We are thrilled to have the inimitable Brigid O’Hora aka @brideys_wine_chats sharing her extensive knowledge on one of our favourite subjects – Champagne and Fizz for the festive season.
Brigid has included some stunning recommendations for you to try this festive season with links to purchase from some of Ireland’s most esteemed wine merchants who all happen to deliver nationwide and lets be honest – Champagne Mail is the best Mail!
It is no huge shock to learn, that the sparkling wine category has exploded globally in the past ten years. Supermarket shelves are now tightly packed with mushroom corked bottles. Restaurants and bars are beefing up their ‘bubbles’ section of the menu at an alarming pace. Bubbles are here to stay. In fact, both production and consumption of these effervescent wines has mushroomed by a whopping 57% since the year 2012.
What was once a smaller sector of the market at a meagre 5%, is now escalating year on year to a far more respectable 10% of the global market share of wine production. We could most likely attribute most of the successes and newfound appetite for sparkling wines to Prosecco’s. These styles of wine filled a vacuous gaping hole in the market for a more affordable bubble in our glass. Many of us are still not at the scale where we are swilling down on fine vintage Champagnes on a random Tuesday.
Thankfully the advent of these vibrant and cheeky affordable Proseccos opened the floodgates to a selection of top quality, more affordable sparkling wines from France, Spain, Germany and England.
Christmas time seems to bring out the giddy nature in us, and of course this means splurging out on a bottle of bubbles for any of the various occasions in December. So naturally it is of little surprise we see an increase in the sales of these wines for silly season.
Of all these quality offerings, Crémant from France must be one of the shining stars. It is widely rumoured that the bubbles in wine came about from an accident in secondary fermentation in a monastery in Limoux in the South of France, a couple of hundred years well before the Northern region of Champagne. The honed skills and expertise of sparkling wine production was then further perfected in Champagne by the infamous monk Dom Perignon. However, the rest of France were still tinkering on with their own sparkling offerings, possibly without the global fame and reputation that Champagne had become accustomed to.
6 to Savour this Christmas
For an almost carbon copy of the illustrious Champagne, head to Burgundy for a delightful experience with affordable bubbles. In this esteemed wine region, they use similar grapes, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Albeit the ageing time is less in the bottle, the method of production is still the same. Therefore, these wines have this wonderful tiny, persistent bubble, with generous flavours of lemons, quince, honey, and brioche, and are incredible food wines. They can slice through raw fish, densely flavoured pate, and creamy, rich shellfish. All perfect ingredients for your canapes on Christmas day. Crémant de Bourgogne gives you all the glamour of a fine Champagne, yet half the price.
Another absolute cracker you could serve with your canapes could be a Mosacto d’Asti. Musact is a grape that is widely grown, and most known for its floral like aromas and light nature. You could be inclined to pass on this Italian version of Muscat as sweet and sickly, but this is not the case. This low alcohol sparkling wine has a rich, bright palate with flavours of peach, apricot and orange with seductive floral scents of elderflower, orange blossom and honeysuckle. The gentle levels of acidity, combined with the fine, mousey bubbles are just magical at contrasting with an array of salty cheeses, or indeed a rich pate or rustic black olive tapenade. The trick is finding a well made Moscato. Piemonte is the home of well-made Moscato, and Asti is the epicentre. Interestingly some of Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti wines are fermented and stored in historical caves that span over 11 miles underneath the city of Canelli, making it a veritable floating city—on sparkling wine! Olim Buada is a quality driven producer of Moscato d’Asti.
