The symbol of celebration worldwide. It’s aged in cool cellars in the Champagne region in northern France for a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage (NV), and three years for vintage. The longer it spends in the cellar, the more it develops the typical aroma of toasted brioche.
Champagne is composed of up to three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Once made into wine, it is stored in bottles with added yeast and a little sugar: the yeast ferments and the resulting carbon dioxide creates the bubbles.
This is the ‘traditional method’ of making a sparkling wine, and you really do get what you pay for. If you’re looking for something under £15, consider other ‘traditional method’ fizz such as French Crémant de Loire or Crémant de Bourgogne, or Australian or New Zealand versions. Don’t forget English sparkling wines; they cost around £20-£25, but the best are Champagnes in all but name.
Veuve Monsigny Blanc de Noirs NV, Champagne, France, 12%, £16.99 (on sale just for Christmas), Aldi
All the classic freshness of Champagne, with a lovely brioche, baked-bread aroma. made from red grapes (Blanc de Noirs), which give extra depth of flavour.
Brut Rosé NV, Champagne, France, 12%, £23, Sainsbury’s
Don’t feel obliged to buy a famous name when supermarket versions can be this good. From top producer Druval-Leroy, this has the sweetness of Parma ham with a touch of raspberries (remember it for Valentine’s Day).
Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2004, Champagne, France, 12.5%, £56.99-£65, Berry Bros, Hennings, Slurp, Waitrose
When only a famous name will do, spoil yourself with Pol Roger. Elegant, distinguished, wonderfully complex – you’ll find gingerbread and jasmine aromas alongside the brioche and citrus.
Also made to the ‘traditional method’, in Spain, with a minimum age of nine (and up to 30) months. Some Cavas even contain Champagne’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, although the traditional grapes are Parellada, Xarel.lo, and Macabeo. Most Cava is made in Penedès, near Barcelona; however, other regions, including Rioja, are allowed to produce it.
Cava has been through hard times when it was associated with cheap and not very cheerful wine, tasting simply of pears and lacking any zing. Today it’s possible to find superb, complex Cavas in the UK from producers like Gramona, Racaredo and Raventós i Blanc.
Cava Brut NV, Spain, 11.5%, £4.99, Tesco
Made by leading producer Codorníu Raventós, this reliable, ‘basic’ Cava is full of typical apple and melon fruit. It’s a ripe, soft party wine – a great holiday standby.
Franck Massard Mas Sardana Brut Nature Cava NV, Spain, 11.5%, £12.99, nakedwines.com
A new wine from a young producer. Voted Best Cava in Wines of Spain Awards 2014. Floral and biscuit aromas, full of citrus flavours and with a crisp, zesty fizz.
Raventós i Blanc De Nit Rosé 2011, Cava, Spain, 12%, £20.45, Berry Bros
From a historic (1497, no less) family estate, a really glorious rosé. Dry and bursting with fruits: cherries, cranberries and redcurrants. A great example of what Cava can be.
Made from the Glera grape, from Italy’s Veneto region, this is the UK’s party favourite. Most of the wine is made in stainless-steel tanks rather than using the bottle-aged ‘traditional method’, meaning it is much cheaper to produce. This also results in the bubbles feeling softer and more gentle in the mouth (whereas Champagne and Cava deliver a punchier mouthful of bubbles).
Buy Prosecco for its soft and appealing fruitiness, which makes a good base for cocktails like Bellinis.
Bright & Fruity Sparkling Italian Wine NV, Italy, 11.5%, £6.49, Waitrose
Does exactly what it says on the label. Made in the Prosecco region from the Glera grape – soft, with peachy aromas and flavours of creamy, ripe pears.
Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore 2013, Italy, 10.5%, £10, Sainsbury’s
Perfect Prosecco – light, frothy, fruity – and even more appealing when you discover that Sainsbury’s have taken the alcohol down by 1% (which I didn’t notice in terms of taste) as part of their commitment to reduce units of alcohol sold.
Finest Prosecco Superiore Cartizze NV, Veneto, Italy, 11.5%, £14.99, Tesco
From the hill of Cartizze, Prosecco’s most exclusive growing area, and made by Bisol, one of the top producers. A great choice for New Year celebrations and weddings – its gentle sweetness works well after dinner.
Which bubbly beverage will you be sipping over the festive season? Let us know below…