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A bit of sparkle

03 July 2015


PROSECCO has hit the headlines twice recently. First, sales of it on the British market now outstrip champagne. This comes as no surprise, as it is half the price, and, for the average consumer, has a softer, more appealing taste. As one leading champagne producer said: "This is not a concern for me. Prosecco sells in a totally different marketplace."

The second headline, however, may be more worrying: "Supply of Prosecco can no longer meet demand." Again, this could have been foreseen, as the wine has become immensely popular, not just here, but particularly in the United States. I was talking to a leading importer recently, and he has been told that he can expect no more supplies for three months - and this as the peak wedding-season approaches. What is not clear is how long it will take for this shortage to be reflected on high-street shelves.

There are two main reasons for the success of prosecco. The first is that, for a sparkling wine, it is very affordable; the second is that it is very easy to drink, as I found out at my nephew's wedding recently. As far as price is concerned, the most evident replacement is Spanish cava, the fashionable fizz not long ago.

Most is produced in the Penedès region, south-east of Barcelona, from the local grapes Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Macabeo, which can give it a slightly rustic flavour. Now, however, many producers are putting a proportion of Chardonnay in the blend, which softens out the wine.

The outstanding bargain, as far as cava is concerned, is Aldi's award-winning offering at just £4.99 a bottle. I also recommend La Rosca cava from Waitrose, now £5.61; and the popular Codorníu Brut that Majestic is offering: at £7.49 a bottle, if you buy two, or £6.66 each for two or more bottles of the rosé.

The wine that perhaps comes closest to prosecco (unsurprisingly, because it is Italian, and is made from the same grape) is Waitrose's Bright and Fruity, which makes an ideal summer-party wine at £6.49. This might also, however, come under similar supply pressure to prosecco. The same might apply to Tanners Fabio Ceschin Grappolo Vino Blanco Frizzante, at £7.99, which has more a foaming than a full-bodied sparkle.

Another good field for sparkling wines at less than £10 a bottle is that of the various French crémant wines. While these - especially those of Alsace, Burgundy, and the Loire Valley - are widely drunk in France, they have never caught on widely here. Aldi, however, offers an excellent, bemedalled Crémant du Jura at £7.29, and a Crémant de Loire at just 50p a bottle less.

It is not long since sparkling wines were punitively taxed in the UK, as luxury items. Now, with prosecco and cava, they have been democratised, and the consumer has been the first to benefit. There are still those who drink nothing but champagne, but many more now enjoy a regular glass of prosecco.

Increased demand will mean an increase in prices. Perhaps now is the time to stock up.

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