Let's look at Bubblies!

Few people can resist a nice glass of sparkling, cold, fresh, fruity, zingy, refreshing, bubbly.... fun.

Christmas and Sparkling wine were made for each other it's a great time to drink bubblies, so read on and explore .......

Why Champagne is so expensive

How Champagne & Sparkling wine is made

How to recognise a quality bubbly, regardless of price

Some of the jargon, "Vintage & Non-vintage, Brut? Sec?

'Do's' and 'Don'ts' of serving and drinking sparkling wine

For many years "having a glass of bubbly" really only meant Champagne and as Champagne has always been expensive, "bubbly" has long been regarded as the preserve of the rich and therefore only ever to be bought and drunk for very, very special occasions. Even today few people would think of buying champagne for drinking on a weekly basis.

However, in the last twenty years or so, we in Britain have been lucky to see our choice of wine expand, with wines from Australia, USA, Chile, South Africa offering plenty of excellent alternatives to many of the red and white still wines of Old Europe. We have Cabernet and Merlot for alternatives to Red Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc to 'compete' with wines of the Loire, Chardnonnay and Pinot Noir to compare with wines of Burgundy. We have all these wonderful choices for still wine, so it is only to be expected that winemakers in these countries will seek to create serious alternatives to compare, contrast and in many cases emulate, France's sparkling wine, Champagne.

......... and they have, of course they have!

Nowadays there are many excellent alternatives to Champagne. Or let me put that differently. Great Sparkling wines are now available from all around the globe; from California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and there's some really good ones from France too.

To many in Champagne, lumping Champagne in with wines from these other countries would be heresy and I should be burnt at the stake, but in all seriousness in terms of quality, finesse, excellence and value for money, I would always recommend clients to look at "New World" Sparkling Wines for most occasions, as in nearly every comparison, similar quality wines from the New World will cost about 50% of those from Champagne.

Hang on, come on, ….Champagne IS the best, isn’t it?

UNDOUBTEDLY. In terms of the absolute best, no-one can yet compete with Champagne. Not surprisingly, because Champagne is and continues to develop itself as a "Luxury" product. This means lots of tradition and genuinely "handcrafted" wines, where great skill and expertise is deployed in creating and maintaining styles and consistent quality year, after year, after year.

However, this is only so at the very top end of the available range of Sparkling wines, once you are going upward of £30 per bottle. Anything below that and New World will "win" hands-down!

So why is Champagne so expensive?

Three reasons. First, Champagne is a region with a very difficult climate for making wine, many of the grapes struggle to ripen, in fact, they are often picked below optimum ripeness to increase the refreshing quality of the wine. Additionally, Champagne is expensive to produce, traditional methods not always being the most efficient.. Next, fashion. Champagne is the original sparkling wine . It has been promoted as the wine of success, of winners, of  momentous events. All others are imitations and imitations command only a fraction of the cost of the real item. Finally, it’s a specialism thing, in Champagne they only make Champagne.

& Sparkling Wine

Let's demystify the language…….

Some of the “jargon” you might find on a label explained.

Extra Brut – Very Dry
Brut – Dry
Extra Dry – Medium
Sec -   Slighty sweet
Demi-sec – fairly sweet
Doux – sweet

Vintage – 100% from a single year . Doesn’t happen every year.

Non-Vintage wines are wines which are made by mixing wines from more than one year.

RD- ‘Recently disgorged’

Blanc de blancs – a wine made 100% from white grapes, usually Chardonnay

Blanc de noirs – a wine made 100% from black/red grapes, usually Pinot Noir.


3 things, regardless of the wine,  Appearance, Smells, Tastes.

Look at the wine, what colour is it? Is it bright, does it have bubbles? Smell the wine, does it smell fresh, of fruit of other smells? Taste it – what does it taste of?

It is important to USE YOUR OWN WORDS to describe what you’re sensing, after all, it is you who will want to recognize it later! When tasting Sparkling wines, the bubbles give clues as to the quality – small bubbles, giving a creamy taste (mousse) tend to mean better quality, along with more “complex” tastes.

Fruit flavours? Are you getting any? Some Sparkling Wines are so light or so zingy to be devoid of any real fruit flavours. Some have rich ripe fruit flavours, particularly citrus, strawberry, melony, coconutty flavours.

Other flavours? Yeasty, toasty, buttery, rich biscuity flavours. The better quality the wine, the more complex will be the other flavours.

How do they get the bubbles in, how is Sparkling wine made?

The bubbles are a result of disolved Carbon dioxide in the wine and most of the Sparkling wines we buy in the UK are made the way they are made in Champagne, by re-fermenting still wine, by adding more yeast, using a process known as “Methode Champenoise” or “Methode Traditionelle”, where the 2nd fermentation occurs in the bottle. Other, less expensive wines are made by either fermenting the wine for a second time in a large tank and then bottling it or by passing Carbon Dioxide through it, while the wine is in the tank.

In the UK, there are very serious alternatives to Champagne at many price levels and probably the most common alternative at the "Frugal" end of the market is Cava from Spain. Cava can be bought everywhere and is generally a lighter, less “serious” wine priced at under £8. There are more serious Cavas at upwards of £8, but if paying this sort of price, perhaps there are more alternatives.

South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and California all produce wines to easily compete with and compare very favourably with Champagne in the £8-£25 range. Once we move above this price range, we begin to move towards "Vintage" Sparkling wine and there are very few producers of this type of wine outside of Champagne. Vintage Champagne is Champagne which is made when good weather throughout the year allows a much greater proportion of the grapes to fully ripen, sufficient to allow wine to be made without the need for blending in wines from other years to achieve the style the producer wishes.

Grape types - All Champagne is a blend of wines that the producer makes, using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. The balance of proportions in the wine are determined by the prevailing style of wine that the producer wishes to make, most are a blend of at least two of these grapes, usually Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, however there some which are almost 100% Pinot Noir or 100% Chardonnay.

As in Champagne, winemakers in the New World seek to create their own distinctive styles, something which is achieved through blending proportions of, usually Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to create a distinctive "House Style".

When drinking Sparkling Wine......

Use straight glasses or “flutes”, rather than “Saucer type”or “Babycham glasses". Reason?....The greater the surface area in the glass, the quicker the bubbles will release. Whilst fun, the wine is likely to be flat before you get it anywhere near your mouth.
Don’t - “Popping the cork”
Can be lots of fun, but can be expensive. It wastes wine and the bubbles dissipate more quickly. Anyway, there’s a lot more “kudos” to be gained by gently removing the cork with a minimum of fuss, looks much more professional, cool and suggests you know what you're doing!

These are just a few notes aimed at giving you confidence to try Sparkling Wines on more occasions, not just Christmas. We do offer a small selection of excellent quality and tremendous value for money "Methode Cape Classique" bubblies from South Africa - the two most popular, one white, one rose are in the side panel. If you have any questions you would like answered on this topic, e-mail Stephen.

supplying wine with knowledge

ofessional, cool and suggests you know what you’re doing.