Good libations: The finest festive fizz for Christmas

Rob Crossan

14 December 2021

Grab an ice bucket and your finest flutes: this season we’re celebrating in style

14 December 2021 | Rob Crossan

'T

is the season to be jolly. Though that rictus grin of festive cheer can be hard to sustain when you’ve been handed a glass of warm cava at a family bash in the suburbs and have just been threatened with the promise of ‘egg nog after the cold cuts but before the charades’.

The above might sound like the kind of early '80s Christmas that you’ll never have to suffer. But it’s worth remembering that, due to either family tradition or random circumstance, your Christmas drinks may well have been organised by someone of an age so venerable they still find beer can ‘widgets’ a suspicious new trend.

So be a good Christmas house guest (while also insuring yourself against subpar libations) and bring a few bottles with you wherever you’re spending Christmas. Keep them cold, pour them slowly and make sure the egg nog is discreetly displaced into the nearest pot plant. Here’s our guide to the best champagne and sparkling wine for Christmas.

Fiol Rosé Prosecco

‘Come on in, take a seat, help yourself to nibbles.’ It’s the time of the evening when you’re not quite ready to break out the most expensive vintages in the cupboard. This Treviso rosé, however, is a sociable, lively starter for ten to make the awkward small talk with Uncle Tony (‘still in the insurance game down in Swindon then?’) bearable. Made with 85% Glera grapes and rounded off with Pinot Noir, this is a rosé with a gym-toned taut swagger to it, redolent of pears, apples and the kind of warmth you will only experience at this time of year if you’re headed to the Caribbean come Boxing Day.

Fiol Rosé Prosecco, £22.95, fiol.it

Black Chalk Classic 2017

There’s that sweet spot of the festive gathering, quite early on in the evening, when you can still have halfway intelligent conversations and before people start bickering about climate change and somebody shouts for Alexa to play Fairytale of New York far too loudly. Before that carnage, break out a bottle of Jacob Leadley’s extremely self-assured English sparkling wine straight from the chalk lands of Hampshire.

The small production, locally-sourced combination of the Big Three fizz grapes (do you need me to tell you again that they are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier?) work their magic with a decidedly Anglo hue here. Rather than simply an emulation of champagne, there’s a defiantly English crispness to this wonderful wine, imbued with short, sharp, pleasant jolts of honey and vanilla.

Black Chalk Classic 2017, £35.99, grapebritannia.co.uk

Ferrari Trento F1 Limited Edition

What do you give the man who has everything except an F1 Ferrari and a decent bottle of champagne? This beautifully designed gift set fills some of those whacking great gaps on both fronts. It also tastes far too nice to be sprayed over advertising hoardings on a plinth in San Marino by a winning driver in a boiler suit.

These wines have been made in honour of the Monza, Silverstone, Suzuka and Sochi Grands Prix, and are rather nattily customised to each of the four races, with the race name down the side, and the track imposed on the label.

And if some clever clogs at your party asks when on earth Ferrari started making wine? You can tell them it was back in 1902 – though it’s been run by the Lunelli family in Trentino, Northern Italy since 1952. You’re welcome.

Ferrari Trento F1 limited edition, from £26 per bottle, corso101.com

Krug Grande Cuvée 169ème Édition

When the party gets too noisy or boring or aromatically unpleasant (there’s always someone spraying their freshly gifted aftershave about with far too much abandon) then retreat to the master bedroom, wedge a chair up against the door, turn the lights out and travel to a softer, kinder, generally more life-affirming place with the help of Krug.

This collaboration between the champagne house and Belgian musician Ozark Henry, which comes with a specially curated soundtrack, may scream ‘pointless novelty’ at first (after all, if you’re drinking a bottle of Krug, surely you’re already winning at life without any extras on top?). The music does, however, add a rather graceful felicity to the drinking experience – though the voice of composer and classical pianist Chloe Flower and British vocal ensemble VOCES8 can occasionally make you feel like you’re listening to the longest symphonic car advert of all time.

The depth and richness of the sound is astonishing though, thanks to the use of 8D audio technology which only requires standard headphones to enjoy. I fell asleep before I’d finished the bottle but, my word, if you do want to simply escape the hedonism and experience some champagne-fuelled mindfulness, this is a gratifyingly self-indulgent solo experience.

Krug Grande Cuvée 169ème Édition, £174, clos19.com

Paul Langier Champagne Brut NV

You know you’re leading a privileged life when you can refer to a champagne as ‘no nonsense’. But, to those of us who value good bubbles over home décor and car insurance then Paul Langier is, and this isn’t meant to sound pejorative, the PG Tips of the fizz world.

