After a year and a half of lockdown there is an undeniable thrill in leaving the living room. As we head into town to gossip once more by the water cooler, we deserve more of a celebration than an oat-milk latte clutched on the commute. Times like these call for sparkling wine, the true beverage of merriment.
The mind tends to go straight to Champagne, the most successful marketing fizz story since the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon tried and failed to get rid of the accidental bubbles in his bottle. While the French were historically aghast at this “wine fault”, the English lapped it up, kick-starting the UK’s continued love of sparkling wine.
Globally we are the biggest importing imbibers of both Champagne and Prosecco. The former is made via the traditional method, the same as Spain’s Cava and South Africa’s Method Cap Classique, which takes longer, is more expensive and adds biscuit, brioche, and toasty notes. The latter is typically made using the tank method, which is less labour intensive, less expensive and results in wines with more fresh fruity flavours.
According to supermarket statistics, we are also more inclined towards a pink drink, and the creation of rosé prosecco, which only became legal in 2020, has meant sales have soared as UK consumers take part in this wine world first. At Marks & Spencer, sparkling sales have grown 37 per cent and Prosecco alone has shot up by 39 per cent this year, largely driven by the incredible popularity of Prosecco Rosé.
The UK is also most known for making sparkling wine. Last year Dorset’s Langham Wine Estate beat Champagne’s top houses to win the 2020 International Wine and Spirit Competition and be crowned Sparkling Wine Producer Of The Year.
When pitted against the established heavy weights of Tattinger, Laurent Perrier and Mumm, that is no mean feat. In fact, winemaking is booming in Great Britain, with hectarage increasing by 70 per cent in the last five years and 1.4m vines being planted in 2020. Continuing with our preference trend, 64 per cent of the wine produced in our 800 vineyards and 178 wineries is sparkling and, thanks to our terrific soils and (whisper it) climate change, it looks set to get even better.
However, we are boutique, and we are not cheap so you may want to look further afield to pick up a more wallet-friendly style of sparkling.
South Africa’s wine industry has been decimated by four back-to-back domestic alcohol bans over the course of the pandemic, which means there has been a lot of surplus stock at affordable prices and, of course, the more you buy the more you help.
Created by the traditional method like Champagne, MCC’s are often made from the usual champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier but can also be local favourites such as Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. South Africa is also the largest producer of Fairtrade wine globally and accounts for around two- thirds of Fairtrade wine sales in the world. Essentially, by buying a South African bottle, you can polish your halo just by raising a glass. No chore when this is one of the most exciting and delicious countries in the world for wine.
The food-friendly Cava should also get a mention. Thanks to those cornershop student purchases, Cava is often written off as the coarsely bubbled poor relation of the sparkling world. This could not be further from the truth. Cava can be aged anywhere from nine to over 40 months before being released, giving it a versatility particularly suited to pairing with food. Coming from a Mediterranean climate the acidity is not as high as wines from cooler climates such as Champagne, so less sugar needs to be added in the dosage.
Low sugar is something held in common with Franciacorta, a small but mighty region in Italy which was first to be granted DOCG status for its traditional method sparkling. A relative unknown, these excellent wines were chosen as the official sparkling wine at this year’s Emmy Awards.
It is worth noting the generally accepted terms for sweetness. A Brut Zero or Brut Nature is bone dry with no added sugar (and fewer calories if you care about that kind of thing), Next is Extra Brut, then Brut – the most popular style in the UK – followed by Extra-Dry, which is, confusingly, slightly sweeter than Brut and best described as medium-dry, then Dry, which actually tastes medium-sweet, then Demi-Sec or Semi-Sec, which is sweet, and finally Doux or Dolce which is very sweet indeed.
Whatever your pleasure there is a sparkling wine to sate your appetite and despite all the excitement post-Lockdown life brings, a glass of something crisp and bubbly may be just what you need after today’s commute back home.
Six of the best
Champagne Castelnau Blanc de Blancs 2007, £75, The Wine Society
Be one of the first to taste the new Blanc de Blancs vintage by a House with such prestigious past credentials as to have been poured at the Ritz and flown BA’s business class. Creamy and rounded, winemaker Elizabeth Sarcelet specialises in the Chardonnay grape and this style of Champagne.
Assemblage Champagne, Maison Bruno Paillard, £66.90, Hedonism
Newly released, 8 years in the cellar has created a richly concentrated, luxurious champagne with a deep, long finish. Each vintage’s label is designed by a different artist to represent the wine’s individual expression. Superb.
Exton Park Blanc de Blancs RB45, £49, The Oxford Wine Company
Launching this month, this is a bold new first for English wine. The product of patience, this bright sparkling wine is a unique blend of 45 reserve wines chosen from the estate’s impressive 10 year library.
Franciacorta DOCG, Castelveder, £19.99, Majestic
Crisp and intense with notes of blossom and bread and a fresh acidity. You would be hard pushed to tell the difference between this and champagne, which is probably why the Emmy’s chose it for the Hollywood stars this year.
Graham Beck Vintner’s Selection, £13, Tesco
Known as ‘President’s Choice’, Graham Beck was served at Obama’s election win and Mandela’s inauguration. A consistent winner in wine circles, MCC is South Africa’s version of champagne, and this bottle completely over-delivers for the price.
La Gioiosa Prosecco Rosé Millesimato Brut, £8.99, Waitrose
Fragrant, fruity and full of strawberries and fresh pomegranate. This elegantly, joyful wine is an absolute high-street winner for anyone who likes a pink drink.
• Libby is the founder of Bacchus & Brodie, co-creator and Presenter of Boozy & The Beast: How To Drink Better, and can be found pairing and pouring at No.9 Supper Club. Insta: @a_little_sip_of_me_time