With the festive season fast approaching the supermarkets will soon be offering large discounts on sparkling wine to encourage increased footfall in their stores. These offers are basically “loss leaders” in the hope we also spend a money on more profitable items at the same time.
So what are the main types of sparkling wine and how do they differ?
Let’s start with Prosecco-the Italian fizz from the Veneto region that has become incredibly popular over the last few years. Perceived in the UK has a cheap alternative to champagne in Italy the best bottles from the premium sites can cost upwards of £35.
Prosecco is made from the Glera grape where the grapes undergo a second fermentation in large stainless steel tanks. This makes Prosecco less labour intensive to produce than most sparkling wines which typically undergo a secondary fermentation in bottle to produce the fizz. As a rule of thumb and whatever your budget try and choose the Prosecco Superiore DOCG and remember those labelled Brut will be drier than those labelled Extra Dry and that Spumante wines will be fizzier than those labelled Frizzante.
The Co-op has a nice example for £7.49 -winning a bronze at the Decanter World Wine Awards.
One of the premium areas of production is called Conegliano-Valdobbiadene-(a bit of a mouthful I know but you will see it on the label). Tesco have an example for around £15-far more than most people would pay for Prosecco but at Christmas you may want to try a superior example and may challenge your preconceptions of what this Italian wine is capable of. May well be heavily discounted during the festive season.
Another premium sparkling wine in Italy comes from the Lombardy region and is known as Franciacorta– a small wine region where only fizz is produced. Produced in exactly the same way as Champagne from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc Lidl had a great example at around £8 last festive season (this was served at Paula’s 60th last year). I’m hoping Lidl will repeat the trick this year-I will let you know if they do as it isn’t often seen outside Italy.
Moving into Spain we have another sparkling wine regarded as an inferior alternative to Champagne-Cava.
With the seemingly unstoppable rise in popularity of Prosecco, Cava seems to have unfairly drifted off a lot of peoples wine buying radar.
Made in the Penedes region North of Barcelona it is made by the Methode Traditionnelle-the bubbles produced by a secondary fermentation in the bottle- this is essentially Spain’s equivalent of Champagne- with the best examples commanding prices to match.The wine is made from the indigenous varieties Macabeo, Parallada and Xarel-lo. Great as an apertif ,with nibbles or with fish perhaps it’s time we all revisited this Spanish classic.
Moving in to France it is not widely known that a lot of French sparkling wine has been made in areas that predate those of Champagne. These are known as Cremant (“creamy”) wines and are produced in all the main wine regions. I suspect these wines will see significant sales growth in the next few years as they offer the quality of good champagne at a fraction of the cost.
Generally regarded as one of the best value of these wines is Aldi’s Cremant du Jura from the south of France. Made from 100% Chardonnay it has won a host of awards over the last few years and at £7.99 represents great value for money.
Fellow German discounter Lidl has a similar great example from Burgundy. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir,Gamay and Aligote the Cremant de Bourgogne is a soft creamy brioche flavoured bargain at £7.99.
Finally moving on to Champagne there are likely to be a multitude of half price offers on the run up to Christmas. The wine is generally made from a blend of three grape varieties, one white -Chardonnay and two red-Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
There are three variations on this-“Blanc de Blancs” signifies that the wine has been made from 100% Chardonnay and “Blanc de Noirs” which means the wine has been produced using the two red varieties with no Chardonnay(you will see these words on the label).Finally there is Rose where typically a maximum of 10% Pinot Noir or Meunier red wine is added to provide strawberry and raspberry flavours.
There are two major styles of Champagne:-
Non-Vintage (you will see NV on the label). This is a blend of wines from numerous vintages to produce a consistent house style irrespective of the quality of the most recent harvest. These wines are aged for a minimum of 18 months prior to release. This produces a more fruity and less yeasty style of champagne.
Vintage (the year of harvest will be on the bottle). These wines are produced in years when the winemaker feels the harvest has been exceptional. These wines are aged for a minimum of 36 months before release. This ageing produces a more creamy and yeasty style of champagne.
The majority of Champagne in the supermarkets will be labelled Brut meaning “dry”.
The Co-op have two outstanding examples in their own label “Les Pionniers” champagne named after the Rochdale Pioneers who founded the Co-op. The wines are made by Piper Heidsieck-one of the top Champagne houses and both won Gold at the Champagne & Sparkling wine World Championships 2017.
Les Pionniers NV Brut £16.99
Les Pionniers 2008 Vintage Brut £25.99
I hope you find this overview helpful and will help you make a more informed choice in the coming weeks.