WHEN I started in the wine trade in Liverpool, many years ago,
they used to open a bottle of Champagne at the local brewery every
morning at 11. I am sure that there are some people who still feel
that this is the only way to start the day. For most of us,
however, Champagne is a luxury item to be saved for special
occasions. Christmas can be one of those occasions.
I would suggest that it is worth while buying one of the major
labels - at Christmas, these can be heavily discounted. For
example, I see that Waitrose is selling Laurent-Perrier with a
third off the price, and all the multiples are offering similar
deals. Supermarket own-label wines can be very good, but Christmas
can be used by some chains as an opportunity to peddle inferior
wines. The word "Champagne" on a label is no guarantee of quality,
but there are many other sparkling wines at lower prices which can
The two wines that seem to have caught the imagination of the
public are Prosecco and Cava. The first takes its name from
north-east Italy. It can appear as a still or frizzante (gently
sparkling) wine, but its success has come as a full-bodied
Champagne substitute, and seems to have conquered the wedding
The best wines come from the villages of Valdobbiadene and
Conegliano. Aldi features a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene at just
£7.49; and Sainsbury's has magnums of Conegliano Prosecco Superiore
under its Taste the Difference label for £19.
Cava can be produced in any part of Spain which produces quality
wines with the DO status. Thus, you can have a Cava from Rioja,
though it will be made from different grapes from the Cava you
might usually drink. Given the costs involved in making
bottle-fermented wines such as Cava, and that sparkling wines
attract a higher rate of duty, it seems remarkable that you can buy
the Asda Selection Cava Brut for just £4.75, and Lidl has an
Arestel Cava Brut for £4.99.
Sparkling wines are now produced widely around the world. I have
recently returned from Brazil, where a third of the wine production
is now fizz. Much of what is offered is sweet wine, based on the
Moscato grape, and Oddbins has a rosé version of this from the
Aurora winery at £9.99. Three Brazilian labels to look out for, for
more traditional dry wines, are Geisse, Miolo, and Casa Valduga.
All these three companies produce great wines - but at a price.
One of my favourite sparkling wines is the South African Graham
Beck Brut, produced from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
grapes. This is available from Waitrose (£13.99). Two French
sparklers that also caught my eye on my tour of the shelves were
Pierre Bonnet Crémant de Loire (Aldi, £6.79), and a Blanquette de
Limoux (Tesco, £8.49).
Finally, patriotism and quality mean that I must recommend an
English sparkling wine such as Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury 2011
(£24.99), Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2010 (£28.99,) and Nyetimber
Classic Cuvée 2009 (£31.99), all three from Waitrose. Patriotism
and quality come at a price.
Have a sparkling Christmas!