It doesn't have to be from Champagne to be flirty and fabulous
While the Champagne region is the traditional home of great fizz, it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all where bubbles is concerned, and summer, with all its festivities and social occasions, is the perfect time to look at other options to help us toast. But first, a bit of housekeeping; a quick explanation of the four main methods of producing sparkling wine. Méthode traditionnelle is where the delicate bubbles are produced when the base (still) wine goes through its secondary ferment inside the same bottle from which it’ll eventually be served. This is the traditional method of producing champagne in France. Then there’s charmat, in which the wine undergoes its bubble-producing secondary fermentation in tanks before being bottled under pressure. The transfer method is where the secondary ferment takes place in the bottle before the wine is transferred to a tank before final bottling and finally there’s simple carbonation, which involves injecting CO2 into the wine to create bubbles.
It’s amazing how diverse our sparkling winescape has become. Alongside the usual suspects, we’re now also seeing more variety in wines like the Italian fizz prosecco. Proseccos are intensely aromatic and crisp and have yellow apple, pear, white peach and apricot flavours, making them perfect as a Bellini cocktail base. Prosecco is best consumed young, ideally within three years of bottling; however examples like the Mionetto Prestige Prosecco (RRP$16.99) can age
If you’re a fan of lighter, sweeter Asti styles of sparklers, then you’ll love the Brown Brothers Sparkling Moscato (RRP$16.99). Made from the moscato grape, Asti are lower in alcohol than other sparkling styles (5-8%) and have fresh, ‘grapey’ flavours with hints of musk and peach. Best sipped super-chilled, they’re the perfect lunchtime refresher on a baking hot day. These sweeter style sparklers are superb as an aperitif or with soft white cheeses. Moscato and prosecco are made in both fully sparkling (Spumante) and lightly sparkling (frizzante) styles.
Spanish cava is also a real treat, so stop walking past those mysterious black bottles of Freixenet (RRP$14.99) and give it a go. Expect a wine that’s chalky and dry, with a creamy, nutty character and lovely complexity that works a treat with crayfish, oysters and all manner of tasty sea creatures. Under Spanish law, cava must be made according to the traditional method using specific grape varieties – and it can be either white or pink.
For occasions I want to stretch my palate but not my budget, I reach for a Cremant de Bourgogne, the appellation describing white and rose sparkling wines from Burgundy (as opposed to champagne from the Champagne region). They’re made predominantly from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes in the champagne method. The cremants I’ve tried of late have been rather fantastic, every bit as good as the champagnes, and today the appellation now accounts for more than 13 million bottles of wine every vintage. There are also excellent value sparklers produced in France’s Loire Valley, the Grandin Brut NV (RRP$19.99) for example. Grandin have been making wine in the traditional method since 1886 and their Brut NV is a multi-award winning, vivacious wine that boasts crisp apple and creamy almond flavours.
Our little country has been crafting high quality sparkling wine since before carless days – so quite some time! Our premium and even our budget-priced bubbles (take a bow) have time and time again hit the high notes at award shows even when placed against the finest of French fizz. Gone are the days when the best bubbles we could hope for were boring, flabby and decidedly unfabulous – today New Zealand sparkling wines represent cool-climate sophistication at its best. Wines like the Daniel Le Brun NV (RRP $27.99) are an excellent example of a classic style, exuding delicate lemony, bready, cashew-nut complexity. It might surprise you to know that New Zealand exports close to 150,000 cases of sparkling wine annually, and international demand is growing. A group of 10 highly regarded Marlborough producers take their quality fizz so seriously they’ve banded together to form the ‘Methode Marlborough Society’ to ensure the quality and heritage of that region’s finest methode traditionelle.
All Methode Marlborough wines follow strict criteria: they must be made exclusively from Marlborough-grown pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier as a blend or alone; these are the global benchmark varieties for champagne and methode traditionelle. When it comes to matching food with champagne, prosecco or our Kiwi versions of these classic styles, think oysters, seafood-based canapés, soft cheeses and citrus-based desserts.
Apart from the traditional pinot noir and chardonnay varieties used to make classic sparkling wine, there’s also huge growth in new styles such as sparkling sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and riesling.
But no matter what the wines are made from, balance is the key issue. I’m always on the lookout for wines that hit that sweet spot, that point where fruit character, cleansing acidity, alcohol and texture knit together to create a seamless, seductive, sophisticated sparkling wine experience.
Sparkling wines are almost always sealed with a cork; meaning cork taint is a risk. If your bubbly smells like a mouldy cardboard box with a wet dog asleep inside, then take it back to the store for a refund immediately – or serve it to someone you don’t like.
If there are any suspiciously musty smells eminating from your bottle, first check your glassware. Glass and crystal can absorb less-than-lovely aromas from cardboard packaging, dishwashing chemicals and unventilated rooms. Wash glasses in warm water with fragrance-free detergent then rinse thoroughly with hot water before drying with a clean cloth. Or put through a hot dishwasher cycle with no detergent.
A Sparkling Glossary
Bead — a word used to describe the actual bubbles inside the glass. If they were really small you might say the wine has “a fine, or delicate bead…”
Mousse — a word used to describe the frothiness of the foam that forms at the top of the glass when the sparkling wine is poured in.
Necklace — describes the little lines of bubbles that trail from the bottom or sides of the glass up towards the surface.
Lees — when the yeast cells have finished converting the grape sugars to alcohol they die and settle to the bottom of the bottle or tank and form a paste-like substance called the lees. When left in contact with the wine this substance can add creaminess to the taste.
NV — stands for non-vintage, which means the wine has been created from selected portions of base wines which were made in different years and kept in the cellar for the purpose of being included in sparkling wine blends.