All the taste and prestige of Champagne at half the price
Valentine's Day is around the corner; a treat is in order, and that could mean a little luxury. But the "because I'm worth it" philosophy is a bit tired, especially if you can't afford that self-indulgence.
So will you opt for a Prosecco or cava rather than Champagne? The latter has a history of being associated with quality and celebration (the first documented mention is from 1718) and Jean Smullen, wine consultant at jeansmullen.com, says Champagne has had the most prestigious image -- and price to match.
In Ireland the price is hiked further due to taxes. The excise at €4.83 plus 23pc VAT is the highest in the EU. Then you've got duty at €3.93 per bottle.
So instead of forking out on the big names, what about a supermarket brand instead? Jean Smullen says the producers keep the best quality juice/wine for premium brands and then sell the fruit sourced from the lesser vineyards to stores.
She says that "in some cases the supermarket wines can be very good quality and well made, but not always".
Time to put cheaper Champagne to the test, then. Enter the Newbridge Wine Society, a group who have come together weekly in the name of wine for years.
Armed with five bottles of decently priced Champagne, I met with four from the group of 15: Paul O'Connor, from The Health Store in Newbridge; postman Shane Conlan; Declan Lillis, who is in the oil import business, and Juergen Franz, who has lived in Ireland for 22 years.
Lidl Comte de Brismand Brut Reserve Champagne 12pc vol, €17.99
The lads immediately smelled the yeasty, brioche character that comes from fermenting for a second time in a bottle, and agreed on an apple 'bite'.
They declared it not too sharp, as the acidic nature of Champagne that comes from the chalky soil can be too much.
Paul declared he would pay €35 for it!
Superquinn Louis d'Or Brut Champagne 12pc vol, €20 (was €39.99)
A special offer price and Juergen stated this was "very drinkable", while Shane noted the yeast flavour was more biscuity than bready and Paul thought it slightly more acidic than the Lidl drink. Elegance and fruitiness were words that came up.
SuperValu Pierre Darcys Brut Champagne 12pc vol, €19.99
Shane commented on the yeast hit from this one and honed in on apple while Juergen noted the citric fruit element.
Declan thought this one had a "touch of toast".
Tesco Finest Premier Cru Brut Champagne 12.5pc vol, €27.99
On first smell Paul got a "nose of rubber" but said this subsided after some minutes. As a Premier Cru (just one down from the best, a Grand Cru), our testers were expecting more. "It's pleasant," said Paul, "but not a winner." Declan thought it tasted more like wine than Champagne and Juergen simply said "thumbs down".
Aldi Veuve Monsigny Premier Cru Champagne 12.5pc, €22.99
Also a Premier Cru, Declan declared this to be nicer than the Tesco one. Juergen said he would happily pay the €22.99 for this. Paul noted the bright, fruity flavours and Declan thought the flavours had a good balanced structure. Shane added that it was light and all agreed this seemed closer to Prosecco in taste.
And the winner is ... ..
Both taste and price were taken into account and the group declared the winning Champ-agne to be Lidl's Comte de Brismand. Superquinn's Louis d'Or came a close second, with Shane saying that he would chose Lidl's Champagne for taste but Superquinn's for value.
In third place came Aldi's Veuve Monsigny and after that SuperValu's Pierre Darcys.
All were agreed on Tesco's Champagne as their least favourite.