/ Food & Drink

Why I shouldn’t think twice about budget champagne

Call me a snob, but when I have the great and good round for a glass of Christmas bubbly, I think twice before uncorking supermarket fizz. Yet, our latest taste test found you don’t need to pay top prices for champagne.

My obsession with posh labels doesn’t make sense. In our latest festive fizz taste test, four experts (yes, that’s people who know more about Champagne than I ever will) blind tasted 11 bottles and picked supermarket champers as the best.

Morrisons’ Best Brut, the Co-operative’s Les Pionniers, Waitrose’s Brut and Lidl’s Comte de Brismard champagnes topped the table in that order, ahead of big-name brands Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. All are priced under £20.

But isn’t your Christmas party as much about style as it is about great taste? And how will I feel when I get those sideways glances that seem to say; ‘Are you really drinking something that started its life in Lidl?’

It shouldn’t be this way. Because that’s exactly what Which? is all about – great value and great taste, not what’s on the label. And it’s exactly why we make our experts taste blind too – their brand preconceptions are left out of it.

So will you be brave enough to bring out the budget champers this Christmas? Maybe you’ll gift-wrap a bottle of Morrisons for a special occasion? Or will you be doing some private pouring behind the poinsettia too?

Sophie Gilbert says:
16 November 2011

I’ve had the budget champagnes from supermarkets two or three times and that’s more than enough. They were rough as heck or had a bad after taste or were flat. Maybe I was unlucky, but whereas I’m never going to fork out silly money for M&C or Clicquot (suckers who paid top price for things just because of the labels deserve to be ripped off), I do think that up to a point with champagne you do get what you pay for.

Melanie says:
17 November 2011

I agree. I can never undrestand why Which? hardly ever tests wine from Majestic – let’s face it, that’s where the vast majority of people who read Which? will buy their wine! I find it amusing to imagine Which? readers venturing to Asda or Morrisons. Comparing any of these supermarket champagnes – euch – to Majestic’s Heidesieck 2004 is like comparing disinfectant to Puligny-Montrachet.

… but isn’t that the point of a blind taste test, to isolate the taster from any label snobbery?

We’ve seen before with blind tasting the big name champagnes being given very bad reviews. You should really acknowledge the scientific results before dismissing them out of hand. If the supermarket champagnes really were ‘disinfectant’ then they would have come out of this badly, but they came out top, as they did last year.

Perhaps you shouldn’t be dismissive of such good news: that cheap champagne can be a bargain!

You madam, are ignorant of supermarket wines. May I suggest you get your chauffer to drop you off at the nearest Waitrose and sample what they have to offer.
If you don’t believe me ask Oz Clarke et al!

Graham Cox says:
18 November 2011

There is a hole in the market and that is for sec. Most people, especially women, prefer sec but the industry bulldozes out brut and supermarkets normally have neither sec nor demi-sec.

Over the last couple of years I’ve grown to appreciate Prosecco and now prefer it to champagne and Cava. I find champagne can leave a funny sensation in the back of your throat – the worst one for this is Moet & Chandon, which I avoid at all costs now – I’d rather drink a very cheap cava and have no idea why it’s so respected, it tastes horrible to me!

I buy our fizz from a cooperative in Spain each year when we pay our annual winter visit to the Costa Blanca. They have 3 varieties, We and a dozen friends had a serious blind tasting of all 3 in anticipatiion of taking it back for our son’s wedding. None were disliked, opinions varied between the cheaper two but all agreed the one at 25cents more was best! (ie €3.25)

Richard English says:
18 November 2011

I rarely if ever buy Champagne – but I do buy sparkling wine by the case. And the sparkling wine I buy is that made by the very country that invented sparkling wine – which is England.

Of course, with our typical denigration of the products of our wonderful country, we English would sooner buy some foreign sparkling wine – rare indeed is it to see English wines on any restaurant’s wine list or any supermarket’s shelves.

