The best gifts are those you want yourself. As children, when my brothers and I were given something nice – a toy horse maybe or a cool lollipop – often my father would give half of our bounty to the less advantaged kids nearby. While I didn’t like it at the time – I wanted all the toys and candy – it’s made me see that giving things you want is a great lesson in letting go. A good ouch.
Letting go of Héloïse Lloris, a champagne designed to be a gift, would be an ouch.
It is certainly the blingiest you can purchase
As seen from The Royal Horticultural Halls’ upper balcony at this year’s Tyson Stelzer’s glorious Taste Champagne event, Héloïse Lloris’ hammered gold bottle cover shone like a golden fleece, beckoning and beguiling like an Odyssean siren. Their eye-piercing gleam comes from each bottle’s bespoke metal sleeve made in Sheffield by the same craftspeople who make supercar badges and Olympic medals. Finished in either 24k gold, 18k rose gold or Vibranium – I mean Palladium – they prevent light strike and help maintain temperature. Mainly though, each patented, handmade and unique cover can bear bespoke labels and names in the metal, making Héloïse Lloris possibly the most bespoke champagne in the world. It is certainly the blingiest you can purchase.
Of course, like that restaurant with a great view, you think the quality can’t possibly match the exterior. At a private tasting – their stand was very crowded at Taste Champagne – Hèloïse-Lloris is a very potable, surprisingly versatile champagne which would fit in with many menus with available vintages 2008 and 2004, and 1998 and 1996 disgorged on demand. Unlike Ace of Spades or Armand de Brignac, it doesn’t flinch from being both fabulously over-the-top and quite nice. It’s stocked at Tramp, Annabel’s (2004 vintage), Sunseeker Yachts and Sexy Fish London and Miami (custom-made extra dry blend). So, if you see a bottle winking at you from the fridge, know that that’s Héloïse Lloris, the Jessica Rabbit of Champagne and worth every sip.
Crémant has a permanent place in the pantheon of sparkling wines but I’d fallen out of love with it. Coaxed to taste Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux, I’ve been quite foolish. This gold in a glass has a lushness; serenely bubbly, fruity fresh yet soft. As I lean more towards organic, j’adore very much another mind-changer, the Arthur Metz organic Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very refined, it is appealingly fruity with a floral nose. Think stone fruit, apples, citrussy and a few toasted notes here, with a pleasantly lingering finish. I love this bottle and must say I’ve changed my opinion of crémant because of these two.
South African sparkling wine could use some love. As I’ve extolled previously, Cap Classique is a welcome addition at dinner parties and I regularly snoop Museum Wines’ selection of SA sparklers, especially their Black Elephant range. Exported in larger volume, Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2017 is citrussy, limes, apples, lemon zest on the snout and nicely balanced with a long finish – good for those appetisers you’re worried about. (I know I’m worried about mine.) One year older, Graham Beck Ultra Brut 2016 is very much the brand style, brioche and lemon, crisp, refined with a creamy finish of 100% Chardonnay and zero dosage. Kleine Zalze Cap Classique Brut NV – 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir – is strawberry and blackberry with a bit of biscuit and a really fine mousse with 7.3g/l. I hadn’t tried Journey’s End Cap Classique Brut Reserve from W.O Stellenbosch but it’s a wow. It’s 66% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 1% Pinot Meunier and deliciously citrussy, pear, almondy and biscuity with a lovely body, if you see it, buy it.
Like most sparkling aficionados, I stop in every store that sells wine just to check the bottles. But sometimes one hasn’t planned well. When that happens, don’t be afraid to grab Tesco’s Finest Premier Cru Champagne. It’s won IWSC Silver Medal 2022 and IWC Silver Medal 2022. It’s not embarrassing to buy, present or drink. Believe it or not, Tesco Low Alcohol Sparkling Wine, <0.5% abv, IWSC Bronze Medal 2022 and rammed with fresh citrus is perfect for those who want to cut back but not miss out. It’s the FOMO champer for your hamper and I can’t believe I wrote that.
In big names, Vranken-Pommery Monopole, the world’s second largest champagne group with areas in Champagne, Provence, Camargue, Douro and Hampshire – near The Grange, as it happens, as well as Raimes, has some colourful Tibetan mandala gift boxes for the season. Go for the Pommery Brut Royal with its classic trio of champagne grapes or opt for the Pommery Grand Cru Royal Vintage 2009 made from seven iconic grands crus to taste flowers and honey, fig and a touch toast and grapefruit – perfect for breakfast. Their English Sparkling Louis Pommery England won a Gold and Best Sparkling Wine 2022 in the International Wine & Spirit Competition in Hong Kong recently, so they’re doing something quite right.
Often hard to find but worth the search is Ayala. It was Ayala Blanc de Blancs in clear glass magnums that flowed at The Pem in Westminster for SquareMeal and Champagne Ayala’s Female Chef of the Year competition. This year won by Lisa Goodwin-Allen, following Angela Hartnett in 2018, Skye Gyngell in 2019 and Sally Abeì in 2021, the award is designed to highlight female chefs, especially as only 17% of all chefs are women according to research done in 2017 by the National Office of Statistics. Over at Bollinger, champagne also celebrated 60 years of the bloke known as James Bond. That called for 25 lovely large Bollinger jeroboams to be made and numbered, each jerry in its own rather nifty Dr No-style Globe-Trotter case. For that Bond feel, the Burlington Arcade Bollinger bar, located at the Cork Street/Burlington Gardens side, is tailor made – especially for that one (yes, one) glass of shopping champagne. The arcade’s theme is currently the roaring 1920s theme citing the release of Damian Chazelle’s Babylon, as per the cinema marquee highlighting both ends of the arcade. I snooped through the Gagosian shop, bought one pair of Sermoneta Gloves but only just made it past Manolo’s window. “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to buy.” C