It’s that time of year again. Family arguments, unwanted gifts and it being somehow acceptable to have a glass of something sparkling and alcoholic at 11am in the morning. And at some point over the next few weeks we will all be sipping a glass of something fizzy. Even if you don’t like the stuff, you’ll most likely be holding a glass of sparkling wine when the clock strikes 12 on New Years Eve.
Champagne has always been the cliched weapon of choice for most, but with its price at the premium end of the scale for something decent some people may be looking to a cheaper alternative. Some people that I’ve spoken to will use the term ‘Champagne’ to cover all sparkling wines, but a sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the area of Champagne in France. Champagne makes only sparkling wines and it is made in a specific way that gives it the complexity and character that people love and has made it world famous. This method is know as the traditional method or methode champenoise. The wine is fermented into a highly acidic still wine first and the put through a second fermentation inside the bottle that absorbs carbon dioxide into the wine and creates those lovely bubbles we all love. It not only does this, but it also gives it the biscuity notes from sitting ‘on lees’ (leaving the dead yeast in the bottle) for a while to impart new flavours. There are plenty of good quality sparkling wines out there though, that are just as tasty, which won’t break the bank this holiday season and here are a few of my suggestions:
Cremant – A Cremant is a sparkling wine, normally made in the same way as Champagne and in France, but from outside the Champagne region. Champagne is made from a mix of three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and if you look for Cremants from Burgundy you’ll find great quality stuff made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for a much lower price. Other Cremants to check out are Cremant d’Alsace (Pinot Blanc and Riesling), Cremant d’Loire (Chenin Blanc) and Cremant du Jura (Chardonnay).
Prosecco – Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, it is made from the Glera grape. You can get this as spumante (fully sparkling) or frizzante (lightly sparkling). Prosecco is made in a slightly different way to France’s wines. The secondary fermentation will normally take place in steel tanks, which will leave the grapes to express their own fruity characteristics when being drunk. Some higher end Proseccos may be made using the traditional method, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Cava – Spain’s sparkling wine made from the traditional method has taken a bit of a battering in terms of reputation in the past while. It is still great value for money. The most popular brands being Codorniu and Freixenet, this sparkling wine is made from Macabeu, Parellada (par-e-ye-da) and Xarello(ha-re-yo), all grapes indigenous to Spain. The use of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is also allowed and some wine makers use these classic Champagne grapes to give their Cava a slightly different dimension. There are also some lovely Cava roses to be had as well which will normally incorporate Monastrell and Garnacha (Grenache) into the mix to give it the pink tint.
Sparkling Shiraz – Yes, that’s right, a sparkling red. If you haven’t tried it yet you are missing out. Big time. While I was travelling around Oz I was introduced to this taste of heaven. Imagine all the complexity and red berry fruit of a red wine with the freshness of a sparkling one. It is amazing. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a fan. The closest thing I can liken it to is a red berry sorbet, so think raspberry, cranberry and blackberry, while still cleansing your palate at the same time. This is usually made in the traditional method as well and you’ll find it almost exclusively comes from Australia. If you see a bottle, buy it! You won’t be disappointed!
There are many more sparkling wines that could be added to the list, but that is a start for anyone looking to provide a few bubbles without breaking the bank. From France to Australia there is a rainbow of flavours to try. My advice would be to buy a bottle (or a few) of each because let’s be honest, even if you don’t drink them all over this festive period you can always use them to lighten the mood over January.