Sparkling alternatives to Champagne
Despite these challenging times, there are always reasons for celebration. Perhaps a new job, a promotion, a birthday, a wedding, an anniversary. Christmas, New Year, even a humble bank holiday. Bubbles carry with them a range of irresistible connotations. They can make us feel elegant, sophisticated, generous and carefree, so no wonder fizz is the first choice for any celebration. Champagne is rightly the undisputed champion of all things celebratory and fizzy. However, the diversity and excellence of sparkling wines from other regions deserve exploration.
Of course, such alternatives may be a less wallet-shredding alternative to Champagne, but more importantly, there are profound wines that offer so much more than imitation.
These alternative sparkling wines are made in various styles and often use grape varieties other than King Pinot Noir and Queen Chardonnay. Both non-vintage and vintage wines are available. There’s red, white, rosé and orange, and a range of sweetness from ultra-dry to intensely sweet.
There are also marked differences in alcoholic strength and even in how fizzy they are. The fizz is more than just gas pressure; it covers the bubbles’ size and the character of the mousse, which ranges from aggressive frothing to quietly sophisticated bubble streams – and all points in between.
Consequently, there are different styles, flavours and experiences, which also means other food matching opportunities. In short, there’s bound to be a sparkling wine to suit you.
Old World or New World?
The old world has too many distinctive and memorable regional 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 can offer Cava and Corpinnat. Germany makes Sekt, with examples made from Riesling being far superior. Italian examples are legion and include Franciacorta and Prosecco.
Russia and Ukraine make sparkling wine in industrial quantities, but fortunately, most of it never gets to the UK because their quality is dire. Meanwhile, Britain has become a producer of outstanding sparkling wine that’s now one of Champagne’s most significant rivals in quality terms.
South Africa has a long-established history of sparkling winemaking in the New World, with the best examples known as Cap Classiques. Also, Australia, New Zealand and California all have highly regarded sparkling wines, frequently resulting from the Champagne houses expanding their operations in new territories. For example, Moët & Chandon, Roederer, Pommery and Veuve Cliquot all operate such wineries. South America is emerging as a good source of fizz, and now territories like China and India are also getting in on the act.
All about the bubbles
One of the two most significant influences on sparkling wine quality is the quality of the base wine, which depends on the quality of the grapes themselves.
The other is in the winery, where the production process trapping carbon dioxide bubbles in the wine is all-important. With honourable exceptions, the second fermentation in the bottle makes the best sparkling wines. It’s the same lengthy and expensive process used in Champagne itself, usually known as the traditional or classic method. There’s a complete guide to the various ways of making bubbles here.
As with Champagne, sparklers offer many opportunities for food and wine pairing, so please don’t limit them only to the role of apéritif. Choose an Ultra-Brut or Brut white for seafood and salads. 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.
See for yourself
Here are six favourite examples to try, all sustainably made, taken from previous Wine Alchemy reviews. So do click on the links and check them out!
The world of sparkling wine has so much worth discovering. And for anyone that doesn’t like bubbles? I want to think that you just haven’t found your fizzical experience yet – but it’s out there waiting for you.
If you have a favourite sparkling wine, then please share it with me!