Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV

(£17 down from £25, Majestic)

Founded

in 1976, Nicolas Feuillatte is a vast co-operative, whose

state-of-the-art facility is so efficient that it not only makes its own

wines, but also bottles fizz on behalf of some Grande Marque houses

too. It’s the best-selling champagne in France – and fifth in the world –

offering skilfully made, elegantly packaged, excellent-value wines. The

Brut NV is a favourite of mine – fresh,
fruity and creamy, with hints of apples and pears, complete with a nice toasty finish.

Marc Chauvet Brut Tradition NV
(£19.50, Real Wine Company)
Mark

Hughes, proprietor of the one man band, Real Wine Company, has a great

eye for quality and a bargain. He has undoubtedly struck gold with

Champagne Marc Chauvet. Run by brother and sister, Nicolas and Clotilde

Chauvet, the Rilly la Montagne-based company produces excellent grower’s

champagnes. Its Brut Tradition is based on the 2006 vintage and is full

of zesty citrus and delicate honey flavours. This is an absolute steal

at less than £20. Moreover, it’s worth keeping it for a few more months,

so allowing its elusive, toasty biscuitiness to develop.

Serge Mathieu Tradition Blanc de
Noirs Brut NV
(£23, From Vineyards Direct)
A

crackingly good champagne from online merchant, From Vineyards Direct,

which makes a point of keeping its list concise. “No sense in stocking

dozens when you can have a couple of first-rate ones,” is the reasoning.

And this is definitely first-rate – a 100% pinot noir, aged for three

years with plenty of weighty fruit. It is creamy, toasty and honeyed

with an un-expected but welcome touch of citrus.

Thiénot Brut NV
(£24-£26, The Wine Library, Four Walls Wines, Weavers of Nottingham)
Founded

in 1985, Champagne Thiénot is the new kid on the champagne block and

something of a trade secret. I came across the Brut NV the other day at

the excellent, new Hawksmoor restaurant in London, and was immediately

smitten. A blend of 45% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir and 20% pinot

meunier, it is light, delicate and fresh with hints of apple and quince –

the perfect aperitif.

Eric Rodez Cuvée des Crayères NV
(£29, Ten Green Bottles)
It

is a leap of faith to spend as much as this on an unknown quantity, but

I would rather fork out nigh on £30 for one bottle of Eric Rodez than

two of Piper-Heidsieck any day of the week. I first tried it on a balmy

summer’s evening at the inaugural Hove Champagne Festival last year,

where I was struck by how it wiped the floor with some illustrious

competition. Here, Rodez has produced as stylish and elegant a non-

vintage fizz as you’re likely to find.

Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV (£35.50; Drinks Direct)
I’m

a sucker for sweet champagnes. They are remarkably versatile and so, so

drinkable. Several houses make them but this is my current favourite,

from “the Widow” herself, part of the giant LVMH stable (which includes

Moët, Mercier, Ruinart and Krug). This champagne makes an ideal

mid-morning sharpener, when a dry fizz would be too much of a shock to

the system. It is delicious with rich starters such as pâté de foie,

blue cheeses or puddings such as Eton Mess. And what’s more, it’s

perfect with wedding cake.

Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus NV
(£49-£50, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods)
Taittinger

was once a name to conjure with but lost its way in the Eighties and

Nineties thanks to various takeovers. Now returned to family control,

its wines are back up there where they belong and Prélude is certainly a

class act. A half-and-half blend of first-press chardonnay and pinot

noir grapes from Grand Cru vineyards alone, it is aged for five years on

the lees before release. Fresh, floral and complex, this is a wine of

real style and depth.

2002 Pol Roger Rosé
(£63-£76.50, Berry Bros, Harrods, Oddbins)
I’ll

make no bones about it and freely admit that despite the claims of many

other champagne houses, Pol Roger and Bollinger remain my firm equal

favourites. Try this vintage rosé and you’ll soon understand why. It’s

an inimitable Pol vintage blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay to

which has been added 15% red wine – a Coteaux Champenois from Cumières.

Quite simply, it’s the best rosé Pol has ever made, with roses on the

nose and buckets of wild strawberries on the palate. Pol Roger is all

about elegance and this champagne undoubtedly has it in abundance.

2002 Bollinger Grande Année
(£65, Harrods, Berry Bros)
Although

Bollinger, founded in 1829, is the most traditional of producers –

using oak barrels still and the last in Champagne to employ a full-time

cooper – it is far from being stuck in the past. It has enjoyed much

kudos of late, thanks to its lucrative position as the official

“champagne of choice” of James Bond”. La Grande Année is made only in

exceptional years and the recently released 2002 vintage is an utter

joy. Aged for nine years, it is full-bodied and rounded yet sublimely

fresh and poised. This is what champagne is all about.

1998 GH Mumm Cuvée
R Lalou
(£100, Champagnes Direct)
During

the Eighties, Mumm was a byword for underperformance, with its

non-vintage Cordon Rouge more often than not seen on Duty Free discount

shelves, or being sprayed around at Formula 1. But today, it’s

resolutely on the up, with chief winemaker, Didier Mariotti, firing on

all cylinders. Mariotti had a hand in the final stages of the 1998 Cuvée

R Lalou, and what a great wine it is. Not as celebrated, perhaps, as La

Grande Dame, Dom Pérignon or Roederer Cristal, it is more than their

equal with its rich, creamy, toasty fruit and tongue-teasingly long

finish. An absolute belter and, un-like most champagnes, great with

food.