Utterly reliable, always pleasurable, when nuance and cutting edge isn’t required and you just want the biscuit and mousse hit of ‘proper’ champagne, then this is the best choice in the fridge bar none.

Stylish without being intimidating, the more relaxed approach to drinking this champagne is matched by the process in which it’s made; the wine is aged for 18 months on its lees – which is three months longer than many champagnes. The ideal champagne to give as a gift to a beloved long-standing friend who also enjoys the reassuring delights of a PG Wodehouse novel and a really chunky polo neck jumper.

Paul Langier Champagne Brut NV, £21, wickhamwine.co.uk

Francone Metodo Classico Valsellera Sparkling Nebbiolo Rosé Brut NV

In Italy the main festive meal is on the evening of the 24th and tradition dictates that it must always be a fish dish – often salmon or trout – while Christmas day is a non-stop, multi-hour binge of antipasti and charcuterie.

Which, frankly, all sounds preferable to brandy butter and Brussel sprouts. Either way, this sparkling rosé from Neive in Piedmont (just south of Turin) from winemaker Fabrizio Francone is a delightfully unusual bubbly made from the Nebbiolo grape, which is normally reserved for the legendary reds of Piedmont, like Barolo and Barbaresco.

Aged in the bottle on its lees for three years (an eternity by rosé standards), this slow process smooths out the powerful Nebbiolo tannins and makes for a ruby coloured end result, fresh and dry with some sonorous high notes of raspberry and vanilla.

Avert your gaze from the Celebrations tin, drink deep and promise yourself you’ll spend next Christmas in a country that values Prada over pigs in blankets.

Francone Metodo Classico Valsellera Sparkling Nebbiolo Rosé Brut NV, £27.45, independent.wine

Taittinger Nocturne Sec NV

We adore Taittinger in this column. A slightly trite statement you may think; akin to stating that you think da Vinci was a ‘bloody good little painter’. But there is just something incredibly noble and high-toned about the way the house conducts itself in the oft-hubristic world of champagne.

Not too much posturing, nor excessively discreet, the third oldest champagne house seems to have the knack, like Patti Smith or Bella Hadid, to always look effortlessly cool without seeming to try.

Of course, a bottle of Taittinger is the perfect gift for the person who most closely fits the above description in your life. The Nocturne taste is all white blossom and ripe fruit with an aftertaste longer than a giraffe’s neck. Welcome to the pleasure zone. Child-sized relatives on a sugar rush and boring uncles in stonewash denim are not invited to this experience.

Taittinger Nocturne Sec NV, £45, waitrosecellar.com

Ca’del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Edizione 43

What – another trip to Italy? Yes, you’re just going to have to bear with me, for I’ve decided that Lombardy might just be my dream destination for a future Christmas. This is the home of Ca’del Bosco, well, Franciacorta to be precise. Ah, how that name takes me to a place free from Boxing Day sales, Gavin and Stacey specials and John Lewis adverts! The undulating vineyards, the clang of a rural church bell, the aroma of ragout!

Anyway, this is a perky, raffish and winningly complex creation made with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco grapes blended with around 20 per cent reserves (per bottle) of the finest vintages in the Bosco cellars before 24 months of ageing.

It’s a dark straw colour in the glass and has a satisfying edge to the silky first taste; like finding a truffle underneath a cashmere jumper. Both those things are (subtle) hints as to what I want for Christmas by the way. Presents to the usual address.

Ca’del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Edizione 43, £35, hic-winemerchants.com

Jacques Bruére Cap Classique Blanc de Blanc 2011

The Covid lockdown was perhaps more brutal in South Africa than in any other nation on earth. Namely because, for a very lengthy time last year, it was illegal for anywhere to sell alcohol or tobacco.

How much Safas are making up for it now is hard to discern from my vantage point in South London, but this blanc de blanc certainly should motivate the chattering classes of Cape Town to blow the dust off their corkscrews.

Made in the same style as champagne, this is a dry and citrus heavy number with a subtle yeastiness floating around somewhere in the back fields. And yes, you did read the year right. The second fermentation lasts 93 months meaning that, for an incredibly low price, we can think back to the era of Nick Clegg and Katy Perry. Wasn’t so bad in retrospect was it?

Jacques Bruére Cap Classique Blanc de Blanc 2011, £16.96, pullthecork.co.uk

Read more: The best luxury Christmas hampers for 2021