But the prize-winning wines from the likes of Ridgeview, Nyetimber and Bolney knock the spots of most Champagnes and my cellar has cases of white, rose and – most interesting of all – red sparklers, all mainly from Bolney as it’s my nearest vineyard. Oh, and just to forestall a common objection – English sparkling wines cost no more than the Champagnes you have just tested.

I’m surprised so many supermarkets are able to get their own exclusive champagnes, as they can only come from the Champagne region. They must work very hard to create partnerships with vineyards.

As for me, not the greatest fan of very fizzy drinks, so most champagnes are a bit too tingly on the tongue for my liking.

As far as supermarket champagnes, if they’re all made by vineyards in the Champagne region, there’s a good chance that some of the more expensive ones started their life in the same field…

Vicky says:
18 November 2011

If you want decent champagne, jump in a car and head to Epernay! It’s generally only a £60 eurotunnel ticket, and ok the fuel may be £100, but you can get to try such a huge variety of small cellars, that do not export to the UK. For example,andre bergere Rose and Premier Cru is the best champagne I have tasted (and believe me I have tried them all..) and it is a mere euro 15 per bottle. So if you are looking to buy a few cases, it does work out far cheaper than buying champ even from the supermarkets. Plus Epernay has an amazing Saturday food market. As compared to Co-op or Morrissons!

little acorn says:
18 November 2011

I think that there are some good and reasonable champagnes to be found especially if you can travel to Epernay and taste the product of several of the small champagne houses-one I would recommend is Henri Blin, and for a special occasion, their vintaage champagne is excellent. But if you want an excellent drink to have with mince pies that IS under £20.00, then a Cremant de Bourgogne, a white burgundy fizz made by the methode champenoise is superb. You can have a choice of Blanc de Blancs or Blancs de Noir, depending on which grapes are used. Give it a go–you’ll enjoy it.

Robertino says:
19 November 2011

You may drink what you like. I’m sticking to Veuve Cliquot.

little acorn says:
19 November 2011

Good for you, Robertino….you stick to your Veuve Cliquot–obviously a very wealthy person! Maybe you’d like to invite me around when your next crack open a case!!!
However, I still will buy my excellent and reasonable champagne on a day trip to France, direct from the Champagne region,and have an excellent lunch into the bargain!!

Richard English says:
19 November 2011

Veuve Cliquot, like Dom Perignon, are good producers of sparkling wine. But, as I wrote earlier, their productions are now regularly beaten by English sparkling wines.

I don’t wish to denigrate France – a wonderful wine-producing country – but I do wish to make it clear that the grass (or the grape) is not necessarily better on the other side of the Channel.

If there is one thing that I envy the French for, it is their chauvinism (well, they did invent the word, I suppose). When did you last hear of a Frenchman denigrating his country’s products? It’s well past time that we English started to be more chauvinistic about English products – especially our wine and beer – which are many cases beat the best of what the rest of the world can offer.

Could I ask those who have been so complimentary about French Champagnes to tell us – have you taken the trouble to try any English sparkling wines?

little acorn says:
19 November 2011

To Richard English (Is that really your name–in which case your interest smacks of nepotism methinks!!)
Yes we have visited several english vineyards and tasted maybe one sparkling wine that was pretty good. However as you well know, British Government taxes and VAT push the prices way over some very good french champagnes, So, I’m sorry, but my vote is STILL for french champagne from small independent vinyards in the Champagne region.

Richard English says:
21 November 2011

It is really my name. I do not use noms de computer. And there is nothing nepotistic about my comments.

And I agree that the unfair tax regime and lack of Government support for British producers means that the prices they can charge are not as competitive as they could be. But what is this “way over” that you are speaking of? English sparkling wines are sold for less than £20 a bottle in many cases – French quality Champagnes usually cost far more than this.

And, when in spite of their fiscal (and solar) disadvantages, English vineyards manage to produce stunningly good wines and sell them for no more than the Franch manage to sell their better Champagnes then I believe that this entreprise should be rewarded. But, as I have already mentioned, the reply here is all too typical of the English propensity to denigrate everything British – simply because it is British.

