There’s nothing quite like the sound of corks popping to get you in the mood to celebrate with friends or family.
In the UK, we seem to have an insatiable thirst for the fizzy stuff and still top the tables for the export markets of champagne.
Appreciated throughout the year, the festive season always sees a peak for sparkling wine sales, since they just seem to fit the bill for so many different events at this time of year.
Champagne, of course, is still king, for many different reasons. Not only is the quality high and the flavours and character interesting, but there is an undeniable pedigree that is second to none. Sharing a special bottle with your partner in a ‘tête-à-tête, serving a well-chilled glass on Christmas morning, flowing endlessly at a drinks party or given as a thoughtful (and highly appreciated) present, there is no end to the occasions for a bottle of world’s greatest fizz.
Sometimes, however, there is call for an alternative sparkler, possibly for budgetary reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t all have the same policy as Madame Bollinger and drink champagne for every occasion. This is where the ‘traditional method’ sparkling wines come into their own – wines made in exactly the same way as champagne itself. Forget Prosecco, I’m talking the great range of Crémant wines from different regions of France – all of which are good – Cava from Spain and certainly not forgetting our own home-grown English sparklers.
Stick to the principles of Champagne, Crémant, Cava or English and few will be disappointed. So here is a selection of ten wines destined to make your festive season go with a ‘pop’!
Taittinger is one of the last great champagne houses to remain independent and the whole range exudes quality, finesse and elegance. Most are available in superbly designed gift boxes, making great presents – even if it’s for yourself. Taittinger Brut Reserve NV is blended from 35 different crus, and is delicate, subtle and distinguished (Waitrose, Tesco and many others, from £27 upwards). Taittinger Vintage 2012 has greater depth and complexity with intense aromas and a long, vibrant finish (John Lewis and Majestic between £50 and £60). Or for something really special, track down Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru. Aged for over five years on the lees, it has exceptional depth and concentration while maintaining its fresh floral aromas.
Another of the top champagne houses is Veuve Clicquot with its unquestionable quality. Try the Rosé with lobster or smoked salmon. Great intensity and silkiness. (Amazing offer currently at Tesco £36). Then of course Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial never fails to impress. Vibrant, generous and alluring, from one of the great champagne houses. Slightly lesser known is Champagne Alfred Gratien from Epernay, which has been supplying the Wine Society’s house champagne for 100 years (£33 The Wine Society). Outstanding quality and a must for a mixed case from the Society.
Any English sparkling wine you choose will impress both you and your guests. Denbies Greenfields from the Surrey hills is competitively priced at £23.99 from Waitrose. Elegant and creamy, with notes of brioche, strawberry and vanilla.
A wonderful Cava with a stunning presentation is Vilarnau Brut Reserva, from near Barcelona. Ridiculous value for money with the current offer price of £9 from Ocado. Let the good times roll!
Last but by no means least are the Crémant sparklers from France. Ocado comes up trumps again with two wines from the old established Bordeaux house of Calvet, founded in 1818. Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut and the pink version Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé are both priced at £12.75 a bottle. Wines for great occasions.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
Difficult to pronounce, easy to drink. Click here to read last week’s wine column.