The best supermarket own-label champagnes taste better than many of the well-known and expensive, according to experts.
A blind taste test of 30 bottles of supermarket bubbly revealed a top trio of "excellent" quality, said food critic Egon Ronay. Priced between £14 and £18 they are far cheaper than most big-name champagnes, he said.
The findings come as the supermarkets gain a growing slice of the UK’s total champagne market. They took 64 per cent of all money spent on champagne in UK stores in the year to October 7, 2006 compared with 59 per cent the previous year, latest figures from independent analysts AC Nielsen show.
Ronay described the range and quality of supermarket champagnes as "a revelation". "It would certainly be a mistake to buy the well-known brands just because of the name on the label when some of the supermarket champagnes stand up to them very well. Those which were in the first three are as good or better than some of the best," he said.
"Psychologically, because they are lower in price, people may think they are not as good – which would be a mistake."
He added: "Certainly the winning three and perhaps one or two others are better than some of the very well-known names.
"To me it was a revelation. I had never bought champagnes at supermarkets before because one is prejudiced."
A total of 30 different bottles were tested from samples provided by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, M&S, Aldi and Somerfield. Each chain was invited to submit all their own-label champagnes. Some of the champagnes were criticised for being too sweet or not complex enough.
But judges praised the top-ranking bottle of M&S Champagne de St Gall Premier Cru Brut for being a crisp, well-balanced and "complete" champagne of "real class".
The UK is the world’s largest importer of champagne ahead of the US and Germany, according to the Champagne Information Bureau. Our champagne consumption is second only to that of France.
The blind taste test, invigilated by the Press Association, was held at The Dorchester hotel on London’s Park Lane over three sessions last month. Ronay was joined by fellow judges Michael Edwards, author of the Champagne Companion, and Dante Campailla, solicitor and champagne connoisseur.
The judges were unaware of the champagne type, supermarket brand, producer or price at the time of testing.
AC Nielsen’s figures are taken from till data provided by thousands of UK stores. They show that UK shoppers spent £301.64 million on champagne in shops, supermarkets and off-licences over the past year. Of that amount, £192.73 million was spent in "grocery multiples" which includes Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, M&S, Waitrose, Somerfield, Aldi, Lidl and Netto.
Top three champagnes
Ronay’s blind taste test showed the top three champagnes as follows:
First: M&S Champagne de St Gall Premier Cru Brut, £14.99 to December 31. Non-promotion price £19.99.
Second: Sainsbury’s Vintage 1999 Blanc de Blancs Brut, £17.99.
Third: Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noirs Brut, £13.99.