An Alternative Fizz

If you’re looking for a bottle of sparkling wine but don’t want to pay Champagne prices, there are plenty of options.  Prosecco has had a fantastic rise in popularity over the past few years and so is probably the first name that springs to mind.  But its popularity has also been its downfall and, though generally very pleasant, easy drinking, I can’t recall the last bottle of Prosecco that made me say ‘Wow!’  Much the same fate befell Cava a few years earlier and I’ve tended to avoid that too, although I have read some more favourable reviews recently and it might be time to revisit some of the more individualistic examples.

One group of alternatives that seem to have been almost ignored, however, are the Crémants.  These are a range of wines, made in several different regions of France – Loire, Alsace and Burgundy being the most common – using the same method as Champagne (with a 2nd fermentation in the bottle), but usually with different, often local, grape varieties.  They are generally dry and the best have some ageing to give a hint of the ‘leesy’ character of Champagne but at a fraction of the price.

I opened a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace recently (Lidl, £8.99 – you may still find a bottle in your local branch but their website shows that this is sold out).  Although not over-complex – what do you expect for that money? – it was clean, fresh and pleasantly citrussy with lots of small, persistent bubbles.  Made from a typical Alsace blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Riesling, this is ideal for a summer picnic or celebration.  Make sure you chill it well in advance.

So, next time you’re in the market for a bottle of good, enjoyable fizz at a very fair price, think beyond Prosecco or Cava and reach for a Crémant – be it from Alsace, the Loire, or just about anywhere in France – apart from Champagne, of course.

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Lightening the Gloom

The last 18 months have been a difficult time with Covid affecting all of us in some way or another.  So, when my wife, Hilary, had a ‘big’ birthday recently, we decided it was important to find something to lighten the gloom and celebrate.  And, like so many before, we decided it had to be fizz.  Traditionally, that would have meant Champagne; today, the choice is so much wider. 

Sales of Prosecco are booming, with its lighter, fruitier and slightly sweeter taste appealing to many.  The quality of Spanish Cava, once thought of as only a cheap and cheerful alternative, is improving greatly, too (although I still think you need to choose carefully).  And then there’s New Zealand with its perfect cool climate for fizz, Australia, South Africa, California.  How many birthdays would we need to sample all of those?

And the choice doesn’t end there.  There are different methods of production – traditional (as used in Champagne), tank, transfer, ancestral and so on – with each giving its own style and character to the wine as does the grape variety (or varieties) used.

So, with all these to choose from, what did we open? 

A delightful dry rosé sparkler from the Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall.  Made with Pinot Noir, one of the Champagne grapes, this was light and elegant with lovely strawberry fruit, a mouth-filling mousse and a long herby finish.  Delicious!  It’s quite widely available but we bought it from the Wine Society for £28 – a bargain when compared to equivalent quality rosé Champagne.

Regular readers will know that we’re great fans of English sparkling wines (indeed, English and Welsh wines in general) and this bottle confirmed our view.  But don’t just take my word for it, look at the number of medals and top awards our local bottles are winning and you’ll see why it really is time to take our home product very seriously.