One of the top questions I get from wine lovers is, “What wine should I buy for X occasion”? Or, they need a gift for the boss, or a wine to bring to a dinner party.This is my answer: SPARKLING WINE!
Let me enumerate my reasons:
#1 It goes with everything. From oysters to pizza, you can’t go wrong with sparkling.
#2 It’s fun! Everyone loves the bubb.
#3 There’s a wide range of pricing. From entry level, to spendy Vintage Champagne, whatever your budget, there’s a sparkling for it.
Now we’re going to talk options. We all know Champagne (which on a label denotes it’s made in the Champagne region of France). But there are some other less well known bubbles I want you to know about too. They’re not all made in the same way as “Champagne Method” (called “Traditional Method” when used outside Champagne) which greatly affects their price. For a primer on the Champagne Method, check out #Instawineschool Day 6.
Made in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions of Italy (the North-East corner). Often cheap, cheerful, perfect for making cocktails (Bellini anyone?), or enjoying on it’s own, Prosecco is the go-to wine to bring to a house party or as a small thank you to the neighbors for picking up your mail. Most Prosecco is made using the tank method, in which the bubbles are added to a wine while it’s in a tank (as opposed to created in the bottle via secondary fermentation) which makes it cost effective. Prosecco is made from the grape Glera, and is usually crisp, fruity and fairly dry, although sweeter versions do exist. If you’re looking for a top quality ‘Secco keep an eye out for the letters DOCG on the label.
Made in Spain. Cavas are actually made in the same method as Champagne, so you’ll see ‘Traditional Method’ on the label. It’s often produced from a blend of local grapes that you don’t hear too much about: Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello, mainly in the Catalonia region in the North-East of Spain, although we're starting to see more made from Chardonnay too. This is a smart buy, as you'll find flavours comparable to Champagne (shhh, don’t tell them I said so) but at under half the cost. Cava is perfect for bringing to a dinner party or fancy brunch, and I love to make my favourite cocktail, the Kir Royale, with it (top your Cava with a lashing of sweet ruby Cassis liqueur).
Non-Vintage Champagne (NV):
Made in Champagne, France, this is for when quality counts. NV Champagne is usually made from a blend of three grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The grapes can come from all over the Champagne region, and the final wine will be a blend of wine made in different years, hence the term “non-vintage”. Master blenders are responsible for recreating the house style year after year. My favourite NV Champagne is Veuve Clicquot, as I love the truly toasty brioche note it has, and I'm also partial to Taittinger and Ruinart. Expect bubbles that are fine and creamy; some people say they look like a string of pearls running from the bottom of the glass. This would be a delightful birthday present, Mother’s Day gift, or something to thank your hostess for a weekend stay. PS: if you see Blanc de Blancs on the label, it's made from Chardonnay, and Blanc de Noirs is Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.
OK, take your best grapes, from your best vineyards, in a great year, and you have the beginnings of a Vintage Champagne. This Champers is from a specific year: while the grapes may come from various vineyards, they were all grown in the year declared on the label. Vintage Champagne lays on its lees for even longer than the NV stuff. That’s where the bottles are resting in the caves with the yeasts (lees) still in the wine, and gives us those sought-after bready notes. Vintage Champagne can be had for sometimes just a slight premium over the NV, although you can always spend more, and it's perfect for a special celebration. I’d buy Vintage for a wedding anniversary, romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, or to celebrate a big business win!