic fermentation to the base wine has brought some creamy notes into play but zero dosage (meaning no sugar was added to kick off the second fermentation) has maintained a tight, dry line throughout the palate that keeps the conversation very clean and focused. The flavours fall into the crisp granny smith apple and zesty citrus spectrum and the finish is very long with good fruit / acid balance. That lingering fresh acidity also makes this 2019 vintage release an excellent aperitif sparkling; a perfect first wine before moving onto other fuller bodied offerings.
Available from $28.99
This is richly weighted, generous Methode Traditionelle vinted from the classic Champagne blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. (People are often confused when they see pinot noir in sparkling releases, but this is white bubbles. The pinot skins are removed before they impart colour to the base wine). Extended lees contact has brought some yeasty / brioche notes to the bouquet and those bready notes flow through to the palate where citrus, stone fruits and very subtle red berry notes begin to shine. This is bolder Methode than the Cumulus detailed above and a more complex style. It’s a great option for those who like fuller, more flavoursome bubbles and an excellent match with salads, seafoods or lighter white meat dishes.
Available from $34.99
Huia Blanc de Blanc has long been a personal favourite. Vinted from 100% estate grown chardonnay, this is another fulsome sparkling with notes of sweet citrus and baked bread on the nose. The palate is near perfectly pitched with layers of creamy nectarine and peach, interlaced with some nutty, tea biscuit characters. The finish is long and softly acidic and that closing freshness beautifully offsets those creamy palate characters. Of the three New Zealand Methodes discussed today, this is perhaps the most ‘Champagne-like.’ As with the SQM above, it’s a match made in heaven with shellfish and seafoods but has the power to complement soft white cheeses as well.
Available from $69.99
Established in 1812, Laurent Perrier is known throughout the world and remains one of the great family owned Champagne houses. After languishing for some decades, the cellar masters reinvented the house style for their La Cuvee blend and there can be no doubt that recent disgorgements have reengaged buyers and attracted significant critical acclaim. Classic lemon / brioche / lees notes dominate the nose, before a palate laden with zingy citrus takes over proceedings. La Cuvee is always chardonnay dominant (the current release is 55% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir, 10% pinot meunier) and it’s that fresh, intense citrus drive that sets this wine apart. It’s the definition of understated power and the finish is both wonderfully long and completely refreshing. At a recent staff gathering we chose to celebrate with Laurent Perrier La Cuvee and it was a resounding success with our team. If you like your Champagne vibrant and stylish, this would be a very good place to start.
Available from $44.99
H. Lanvin is a sub brand of Lombard & Cie, a family owned house that has been making Champagne since 1925. It seems to have found a natural home in Australasia, and H. Lanvin & Fils has long been considered one of the markets best Champagne buys both here in New Zealand and across the Tasman. Lanvin has also enjoyed significant critical acclaim over the years - a fact that is especially remarkable given the price that this Champagne operates at. The current disgorgement (a blend of 40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay) is looking especially sharp. It is full-bodied by Champagne standards and while clearly dry, it has the softest acidity of the three Champagnes discussed in this column; a fact that may make it the most pleasurable to some buyers. It’s certainly the silkiest Champagne in this list, with real texture in the mouth and a rounded plushness that the others don’t exhibit. It’s quite the bargain and H. Lanvin & Fils is definitely Champagne for those who love plenty of flavour in the glass.
Available from $46.99
Founded in Reims in 1811, Champagne Charles de Cazanove is one of the oldest Champagne houses and remains 100% family owned by 4th generation winemakers. Though little known in New Zealand, Charles de Cazanove is one of the top 5 selling Champagne brands sold in France and has carved out an enviable reputation in fine dining restaurants and quality cafes throughout Europe. Like Champagne H. Lanvin & Fils, it is tremendous value. It’s not as full on the palate as Lanvin but still boasts plenty of gentle power – from the lemon tinged freshly baked bread notes on the nose, through to a palate the brims with citrus, yeast and semi-ripe peach characters. The finish is fresh and long with good acid drive and the overall impression is very harmonious. It’s a perfect ‘one size fits all’ style that Champagne lovers will instantly feel at home with, and it is so easy to see why this cuvee enjoys such great success in France.