The best festive fizz
There’s something special and celebratory about champagne and sparkling wine, which is why it’s such a popular drink over the Christmas period. Below our wine expert, Vanessa Pearson, explains the different varieties of fizz and celebrates all things effervescent with her top picks, to suit all palates and plates.
All sparkling wine begins life in a tank, where its first fermentation takes place. Prosecco, from Italy, and Spanish cava are bottled straight from the tank and shipped off to be sold. While they still feel luxurious, these wines are considerably cheaper than champagne. Some English sparkling wines, which have really developed over recent years, are grown in virtually the same kind of terroir (land) as champagne. They’re made in the same way, but cannot be called champagne, even though traditional champagne houses like Pommery have invested in vineyards in Britain to produce what they have to call ‘brut’. Because these bruts are aged in the bottle, they tend to develop more complex flavours – including brioche, butter and notes of white fruit. Prosecco is lighter, with flavours like pear, melon and honeysuckle. Also look out for pink prosecco, which is new and will be arriving at Ocado later this year. It’s the first time the Italian government has allowed a pink sparkling wine to be called prosecco. Cava is somewhere between the two, with flavours of yellow apple, pear and almonds.
We’re seeing a lot more organic production in wine and the grapes for this one are grown without pesticides. It’s nice and fresh, with traditional prosecco flavours and delicate aromas of peach and apple. It’s quite soft and light, but with a zesty finish, and it’s not super fizzy – so good for those who don’t like a bubble overkill. It pairs well with antipasto, such as cured meats, salty cheeses and nuts like almonds.
This medium-dry rosé has plenty of summer fruit flavours coming through, thanks to the pinot noir grapes. It has lovely light, delicate bubbles with a bright finish. It’s produced close to the Mediterranean coast, where the vines get a refreshing breeze. This means there is no burn on the grapes, unlike some other hot regions. This rosé is great to cut through heavier dishes that are spicy or sweet.
Champagne which is made from chardonnay, pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes, or a blend of the three – is combined with yeast, yeast nutrients and sugar as it is bottled. A second fermentation takes place within the bottle, giving it its trademark bubbles. This and the fact that champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France explains the difference in price.
A Christmas favourite. This is a classic sparkling wine, aged three to five years in the cellar and made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. It’s elegant, with fine bubbles and brioche and fruit flavours, as well as some peach and vanilla. It’s also vegan. Taittinger is one of the few houses to own the majority of its own vineyards. Enjoy with grilled and roasted white meats, fish, shellfish and lobster.
Crémant is champagne made anywhere else in France that’s not the Champagne region. This one is from Carcassonne in southern France, where legend has it, Crémant was created. Made with chardonnay and pinot noir, this Crémant is golden and mellow with lemony almond flavours, and slightly sweeter than the others. Ideal as an apéritif, or with fresh seafood and shellfish.
A Gold Medal winner in 2019. This brut is very effervescent, with a little more red fruit flavour thanks to the pinot noir, as well as a hint of lemon and some spice. This is an English version of a French champagne – Pommery was one of the first champagne houses to start buying land in England. Refreshing and well-balanced, this brut is paired brilliantly with elegant seafood, such as prawns and langoustines.
Whichever you pick, don’t forget to open your bottle the right way. Hold it at 45 degrees, take hold of the cork and twist the bottle. This gives you more control, stops the cork shooting out and hitting something (or someone). It also stops the wine from fizzing out. When you serve it, pour slowly. A coupe or flute is a matter of personal preference, but be sure to serve your wine in a glass with a stem: sparkling wine is best served ice cold, so you don’t want to warm it up by holding the bowl of your glass in your hands.