Birmingham may not immediately spring to mind as the centre of the universe for Champagne. But think again. Up here in beautiful Brum, yes indeed, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we have a lot to celebrate – a state of the art library, a new New Street station, Michelin starred restaurants coming out of our ears, well, 5 anyway and the greatest number of any UK city outside of London – so Champagne corks have been popping in the Midlands.
It might surprise you to know that the company with the largest range and selection of Champagne outside London is to be found in Birmingham and, in fact, rivals anything you might find in the capital. Who knew Brummies were so into their bubbly? In fact, it seems that people travel from all corners of the country to buy from the city’s No.1 sparkling destination.
The Drinks Emporium, which opened only a year ago, is already well-known to collectors as it boasts such a wide and varied range of Préstiges Cuvées, special editions and hard-to -find large formats. It is situated such that it has to be a destination outlet, and is unlikely to get passing trade, so much of their business is through word of mouth. It is worth making the visit, 5 minutes from the city centre, for the Fine and Rare room alone. Ogle, covet and drool over rare bottles, old and back vintages of Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Dom Pérignon and Krug, beautifully displayed and perfectly kept. Forget a Red Room, this is the room any Champagne lover would long to have access to, a piece of heaven on earth. The Drinks Emporium’s Dom Pérignon selection is to die for and they are one of only two retailers in the UK to boast the accolade of Krug Ambassade.
The best-selling Champagnes are Laurent-Perrier Rosé and well-chosen Pol Roger Réserve; the Grandes Marques – Taittinger, Lanson, Bollinger and others – stand alongside a few grower and lesser-known names such as Pierre Gimonnet and AR Lenoble. Whilst the range is indeed heavily dominated by branded Champagnes, they do look out for small parcels of interesting and unusual Champagnes, too.
The staff is knowledgeable and there are regular Champagne tastings. The aim now is to host a Champagne tasting every two weeks – Brummies have never had it so good.
1st place The Drinks Emporium
Atmosphere – Modern, welcoming, tempting.
Range – If you can’t find what you want, you are way too fussy.
Prices – fair, ranging from around £30 to the sky’s the limit
Bonus Bubbles – Digby and Bolney from England and then a tidy choice of sparklers from around the world.
2nd place Selfridges
The department is well run by gorgeous and knowledgeable Sophia from Thailand who is cunningly employing some Chinese-speaking staff as her customer base warrants it. It’s perhaps not so surprising to note then that one of her best-selling wines is Moët & Chandon’s demi-sec, Ice. Selfridges does well with Veuve Clicquot too, its best-seller, and needs to replenish its stocks of the Scream Your Love gift package – a bottle of Yellow Label in a mega-phone. Clever idea. Quite fancy one myself. I’m less taken with the smaller bottle gift packages, of which Selfridges has plenty, but that possibly says rather too much about me.
Atmosphere – Funky, trendy, hip. And a bit bling
Range – 40-50 different brands; suitably recognisable classy names with a few quality smaller producers – Henri Giraud and Vve Fourny et Fils, for instance. Ace of Spades made an impressive display and apparently Jacques Selosses makes an appearance at Christmas.
Pricing – Pretty pricey but you are paying a bit for the shopping experience and then who doesn’t want a yellow bag? There is a different brand promotion featured each month offering 20% off.
Bonus Bubbles – A few English – Digby, Chapel Down – various Crémants, a quality Cape Classique or two and several famous bubbly names from other parts of the world.
3rd place Loki
With earnest and knowledgeable staff (the manager has just become an MW student) but with a serious ‘wine is fun’ side, Loki has a strong following from the Birmingham suits being as it is situated close to the corporate district; great positioning for them to drop in and grab a bottle on the way home. Or indeed, buy a bottle to drink on the premises for a nominal corkage charge and what was particularly good, and tempting, to see was that Charles Heidsieck NV is being offered by the glass for £9.99.
Atmosphere – Friendly, clear, understated.
Range – Small but perfectly formed with around 30 Champagnes. I might have selected this range myself – Billecart-Salmon, Gosset, Ruinart, Charles Heidsieck of various vintages, Palmer & Co and more.
Prices – Standard pricing, no bargains but not outrageous.
Bonus Bubbles – Loki has expanded its English range, possibly at the expense of the Champagne selection, and boasts around 15 different producers such as Nyetimber, Wiston, Ridegveiw.
Nickolls & Perks doesn’t make the podium for Birmingham’s best Champagne retailer as they are located 15 miles southwest of the city. But if we had spread our net a bit they would be straight in at number 2; great extensive selection, well-priced, no frills, no nonsense, lovely people to deal with.