We are lucky enough to live in one of the finest countries in the world; we should support it – not run it down at every possible opportunity.

Rose Edwards says:
20 November 2011

I too drink Prosecco and prefer the one sold by Aldi at £5.99 a bottle. Have been drinking it for past three years. I do not like the after taste of the more expensive champagnes.

little acorn says:
21 November 2011

Mr. English–I totally object to your comment about the ‘English propensity to denigrate everything British’. I’m sure that you and I cannot speak for all English people, although with your name, I suspect you feel you have a little more right that most!!!!! As I am Scottish I can confirm that I support all things British (including wine of all colours, fizziness and flavours!) but equally support most things French as I am a confirmed Francoplile, and make no apologies for same.

Richard English says:
22 November 2011

I said “English” because it is more an English propensity than it is a Scottish one. The Scots are far more chauvinistic than the English.

I don’t want to drag this thread too far off-topic, but you need only cast a cursory glance at the comments that the English make about public transport, the media or the NHS – to mention just three common targets. You will frequently see comments about how wonderful is, say, the US rail network when compared with ours – usually made by people who know little more about our rail network than the foibles of their onw commuter route – and who know even less about the (generally awful) US rail network (oh, and I have travelled many miles on US railways).

And you just wait – there will be people on this thread who will spring to the defence of their favourite country’s transport system – and denigrate ours.

A bit more chauvinism would not come amiss – you don’t hear the French running down their country as we run down ours.

There are so many other factors outside the champagne itself – how it’s been stored and where – and more importantly what you as the drinker are like – clean-mouthed, and what if anything you’re eating with it.
For any sparkling wine it’s also important to have good glasses (for the wine, not your eyes!) – that are clean and bright as well.
Best of all, find a warm balcony, facing the sea or the mountains, good company, and a carefully chilled bottle of any champagne – it’s unlikely you’ll go too wrong…………

It’s interesting that there is someone who has given my comments about English sparkling wines the “thumbs down”. I rather dislike this system since anyone can, quite anonymously, disagree with a thread without the creator of that thread having the ability to defend his or her stance.

Even if the denigrator has never even been to an English vineyard – let alone tried English wine – that stark thumbs down remains to create doubt in someone’s mind.

I feel that this facility, to avoid abuse, should require that the denigrator publish his or her address so that the denigrated have an opportunity to comment.

little acorn says:
23 November 2011

I foresee a whole new thread about the use in the English language of the word ‘denigrate’ ! If one can be a ‘denigrator’ is it possible too, to be a ‘denigratee’, I wonder? Obviously one can be denigrated or indeed do the denigrating oneself! Strangely, I managed to fail english language at ‘O’ level not once, but twice–never did understand why! I ended up with an honours degree though!!
Back to thumbs–up or down, it’s a quick indication of a person’s feelings, and should remain anonymous, or people will simply not give any indication of their vote, one way or another. It causes no harm to know that your view is not the same as others–in fact it’s healthy to see different ideas, and to see that people have their own ideas about what they like or dislike, when it comes to ‘Fizz’!

Hello Richard and little acorn, your comments are getting a little off-topic from that of champagne and whether we need to spend more to get the best. Please read our commenting guidelines if you’re unsure, and try and keep your comments on topic from now on.

On the agree/disagree buttons, we feel they give everyone the opportunity to give their brief judgement on comments and Conversations without the pressure to make their own comment. I know it can be frustrating not to see them defend their opinion, but forcing them to would greatly reduce the amount of thumbs votes we would get. If you’d like to talk further about website issues that don’t fit within the topic of individual posts, please use our contact us form.

Is there some way to see the full article on the website and which bottles ranked where? All I can find is the news story with the highlights. The waitrose cava is already out of stock and it would be nice to be able to see the full list to know what was the second best. With some reviews like the olive oil you can see a pdf of the original article but with the champagne I can’t seem to find it? Thanks.