HEAD SOMMELIER AND MANAGER OF LUTYENS RESTAURANT
THIS has been quite a week. I hope that you’ll forgive me if I start by thanking the wonderful staff of St Thomas’ hospital for the birth of my son. A new arrival is an event to celebrate so, with that in mind, I’m going to take a look at bubbles.
Champagne provides the model for what is now called the Traditional Method, where there is the addition of yeast and sugar to a bottle of dry, still wine and a tightly sealed cap is used to trap the carbon dioxide given off during fermentation inside the bottle. This gives explosive pressure and fizzy wine. It’s an expensive business as the dead yeast has to be removed from each bottle individually (otherwise Champagne would be cloudy as indeed it used to be). A practical alternative is to do this second fermentation inside a tank and to filter and bottle the wine under pressure. Sparkling wine purists tend to sneer at the Tank or “Transfer” method but thanks to this, we can enjoy good quality sparkling wine at a reasonable price.
Champagne is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (yes, those last two are black grapes but the colour in a grape is all in the skin so, when pressed gently, grapes yield clear juice) and this is a recipe that has been successfully followed around the world. Terrific Champagne style wines can be found in Italy (Franciacorta), Australia (Yarra Valley, Tasmania) and Spain (Cava). This last one deserves a special mention. As well as making sparkling wine with the traditional Champagne grapes, Cava is also frequently made with local grapes Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo, which give a distinctive, earthy style.
On the more affordable side, and moving away from Champagne in style, is Prosecco from Italy (made from the Prosecco grape, the best examples are from Valdobbiadene in Veneto) or, a personal favourite of mine, Lindauer from New Zealand (where they sneak a bit of Chenin Blanc into the blend to give it some zip) both of which are perfect for parties.