Friday Night Fizz Night
What a week it’s been for the UK. Huge divisions have been opened up over Brexit, with politicians of all hues and financial markets in turmoil, while Iceland thrashed England at Euro 2016. Take your pick about what’s good or gloomy for you. But just because we are living in turbulent times it doesn’t mean that we can’t still have a little fun. There are always great reasons to celebrate – new job, promotion, a birthday, a wedding, an anniversary, Christmas, New Year, even a peaceful bank holiday. My usual excuse is Friday Night Fizz Night.
Why not celebrate arriving safely at the end of another week and look forward to the weekend with a glass of bubbly? It certainly works for me.
And while Champagne is the undisputed champion of all things fizzy, the diversity and excellence of alternative sparkling wines is well worth exploring on Friday Night Fizz Night. Not only can they be a less wallet-shredding alternative to Champagne, but many are serious wines that are much more than simply cheap imitations. Sparkling wine comes in various styles at most price points. Both non-vintage and vintage wines are available, in white, red and rosé, and from ultra-dry to sweet. Consequently, there is a huge range of flavours on offer and of course there are plenty of food matching opportunities.
There are also marked differences in alcoholic strength and how gassy they are. The gas pressure; the size of the bubbles and also the character of the foaming mousse are significant visual and taste elements. Sparkling wines offer everything from an aggressive frothing to quietly sophisticated and subtle bubble streams.
It’s all about the bubbles. They carry with them a variety of irresistible connotations. Bubbles can make us feel elegant, sophisticated, generous and carefree, or console us during hard times. These feelings occur before opening the bottle with an anticipatory pop, so it can’t be the effect of alcohol. No wonder sparkling wines are the first choice for any celebration.
I prefer to explore the wealth of sparkling wines from around the world rather than endure the disappointments of cheap Champagne. Great Champagne is almost without peer but, with a few notable exceptions, many of the cheapest examples are inferior, palate-insulting and unworthy of the name – and a waste of your hard-earned.
The old world has too many great sparklers to list. From France, look out for the various regional crémants, including those made in the Loire, Jura, Alsace, Burgundy, Limoux and Bordeaux. Spain offers Cava. Germany makes Sekt; while Italy has Franciacorta, Prosecco, Asti and a whole lot else. Now England and Wales have come of age and can be rightly proud of the explosion of terrific examples.
In the new world, South Africa has a long established history of sparkling winemaking, the best known as Cap Classique. Australia also makes good sparklers including their unique gift to the world, Sparkling Shiraz. New Zealand and California have highly regarded sparkling wines too.
Now China, Brazil and India are getting in on the act, and quality is improving fast. Russia and the Ukraine make sparkling wine in industrial quantities, but fortunately, most of that never reaches the UK. The quality is dire, with the worst carbonated just like cola.
One of the two biggest influences on sparkling wine quality is the quality of the base wine, which is dependent on the quality of the grapes themselves. The other significant impact is in the winery, where the production process employed to trap the bubbles of carbon dioxide in the wine is all important.
With honourable exceptions (step forward Prosecco and Asti that use their traditions), the best sparkling wines are made by a second fermentation of the base wines in bottle. This lengthy and expensive process is the traditional or classic method. How this fascinating and complicated way of making sparkling operates will have to be left to another time.
As with Champagne, sparklers can be drunk throughout a meal, offering many opportunities for food and wine pairing. They are not limited only to the role of apéritif. Choose a Brut (dry) white with plenty of acidity for seafood and salads, while a dry but creamier white will be good with fish or chicken. A red or rosé can pair up with grilled meats, barbeques and Sunday lunch. A magical combination often overlooked is to drink a demi-sec (semi-sweet or sweet) bubbly with lighter desserts and cheese.
Sparkling wine can be inexpensive enough to use as a base for the most decadent cocktails. And here lies another advantage; you can always pep up a dull sparkling wine by adding a little something to it. Here are three sophisticated cocktails that are quick, easy and delicious:
Kir Royal. Just add a few drops of crème de cassis to the glass and pour the sparkling wine over, for a classic French cocktail. Alternatively, try adding framboise or peach schnapps;
Bellini. Add a small amount of peach purée to a glass of Prosecco to create this Venetian classic. It tastes miles better than bucks fizz;
Champagne cocktail. Put one drop of Angostura bitters onto a sugar cube in the glass and slowly add the wine to dissolve it. If no Angostura is to hand, try a drop of brandy instead.
The world of sparkling wine has so much worth discovering. Drinking a different example on a Friday night with friends is an affordable and enjoyable pastime – try some cork popping you’ll soon acquire a wealth of fizzical experience.
And for those of you that don’t like bubbles? I like to think that maybe you just haven’t found yours yet, and it’s out there waiting if you’re willing to look.
So join me and raise a glass to Friday Night Fizz Night! What’s your favourite? Let me know!
The original version of Friday Night Fizz Night was originally published by ON: Magazine