The 2023 holiday season gave me the opportunity to try a few affordable Champagne and sparkling wines from three different continents:
Les Pionniers Non Vintage Champagne
Les Pionniers Non Vintage Champagne is a great example of how quality and affordability can come together. Despite the Co-op’s discretion about its origins, it’s an open secret that this champagne is produced by Piper-Heidsieck, a fact underscored by its Silver Award at the International Wine Challenge and a high score of 92 from Decanter, acknowledging Régis Camus of Piper-Heidsieck for its creation.
The champagne opens with a toasty, buttery nose, setting the stage for a complex palate. It features a harmonious blend of brioche, apple and citrus flavours, all balanced by a refreshing acidity. This combination situates Les Pionniers in a unique spot, bridging the gap between lesser supermarket champagnes and renowned labels like NV Bollinger or Lanson. Les Pionniers punches well above its price point of £21.75, from the Co-op, offering a sophisticated champagne experience that belies its modest cost.
Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV
This sparkling wine from the Western Cape of South Africa is an example of Cap Classique-method wine, a process similar to Méthode Champenoise. This particular blend, composed of 66% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay uses whole bunch pressing of the varietals, which are fermented separately with an enzymatic reaction used to achieve the distinct Rosé colour. The wine varieties are then blended and bottled for the second fermentation.
The wine has an attractive silver-pink hue and small, effervescent mousse bubbles. The aromas are of red berries, cherries and strawberries, leading to a taste profile that mirrors these scents. On the palate, it has robust acidity. While it eschews the traditional full-on toasty, lees flavour of Champagne, it instead unfolds into an array of more fruity-forward notes. I found a notable feature of this Brut Rosé is its versatility with temperature. Allowing time for it to warm significantly unveils deeper flavours and aromas, enhancing rather than hindering the experience as can be case with some sparkling wines.
Great as an aperitif, it has a distinctive character and approachable price point, starting from £14.99 at retailers such as Majestic, Waitrose, North South Wines and Simply Wines Direct.
Woolundry Road Cuvée Brut NV
The Woolundry Road Cuvée Brut NV, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from South Australia, is a creation of the well-known Australian winemaker Steve Grimley and the Fuse Winemaking team. This sparkling wine has gained recognition, notably securing a Silver award at the London Wine Awards. Its standing is further established with a respectable 3.8 rating on Vivino.
Upon tasting, the wine has a dry character with a pleasing acidity. The nose is of pear, and the palate is greeted with nuanced notes of apricot, complemented by a subtle mineral undertone. A distinctive feature of this cuvée is its mousse, which feels more pronounced on the tongue than it appears in the glass. However, the glass effervescence is relatively short-lived, leading to a consequent diminution in flavour not long after pouring.
This wine best enjoyed promptly after opening because its vibrant qualities and the interplay of fruit and acidity are most evident when consumed fresh. Priced at £13.99 Virgin Wines.