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On the bottle with Helen Savage: Great value champagne and wines from the shadows of the Pyrenees

Our resident wine expert turns her tastebud attention to the Drappier champagne house and the land of D'Artagnan

Vineyards in the Aube
Vineyards in the Aube

What’s your favourite wine? It’s a hard question. The wines that stand out for me aren’t always the priciest or most prestigious, but those that remind me of happy occasions and the friends I shared them with.

I might be forgiven for having an especially soft spot for Drappier Champagne because I spent a specially happy morning picking grapes there, and I’ve always found the Drappier family warm, welcoming and immensely kind in giving me time to ask lots of questions.

But their wines really do taste pretty amazing. If the chips are down and I was forced to choose my favourite Champagne house it would have to be Drappier.

Based in the Aube, the southern and prettiest part of Champagne, on the edge of northern Burgundy, they have some wonderful sites, once tended by the Cistercian monks of nearby Clairvaux Abbey. They also buy in grapes from some of the best sites further north.

It’s a rich, satisfying style of Champagne, dominated by the sturdy fruit of Pinot Noir grapes. President Charles de Gaulle loved it and kept coming back for more.

Michel Drappier is content that his house remains relatively small; any larger and it might be difficult to maintain its formidably high standards, which includes aging a small proportion of some wines in oak barrels before blending and not stinting with the time the wine is left in the bottle before its final disgorgement and sale.

Michel Drappier picking Pinot Noir grapes for his champagne
Michel Drappier picking Pinot Noir grapes for his champagne

The other joy of Drappier Champagne is that it is reasonably priced. This joy has been generously magnified by Majestic, who instead of asking the normal £30 a bottle will let you take it away for just £19.99 if you buy two. There is no greater bargain in the world of fizz.

I’m also very drawn to the wines of Gascony, where I’ve spent many happy hours wandering through the vineyards and, better still, taking other people down there to discover the region for the first time.

The land of D’Artagnan, ducks and hearty red Madiran, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, it’s also the home of some seriously refreshing white wines too. Tesco have teamed up with my good friends in the Plaimont Group of co-operatives to produce their dry white, ‘Finest’ Saint Mont 2102 (£6.99).

If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, try this as a cheaper, but no less appealing alternative. It too has a heady scent, but of freshly cut grass, asparagus, green peas and lime, and the kind of mouth-watering acidity that makes it a fine partner for seafood.

The red wines of this lovely region have proved a trickier sell over here. Big-boned, dry and uncompromising, they aren’t the kind of wines that show their best drunk just on its own, but partner them with hearty food and they come alive. Tesco stock a very good introduction to Madriran, the Reserve des Tuguets.

The 2012 is listed at £11.99, but earlier vintages have often been discounted. Deep-coloured, perfumed and with dry tannins, it has bags of liqourice and elderberry fruit.

Château du Bascou, Saint Mont 2011 (£10.50 from the Wine Society) is even more impressive. With a similar blend of grapes to its neighbour Madiran based around the grippy, powerful Tannat, this wine is packed with elderberry and chocolate-scented fruit; but whilst it has plenty of muscle, its strong tannins are wonderfully smooth and silky too.

If the weather this month allows, try it with a hearty barbecued steak, but if you can remember, decant the wine into a jug a few hours before you serve it. A bit of air pays dividends.

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