Champagne is the luxury brand many reach for on special occasions and is certainly a candidate to see the New Year in. And if you’re on a last minute rush to get in the bubbly for New Year's Eve, then this column could prove vital.
These days there are many champagne bargains around so you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a drop of the world’s favourite celebratory wine.
All champagnes are produced to strict rules governing activities in the vineyard and in the winery and must be aged at least 15 months on the lees. This is the process by which champagne is sparkled by creating a small fermentation in the bottle but is then left on the dead yeast cells for a considerable period of time to increase body and complexity to the wine. For me there is no such thing as bad champagne, but the price will, to a degree, reflect the extra care taken during production and therefore extra flavour and quality.
Don’t shy away from supermarket ‘own brand’ champagnes either. Their champagne is often the ‘flagship’ wine in the range and they usually put more care into ensuring it is great quality and good value for money. Aldi, LIDL, Tesco and others have all received plaudits in blind tastings against some of the mainstream brands so don’t feel you’re dumbing down by buying them for your party. Watch out for Premier Cru and Grand Cru denoting champagnes from the better vineyards at very reasonable prices.
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By the way, I’m often asked how long you can keep champagne, the answer is until the next party, celebration or any other excuse!
It’s not just price that guides our choice of bubbly and I’m well aware that many people find champagne a little too sharp, sparking off the dreaded indigestion at the first sip. Hence the
meteoric rise in recent times of Prosecco. This Italian bright spark, made in a slightly different way from champagne, is always a little sweet (even if the bottle describes it as ‘Brut’ – Dry). The sweetness makes this a great party wine, marrying easily with spicy nibbles at the New Year party.
Our old friend Spanish Cava seems to have been pushed out of place by its Italian cousin but remains a popular budget alternative for British parties. Made in exactly the same way as champagne, but the style is fresher and livelier. Spend a couple of pounds more than the cheapest to get something enjoyable.
Look out for Crémant wines. These are French sparkling wines, made in the same way as champagne with different grapes but similar quality and an affordable price.
Crémant de Limoux or Crémant de Loire (the latter made from the tasty Chenin Blanc grape) are my favourites in this category.
If you want a really unusual sparkler try Australian Sparkling Shiraz.
One or two of the mainstream supermarkets will stock this or call into DVino Wines on Fishergate for some Syn!