Category Archives: Sparkling wines

For Wine Lovers

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ValentineMme Lily Bollinger, former head of the famous Champagne house, was once asked when she drank Champagne.  She replied: when she was happy, when she was sad, sometimes when she was alone, always when she had company and whenever she was hungry or not.  Apart from that, she claimed never to touch it – unless she was thirsty!

Now, although my wife and I enjoy our wine (not necessarily Champagne), we agreed long ago that, unlike Mme Bollinger, we wouldn’t open a bottle every day.  So, unless we’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary or we’re entertaining friends, we usually restrict ourselves to a bottle with our dinners at weekends.  But last Wednesday was different – as you’ll see from the picture above, it was Valentine’s Day, and not just that, it was our 40th Valentine’s Day together (I could suggest we met when we were very, very young but it wouldn’t be true!)  So, forget the fact it was a Wednesday, out came the glasses and a bottle of one of our favourite English fizzes: Camel Valley (Cornwall) Pinot Noir Rosé (Waitrose, £28.99).

I’m not sure if it was the effect of the wine, but we started chatting about why February 14th has become so closely linked with romance and why St Valentine?  We found a number of conflicting explanations in Wikipedia and other sources: I liked the one about the Ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was connected to fertility, being observed around this time of year.  My wife preferred the quote from Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote that St. Valentine’s Day was the day when every bird chooses his mate.  (Although she did point out that it was a woman’s right to choose her mate!)

Whoever is right, by the 19th century, Valentine’s Day and Valentines cards were well established and the practice, happily, is likely to continue for many years to come.  But, back to wine: our celebratory choice had a delightful deep salmon pink colour with an attractive nose of crushed strawberries and a delicate but mouth-filling mousse.   

As for food matches?  Almost anything, so long as it’s shared with a very good friend or partner!

Happy (belated) Valentines Day

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A Sparkling Evening

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“Can you run a tasting of sparkling wines for us?”  It’s not a request I get often – sparkling wines can be quite expensive and, perhaps, more for a celebration than for talking about.  But there’s plenty to say (for me, at least!) and a vast choice.  It’s not just Champagne and Prosecco, virtually every cool climate area of the wine world produces some fizz.

Why the emphasis on a cool climate?  Both the most common ways of making sparkling wine (the ‘traditional’ method – the one that used to be known as the Champagne method until the Champenois objected – and the ‘tank’ method) involve a second fermentation – adding more grape sugar and yeast to an already made still wine to produce the carbon dioxide that forms the bubbles.  But this process also raises the alcohol level in the wine by 1 – 1.5%.  If you try this with a wine that is already 13% or more, as is typical in warm climates, you lose the aromatics and the wine becomes heavy and unappetising.  Hence the importance of a cool climate and a lower alcohol level to start with.

What of the evening itself?  We sampled 6 wines ranging through France, Italy, Spain, England (of course!), South Africa and New Zealand and at prices from £10 to £25. 

And the reaction of the tasters?  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Champagne (Charles Lecouvey’s Brut Reserve) was the clear winner with everyone present scoring it in their top 2.  ChampagneAlthough not expensive for a Champagne (£23.99 from Waitrose), the blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir gave it a lightness and freshness that appealed to all. 

The same grape varieties were used (although with Pinot Noir dominating rather than Chardonnay) for the group’s 2nd favourite: Lindauer’s Special Reserve Brut Rosé from New Zealand (widely available from supermarkets and wine shops at between £11 and £14).  Lindauer FizzDelicate crushed strawberry flavours and aromas and a really attractive pink colour made this a delight.  Certainly one to consider if you’re looking for an easy-drinking fizz at an attractive price for the festive season.

Sparkling Wines for a Sparkling Time

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Sparkling wineIt’s that time of year again!  So, if you’re going to have some friends around over the holiday season, what better choice to welcome them than with a glass of something sparkling? 

‘It’s Christmas so it must be Champagne’ will be the view of many but, as regular readers to this Blog will know, English Sparkling wines are consistently beating the Champenois  at their own game and, for me, a bottle of something from Nyetimber, RidgeView or one of the many other accomplished English sparkling wine producers is a better choice – as well as a good talking point.  You’ll find them at many wine merchants and Waitrose supermarkets for £20 – £30 – the same sort of price you’d pay for a reasonable Champagne.

But, if your budget won’t stretch that far, there are many excellent value alternatives.  French wines made outside the Champagne region but using the same production method are called ‘Crémants’ and bottles from Alsace or the Loire can often be found in supermarkets and are frequently very good buys.

From Spain and Italy respectively, both Cava and Prosecco have become increasingly popular in recent years – and for good reason; but do avoid the ultra-cheapies: sparkling wine making is a complex process when done properly and bottles selling for around £6 or £7 are likely to be pretty basic and uninteresting.  Prefer something around £10 and, if you’re going for a Prosecco, look for the letters DOCG rather than just DOC on the label – the ‘G’ is important and will be on all the best examples.

But that’s just Europe.  If you normally prefer still wines from the New World, why not sparkling wine from there, too?  New Zealand has an ideal climate and Pelorus (Majestic, £17.99) and Lindauer (same supplier, £10.99) are favourites of mine, while Champagne producer Moët and Chandon have set up in Argentina and clearly know what they’re doing – their Brut and Rosé are each £12.99 (Majestic, again).

So, there you are.  My quick guide to some sparkling wines for a sparkling holiday season.