Whether you choose to entertain friends and family with an informal barbeque; cute miniature bowl dishes; or a gourmet meal, there’s one guest almost certain to be on your must-have list. Bubbles!
Champagne has long been the bubbly of choice. This heady, intoxicating liquor has traditionally been associated with Aristocracy and all things posh – but credit for the discovery of sparkling wine goes to the Benedictine Monks of Carcassone in France, who are said to have come across what came to be known then as the “devil’s wine”, back in 1531.
Fast forward to 2014 - and the award for being the world’s number one export market for Champagne goes to … the UK. As a nation we down almost 31 million bottles annually – and the Cheshire village of Alderley Edge has, in the past, been credited with being the country’s Champagne capital. Associated with celebration, success, and special occasions, the distinctive popping sound of the cork as it launches skywards, is guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips.
But the onset of the global Recession undoubtedly dampened – a little - our thirst for Champagne - and this popular drink has recently found some strong competition snapping at its heels. Partly due to price - but also as a result of other producers upping the ante - there has been a growing trend towards alternative sources of fizz, selected over Champagne by many for their often lighter, fruiter taste and aromas. Step forth the latest contender for the Champagne crown, British sparking wines.
English sparklies have been around supposedly for 350 years – but it’s only relatively recently that its found a place in our hearts. Every summer, our vineyard in the Lot Valley is a popular family and friends holiday stop. Our table never seats less than 20 guests at every meal on these sunny days - and I’m told it’s always a pickle for our guests to choose a little gift on arrival. So, in search of inspiration, this year my brother-in-law triumphed! With a twinkle in his eye he proudly presented us, his French relatives, with a bottle of Nyetimber, an English sparkling wine. Truly delicious, it surpassed the accolades we had read in press reviews. For once, it seems the English climate can truly be praised, offering the perfect growing conditions for the main grape varieties used in the production of Champagne: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
How do we tell our Proseccos, Cavas, Cremants and other Sparkling Wines from our Champagnes?
Cost, of course, can be a giveaway, although the better English Sparkling wines can be as expensive as some Champagnes. The differences overall tend to lie in the vineyard’s location and country of origin, the grape varieties selected and importantly the production methods used; Champagne, Cremants and many other sparkling wines create their bubbles in the bottle using “méthode traditionelle“ for fermentation, a process which can take many months thereby increasing the cost. Makers of Prosecco use a much speedier process, fermenting in pressurised steel vats instead. Luckily for the growing number of Prosecco fans, the cut in production time means cheaper bubbles.
What makes Champagne so special?
Champagne, the matriarch of all bubbles and the most famous and coveted of them all, originates in Northeastern France where strict appellation guidelines ensure a consistently high standard. A sparkling wines from anywhere else is not allowed to call itself Champagne, giving it an air of exclusivity that others can only aspire to.
But if you’re looking for a similar drink at a more competitive price, shop around for sparkling wines made in the same way, “méthode traditionelle” or “méthode champenoise” such as our Tour de Belfort sparkling.
Tips to selecting your perfect bubbles:
What’s your palate? Read the label to check for sweetness.
From Extra Brut to Doux the difference can be as much as 40g of sugar per litre, and remember Dry doesn’t mean zero sugar. If you prefer to keep sugar and sweetness to a minimum stay with Extra Brut or Brut. In order from driest to sweetest: Extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry, demi-sec and doux.
What vintage? Unlike other wines in France, with the exception of vintage bottles, Champagnes and other sparklies do not display the “, rich and complex and creamy, millésime” (harvest) year”. To ensure consistency of characteristics and taste, producers can blend from a variety of years.
How much to spend? The world’s your Oyster – but as with most things you get what you pay for. But remember you’re not always comparing like for like. An inexpensive Champagne may not be the best buy when you could buy a top quality Methode Traditionnelle for the same price.
How to Store? Great news for Champagne lovers, generally there’s no benefit in storage. Champagnes are designed to be drunk, not keptin your cellar, other than a few high end and vintage Champagnes where ageing will add layers of complexity. Otherwise, buy, drink and enjoy.
How to Serve: Only ever well chilled, between 40 and 50 degrees. Champagne straight from the fridge willenhance the flavour, making it more vibrant, the bubbles better and lower temperatures mean thewre’s less chance of sending the cork into orbit as you await that delicious popping sound.
How to Pair? Unlike wine you can usually throw the rule book away as bubbles seem to go with almost everything.
Have you tried our own “méthode traditionelle“ sparking wines?