To make a party go with a bang in the run-up to Christmas, there’s nothing quite as festive as a glass of fizz.
Champagne is the default option, while we tend to reach for prosecco and cava if budgets are tight, but there are many other bubbles worth sniffing out that make a welcome change from these usual suspects.
The French use the méthode traditionnelle in regions other than Champagne to make admirable fizz that delivers brilliant bubble for your buck – look for the word crémant on the label. This process, whereby the bubbles are produced by a secondary fermentation in the bottle, is now used all over the world and is generally considered to produce the most refined sparkles. Sweetness levels are indicated by brut nature (the driest style) via extra brut, brut, extra sec (extra dry), sec (dry) and demi-sec to doux (the sweetest).
Flutes are the most popular glasses to use – their slim shape holds the bubbles in best – although saucer-shaped coupes are making something of a comeback. Standard wine glasses may look less celebratory but are perfectly adequate, and their larger bowl makes the most of the wine’s aromas. Whichever glass you choose to use, make sure it’s immaculately clean and well polished as residues of detergent will make the bubbles disperse quickly.
Sparklers for a special occasion:
Torres Santa Digna ‘Estelado’ Rosé NV, Chile
Made from the pais grape native to Chile, this has a pretty strawberries-and-cream nose but is bone dry and really quite special. Try it with the satsuma sea bass ceviche.
Villa Cialdini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro 2015, Italy
Forget the horrid sweet lambruscos of your youth; this is made in the traditional way and is one to reach for if you want to go off-piste. Ripe but crunchy fruit with a lovely dry finish, drink it on its own or with the rare roast beef with pickled walnuts.
Montevecchio Moscato 2015
This slightly sweet Australian sparkler is a delight and at only 5.5% abv is gentle on the liver, too. It makes a great aperitif and would also go down well at the end of a meal if you want something lighter than a full-blown sticky. Pineapple upside-down cake would be a perfect match.
(£12.50, wineutopia.co.uk, dvinecellars.com)
Wine Society’s Saumur Brut NV
Chenin Blanc is so at home in the Loire, and here it’s used to make my go-to fizz for a party. Fresh and zippy with an elegant roundness, it’s also good to keep on hand for when the festive spirit is beginning to flag and you need a pocket-friendly lift.
Honest Grapes Taste Lab
This young company of wine merchants and educators is one to keep an eye on. Its entertaining Taste Lab kit at £35 contains phials of 10 wines to smell and taste, designed to focus your mind on the major styles with online interaction to reveal which wines suit you best. A great gift for the budding wine buffs in your life.