The word ‘Cava’ is Catalan for cellar. Although many regions in Spain produce Cava, over 95% of production is in Catalonia, in the North East of Spain. For many a decade this Spanish sparkling has had a poor reputation, swilled by the student cohort, caring less about quality of flavours and more about a cheap, merry experience. However the Spanish wine industry has been very keen lately to elevate both the stature of this fine sparkling, and also the quality of production. Cava has entered a new dawn of fine flavours, beautiful tiny bubbles and a freshness that cleanses the palate reminisce of good quality Champagne. By law, Cava must be produced in the ‘Champagne method’, which means a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce a more natural bubble. Further to this, these wines must be aged for at least one year in bottle. Thus adding to the layers of flavours in these wines coming from the local regional grapes and the bottle ageing. Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada grapes lend to flavours of green apples, grapefruits, baked lemons, mandarins, and classic brioche notes from the bottle ageing. But they also display a wonderful earthy character that comes from the combination of these local grapes. This earthiness makes Cava an ideal wine for a goats cheese and beetroot starter, or a mushroom quiche, bringing out the earthy characters in your dish. Peralada are a sustainably centred winery in Penedes that have given us a choice of top quality Cava’s. Stars is one of their more interesting wines.
Espumante is the Portuguese term for their sparkling wines. Honestly the quality and variety coming from Portugal lately is a wonder to behold. In an ancient winemaking country like this, quality is at the beating heart of their industry. For bang for your buck, this is the country to be in, and their sparkling wine offering is no different. By law their wines must be made in the infamous ‘Champagne method’. They come in white, red and rosé style. In terms of broader appeal the whites and the rosé styles are most popular. The white which is labelled ‘Brancos’, are typically pleasant on the palate with a fresh and delicate flavour. Fresh acidity, floral aromas, fine bubbles and a creamy mousse are the most recognisable character to these wines. The rosésare similarly fragrant but with expressive notes of red berry fruits, like strawberries, raspberries or cherries. In Ireland we have a beautiful example from the region of Alto Duoro that is taking the market by storm. Such is the quality, that this is in fact a ‘Pet Nat’. Which means it has been fermented in the bottle, but only once, and is then crown capped. Far easier to open, to drink and to enjoy. A delicious offering from Folias de Baco.
Grower champagne is a term that is being bandied around more and more lately. And to be honest it is a welcome addition. The very history of this famous region dates back to wines that were used to celebrate the kings anointments in Reims. This local wine was used as the toast wine. Therefore this celebratory element, was what elevated these wines to their global appeal from the very early days. With an esteemed reputation and the Bourgeoise of Europe as their biggest consumers, it was easy to see why the smaller local farmer/ producer got left behind. The large houses took over. However in a more modern wine world, the notion of smaller producer wines are beginning to take over. The current discerned wine drinker is far more interested in where the wine came from, the local climate it was grown in and who actually made the wine. And this is where ‘Grower Champagne’ steps in. Previously growers grapes were sold to these glamorous Champagnes houses. But now the growers are completing the full circle of their own grapes, and making their own wines. Grower Champagne has a stunning purity. The flavours are individual to the specific plots the grapes are grown in. This Leclerc Briant from Winespark emanates freshness, with intense citrus fruits, tones of butterscotch and apricot brioche. Ideal for a charcuterie board as your snack of choice
Rosé Champagne is a pink colour style which is certainly becoming increasingly popular. This style gets its characteristic pink colour from the pigment of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. It can be made non-vintage or vintage. Rosé Champagne has typical flavours of red berries and citrus, as well as earthy aromas. It is the one wine that seems to appear on most Michelin star tasting menu experiences around the world. The capabilities this style of wine to pair with such a wide array of foods is astonishing. Each bottle of Champagne must be aged for at least two years in the bottle, therefore the primary fruit aromas are also partnered with aromas and flavours of red cherry Bakewell pastry, crushed hazelnuts, brioche and creamy notes. The rich palate is mousey in the mouth, yet the tingling acidity leaves the cleanest of finishes to thoroughly cleanse away those rich seasonal foods. Apart from its attractive colour and fine bubbles that rise to the top, the nature of these Champagnes make them ideal for grilled fish, roasted white meats, and creamy mild cheeses. Especially if you are splashing out and spending your money on a vintage Rosé. They have the ability to transcend throughout the whole meal! For some Christmas cheer, Bollinger is sure to delight many a passing guest.
WRITTEN BY BRIGID O’HORA – @BRIDEYS_WINE_CHATS