I like the rituals that surround Christmas. As a lad, I was allowed to oversee the preparation of “Santa’s sustenance”, as my father called it. A small piece of Christmas cake and a glass of fizz were placed by the fireplace. Other kids in my class left port or sherry but my father liked the “specialness” of sparkling wine. He probably also liked the fact that once opened, the bottle had to be finished.
Sparkling wine is a bit special. The pop of a cork is a cheerful sound, a sort of Christmas party starter’s gun letting us know the festivities have begun.
A warning about corks: a typical bottle of fizz has twice the pressure of a double-decker-bus tyre. Treat it with respect by folding a napkin over the cork before you ease it from the bottle. Don’t point the bottle at yourself or anyone else. If you can manage it, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to increase the wine’s surface area and reduce the risk of froth-over. It works in much the same way as beer poured into a tilted glass froths less than if the glass is upright.
One of the most important questions you will face in the festive season is, “What sort of sparkling wine should I buy?” If you are likely to be overrun by relatives who really don’t care as long as it’s cold and wet, it makes sense to stick to budget bubbly. You can dress it up a little by serving champagne cocktails, although the quality of the most basic bubbly on my list below is good enough to stand alone.
Prosecco has become enormously popular worldwide and no doubt the recently released Prosecco rosé will give it another boost in popularity. It is possible to buy attractive Prosecco under $30, a popular price segment that opens the door to a few good local méthode wines as well as quite a number of imports.
In the $30 to $49.99 price bracket, sparkling wine starts to get very serious. You won’t find too many Champagne labels here although you will find some of the best examples of local fizz.
The over-$50 category is heavily populated by Champagne heavy-hitters although an increasing number of very respectable local méthode wines now stand alongside some of the big names from France. Local or import? It can be a hard call.
A word about prices, which can be rather volatile during the Christmas season when discounting is rife: there is a saying in the wine trade, “If you don’t make it at Christmas, you can’t make it.” My indicative prices are a mix of those submitted by winemakers and shelf prices uncovered using wine-searcher.com.
Budget bubbly under $15
Someone told me that they make their own perfectly respectable fizz by putting cheap white wine in their SodaStream. I tried it with a bottle of Dicey 2020 Pinot Gris. Warning: don’t remove the SodaStream bottle until the foam settles down. I made quite a mess in the kitchen, although the wine tasted pretty good, earning a thumbs-up from all who tried it. It is not quite as fizzy as most bottled sparkling wine.
Why risk making a mess of the kitchen when you can buy Brancott Brut Cuvée and Brancott Brut Rosé for just $10.99. Both are made from New Zealand grapes. These are the perfect base for champagne cocktails. Lindauer Brut Pinot Gris, Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc also carry a $10.99 price tag. My favourite is the rosé.
Lindauer also offers an Italian Prosecco with a price tag of just $13.99, although I haven’t tasted it yet.
Other favourites are Te Hana Reserve Cuvée, an off/dry blend of chardonnay and pinot noir that is delicious drinking and great value at this price. Brown Brothers Prosecco Rosato is another good buy at $14.99. It’s made in Australia from Prosecco grapes (now rechristened “Glera” to prevent non-Italian wine producers using the term Prosecco).
Prosecco and more $15-$29.99
Inexpensive Prosecco has seldom disappointed me but as the price approaches $30, the wine moves into a superior quality level. The 2020 Col de Salici Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut, $28, may be difficult to pronounce but it is dangerously easy to drink – an appealing medley of tree fruits and nutty yeast lees.
Hunter’s Miru Miru NV Méthode, $28.90, compares favourably. A blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, this is very Champagne-like, with an emphasis on yeast-lees character rather than fruit. Appealing baguette crust and brioche characters take centre-stage, with apple and citrus characters in the background.
Black Barn Brut NV, Hawke’s Bay, $29, is another good-value local wine. Fine, toasty fizz with citrus, green apple, brioche and bready flavours are supported by tangy acidity that is balanced by a whisker of sweetness. A crisp, refreshing wine.
Méthode and more $30-$49.99
Champagne is French fizz but not all French fizz is Champagne. Limoux in southern France is famous for its fizz. Try Mademoiselle Marguerite NV Crémant de Limoux Brut, $30. It’s slightly less gassy than Champagne and has a fresh and fruity character that’s a perfect antidote to steamy summer weather.
Compare it to our very own 2017 Deutz Prestige Cuvée from Marlborough, $30. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, it’s a rich and moderately weighty fizz with pronounced bready, yeasty, citrus flavours supported by tangy acidity that gives a dry, mouth-watering finish.
Quartz Reef NV Méthode Brut from Central Otago, $32.99, and Marlborough wines No 1 Family NV Assemble, $32, Mumm NV Brut Prestige, $35, Nautilus NV Brut, $37.99, and Cloudy Bay NV Pelorus, $34.99, are all marvellous New Zealand sparkling wines.
I managed to find one Champagne in this price category. Lanson Black Label Brut, $49.98, is an old favourite. My latest tasting note reads, “A truly delicate and ethereal Champagne with lovely bready autolysis characters together with nut and floral nuances. Seriously good.”
Champagne and more $50+
Here is my short list of Champagne favourites – four wines in four distinctively different styles.
Champagne Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut, $69
I love the way that Perrier-Jouet is mellow and mature while at the same time fresh and lively. That is what I call true complexity. It is an ethereal wine – laced with specialness.
Veuve Clicquot NV, $69.99
“Only one quality – the finest” was Madame Clicquot’s motto. This is rich and creamy, with impressive flavour depth. Consistently fine Champagne.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Réserve, $73.98
I like the tension, purity and power of this wine. A high proportion of chardonnay helps to emphasise its appealing minerality.
Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée, $94.99
I have always had a special affection for this robust yet sophisticated style. It’s wonderful wine when released, and even better after a few years.
2016 No 1 Family Adele Cuvée, Marlborough, $270
Only made in exceptional vintages, this is rich and creamy with delicious brioche/baguette crust and tangy citrus flavours. It’s a very special wine that lives up to its Swarovski-crystal encrusted bottle.
Read more from Bob at therealreview.com