Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV

(£17 down from £25, Majestic)

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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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