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’Tis the season for Champagne

19 December 2014

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 give pleasure.

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 market.

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!

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