With the New Year just around the corner, pop the cork on a sparkling wine and it’s jingle bells all the way. The days when Champagne had it all its own way are long gone for our wine shelves are now groaning with bubbles from all over the world. And there’s more good news; as our credit cards take a festive pounding you can now find a sparkler to please most palettes and pockets. Champagne is still the King of Sparklers and Taittinger Brut Reserve N.V. (Non Vintage, $50) is a great sip from the chilly vineyards of north-east France. Champagne is generally a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and is made by a second fermentation in the bottle where a little more sugar and yeast is added to a still dry wine to produce a little more alcohol and a little more carbon dioxide – the fizz. The time the wine spends on ‘the lees’, (the dead yeast cells) in the bottle following the second fermentation is an important quality and taste factor for any sparkler. Taittinger N.V. spends 3 years on the lees in their cool Reims cellars to give the crisp citrus peach flavours attractive nutty yeast overtones. ‘A great partner for your smoked salmon starter by the way!
Cava will also help your celebrations go with a swing. This Spanish sparkler is made in the same way as Champagne but from different grape varieties; Xarello (gives acidity), Macabeo (soft, floral) and Parallada (richness) give a completely different taste sensation. You can pour a cracking Cava for fifteen dollars; Anna De Codorníu Brut Nature N.V. Cava really hits the spot. If you’re feeling rich try Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva “Terrers 2008” from Recaredo ($40). For Cava, the minimum time any wine can spend on the ‘lees’ is 9 months, ‘Anna’ had 12 months. The Terrers 2008 spent nearly six years on the lees! The result is a nutty, crisp, citrus beauty that makes for a very classy aperitif as your guests arrive.
You could really sparkle and ‘go Italian’ this Christmas with a bottle of Franciacorta. From the Lombardia region of northern Italy towards the Swiss-Austrian border, Chardonnay is the major player but Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc can also join the blend. It’s not cheap but it’s a wonderful alternative to Champagne and often has a price tag $15 lower than the King of Sparklers. Ricci Curbastro Brut, for example, tips the scales at $35. The Franciacorta winemakers are proud that 14 million bottles of Franciacorta stay on the lees for 18 months, “that’s 3 million more than Champagne”, they boast.
Chile has been producing sparkling wines for decades and they’re improving year on year. Montes have recently released their ‘Sparkling Angel’ ($25), a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from their ocean-cooled Zapallar vineyards in the Aconcagua Valley about 80 kilometres north of Santiago. The back label proudly announces that the ‘bottle fermented wine has been aged ‘on its lees’ for 3 years.
The famous Champagne House of Moet et Chandon use all their winemaking expertise in Argentina to make the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Chandon Rose N.V. ($25). It’s well worth a pour this Christmas as 18 months on the lees gives the rich vibrant strawberry fruit an attractive yeasty edge.
New Year would not be the same without a bottle of English Sparkling, the wine that’s taking the world by storm and giving Champagne a run for its money in international competition. I couldn’t think of a better festive afternoon than one spent with a bottle of ‘ESW’, a group of friends and a slice or two of Christmas cake. Some of my favourites? Hambledon Classic Cuve, Exton Park Rose, Nyetimber and Ridgeview, all of which carry a price tag of about $40. As the World’s no. 1 fan, I raise a glass of English Sparkling Wine to all my fellow snoothers, with my best wishes for a Grand Cru Holiday and a Vintage New Year.