Know your Champers from your cava...
By Dorothy Miles, Dotty in the Kitchen
At the moment, the UK is the world’s largest consumer of Prosecco. In 2019, that added up to over 110 million bottles of the stuff. I’m not sure if these statistics are something to be proud of or scared about… Either way, it’s clear that we all love a bit of fizz. With the festive season fast approaching, many of those gold foil-topped bottles will make their way into our shopping trollies. But do you know your cava from your crémant? And, more importantly, which wine will be best for which occasion?
The nation’s favourite Italian sparkling wine is made using the Glera grape. Its popularity probably stems from the fact that not only is it super affordable, it’s also delicious. It’s only fermented once (most fizz is double fermented) which is what makes it cheaper than its counterparts and means it doesn’t have any of that yeasty breadiness that people find off-putting in some fizz. It’s a little lighter on the alcohol and has a fresher, slightly sweeter taste than other varieties.
Flavour profile: apples, pears, honeysuckle.
The crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking nature of Prosecco makes it the obvious choice if you’re after a bottle to pop with a bigger group. It’s also the fizz I would use to make any festive cocktails such as a mimosa or Bellini. For a fizzy twist on a Negroni, try mixing the juice of 1 clementine with 15ml Campari, then top off with cold prosecco.
The big hitter in the field of sparkling wines. Champagne is seen as the most prestigious form of fizz. All Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France. Every part of its production is tightly regulated and controlled to preserve the heritage and quality of this decadent drink – from the treatment of the soil, to when the grapes are harvested and how the bottles must be shaped. All of this attention to detail adds up to a pricey yet poised drink. Champagne is double fermented – in the barrel and then in the bottle – which gives it a unique flavour profile.
Flavour profile: toast, honey, biscuits.
Frankly, if I’ve splashed out on a bottle of Champagne, I’m going to drink it exactly whenever and however I fancy! But one thing is for sure: I’m only going to be cracking into the good stuff when we are an intimate party, (I wish my pockets were deep enough to have an endless stream of Champers at every party…alas, they are not). We often think of fizz as being an aperitif wine, rather than something to drink with food, however, the creamy yet bright flavour of Champagne can be a wonderful pairing with lots of Christmas food: smoked salmon, crab or lobster, and oysters for example. It can also be lovely with creamy cheeses such as camembert and brie.
Spain’s fizzy wine offering is often seen as the cheap (and therefore kind of naff) option, but this is changing. Unlike in Champagne in France and Prosecco in Italy, in Spain they aren’t too fussy about what grapes they use to make Cava, so it varies a lot more in flavour. Their easygoing approach to making wine is reflected in the taste: Cava makes for very easy drinking and goes easy on the purse strings too.
Flavour profile: quince, citrus, almonds.
Cava is my go-to when I fancy a bit of sparkling ‘just because’. Cava can be very acidic and snappy compared to the slight sweetness of Prosecco or the rich elegance of Champagne, but I like that. I think if I was a wine, I would be Cava: fancy but also a bit feisty. The acidic and citrus flavour of Cava goes really well with fried foods. Crisps, for example. So if you’re looking for a bottle of bubbles to pop open with a share bag and a film, Cava is the one.
This catch-all term refers to all other sparkling wines that are made in France but outside the Champagne region. They’re still subject to the rigorous quality controls that Champagnes are, however they are less prestigious and, therefore, less expensive. Crémant de Loire, Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Limoux are my top three and you can pick up some excellent value bottles in most supermarkets. Flavour-wise, they’re usually a bit more complex than Prosecco but not as refined as Champagne. Champagne is always made from a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes, which gives it the characteristic flavour. However, because Crémant is produced in different regions of France, each style of Crémant has a slightly different blend of grapes, reflecting the style of wine which that area is known for. It’s worth trying a few different types of Crémant to see which region produces your favourite style!
Flavour profile: lemon, peaches, brioche.
I want to write that Crémant is the most versatile sparkling wine, but that sounds pretentious as hell. What I mean is that at Christmas time especially, Crémant seems to hit that sweet spot between decadence and practicality. A decent bottle of Champagne will set you back at least £30 whereas you can get a really delicious Crémant for around £15. So, at this price point, it’s still a special treat but you can make your budget go a little bit further.
WHAT ABOUT ENGLISH SPARKLING?
There is more and more English Sparkling wine hitting the market each year. Some wine experts predict that in a few years, as a result of global warming, the climate in the South of England will be more perfect for making Champagne than it is in Champagne. The last couple of years have, apparently, been exceptional for English winemaking. However, the price of English sparkling is still high – as high as Champagne. As a result, I haven’t had the chance to drink much English sparkling yet because, if I am looking to spend circa £30 on a bottle, I want to go for something I know will deliver for me. So more often than not, I’ll pick a Champagne. However, this year, I already have an English sparkling on my shelf in preparation for the festive season because I recognise that it’s a burgeoning style of wine and I want to learn more about it. So maybe check back next year to hear my thoughts on English sparkling!