Sparklers to see in the new year

Sparklers- as published in Life Inspired Magazine, Star Newspapers December 2013

When on a budget, and want to give a wine friend something special to celebrate with, what do you get? Why, a sparkling wine of course!

There are many alternatives to Champagne and although they taste a little different, the bubbles in them will still set the tone for toasting and celebrations. Most sparkling wine will cost half the price of Champagne and you have to expect a different verve in the wine.

Wines that come to mind include the spumantes from Italy, cava from Spain, sekt from Germany and a host of sparkling wines from the New World producing countries – including those made by Champagne houses that have set up winemaking operations outside France.

France herself offers many versions of sparkling wine as alternatives to Champagne.  Most of them are named after the region. If you read on the label names such as Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Limoux and so on, you can be sure the wine will have bubbles.

At first glance, term ‘crémant’ simply indicates that the wine is sparkling.  But it also distinguishes the wine from Champagne. The term crémant (in French, it means “creamy”), came to be used because it refers to the lower carbon dioxide pressures in the bottle – which gives the wines a creamy rather than the fizzy mouth-feel found in Champagnes. Just as a comparison, the pressure in Champagne bottles is around 5-6 atmospheres (three times the pressure in a motorcar’s ties) whilst the pressure in cremant wines is around 3-4 atmospheres. Hence the ‘creamy’ texture of lower pressure sparkling wines in the mouth. Other differences to Champagne is in the grape varieties used.  They contribute to the unique tastes of each regional sparkler. Here’s a shortlist of French bubbly, their origin and grape varieties.

Alsace: Cremant d’Alsace (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay; Pinot Noir used for pink Cremant d’Alsace)

Bordeaux: Cremant de Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and some red varieties)

Loire: Cremant de Loire (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other red varieties)

Languedoc: Cremant de Limoux (Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac)

Burgundy: Cremant de Bourgogne (Chardonnay, Aligote, Melon, Pinot Blanc, Gamay, Pinot Noir)

Rhone: Cremant de Die (Clairette, Muscat Blanc, Aligote)

Jura: Cremant de Jura (Chardonnay)

Loire: Anjou mousseux (Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Grolleau, Malbec, Pineau d’Aunis)

Spanish Sparklers
On the Iberian peninsula, specifically Spain, the eminent sparkling wine is Cava. The backstory to its namesake begins with Josep Raventós Fatjó of the Codorníu estate in the Catalan. In 1872 he produced the first sparkling wine in the country. As the legend goes, a cool cellar or cava (in the Catalan language) was dug in order to produce more sparkling wine. The first bottles of sparkling wine became known as cava.   These days, cava, unlike Champagne does not refer to a region but a style of wine. Thus you will find cava from Rioja, Valencia, Castille and Leon, Navarra, Aragon, Extremadura, the Basque Country and more.

The famous cavas come from Penedes and it is here that – the wines come in  white (blanco) or rosé (rosado) versions. The grapes used are usually Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo.

And the rest
We covered the sparkling and spumante wines of Italy recently so I will simply mention some of the famous ones to look out for – Franciacorta, Prosecco and Asti.

Other sparkling wines if you come across them, that are worth tasting include: Vouvray, Blanquette méthode ancestrale AOC (French); Cremant de Luxembourg (Luxembourg), Espumante (Portugal); Sekt (Germany), Pezsgo (Hungary), Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (Russian champagne); wines from Moldova, Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine), Romania, the various New world countries and even England.

And here’s a party tip to see in the New Year. If you are hosting large numbers on a budget but still want to serve some bubbly wine, simply purchase cases of the cheapest bubbly wine – irrespective to taste. At your party, you have two choices. Use the bubbly to make a cocktail or simply drop a fruit (such as a lychee, longan, cherry or strawberry) into the flute glass and top it off with the sparkling wine. The sparkling wine will take on nuances of the fruit and when offered to guests entering the room, will certainly put the panache into your party!