In Monty Python’s Life of Brian the leader of the People’s Front Of Judea – the underground opposition party to the Romans – asks: “What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?” His party members promptly reel off a host of improvements and inventions the Romans have introduced to their lives. I thought of this as I was musing over a rhetorical question: what has Champagne ever done for us?
Well, without it we are unlikely to have the champagne “coupe” the shallow bowl on a stem that, legend tells us, was modelled on the embonpoint of Marie-Antoinette. We wouldn’t have to hand a drink that simply by saying “fancy a glass of champagne?” conjours up a whole set of louche and languid thoughts. No other wine, and few other drinks, have ever created – through its special qualities – a whole mood that, for some, almost amounted to a lifestyle.
But time moves on, tastes change and sybarites and epicures start to look farther afield to have their taste buds pricked. Champagne itself is going through something of a renaissance. To understand this there is a fine podcast (in the UK only) with Dan Keeling, owner of Noble Rot – Fitzrovia wine bar, restaurant and specialist wine mag, which tackles the rise of single vineyard and grower champagnes with admirable clarity http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09k0nx2
My task here is to encourage you to experiment with alternatives to champagne and, no, I don’t mean that Prosecco you guzzled at the weekend because it was on offer at Waitrose! I want to take you as far outside your comfort zone as you’re prepared to let me and then just a few hectares more… I’m including here some names of sparkling wine (mostly produced by methode champenoise, but a few via the same process as prosecco i.e. ‘charmat’ – in stainless steel tanks). They include Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France.
I am also including a few left field suggestions like Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and even one from Lichtenstein (produced by the Princess of Lichtenstein, no less!!!), in case you want to go right off the fizzometer.
You could, of course, always push the envelope even further if you fancy and seek out: Sovetskoye Shampanskoye, Hungarian Kreinbacher, or go new world like Canada, Argentina, South Africa, etc., But, for now, let’s keep our focus on a range of EU partners (ha!) and get ourselves all in a froth.
Franciacorta from Brescia, Lombardia. Ca’ del Bosco http://www.cadelbosco.com/en/ is sublime, but there are others, and a lot of wine merchants have it on their lists these days. If they don’t perhaps it is time you changed your wine merchant. This is arguably the best sparkling wine from Italy. It is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Blanc with a secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle
Pignoletto pronounced peen-yo-let-o, is an ancient grape variety grown in the hills of Bologna in Emilia-Romagna (north-east Italy). Somewhat confusingly the grape variety is also called Grechetto Gentile and known traditionally as Alionzina. It is made using the charmant method and is tipped to be a real contender to Prosecco in the future. Consorzio Vini Colli Bolognesi have some real treats http://www.collibolognesi.it/index.php?chlang=en&idpagina=24
Brachetto from Piemonte – Contero Brachetto d’Acqui is a good product https://www.thewinesociety.com/grower-profile-contero-italy
Falanghina from Campania – Feudi de San Gregorio DUBL are at the top of their game http://dubl.it/?lang=en
Trentodoc from Trentino – Maso Martis Dosaggio Zero (Riserva 2011) is wonderful http://www.masomartis.it/project/dosaggio-zero-riserva/?lang=en
Calabria has a spumante which is gaining fans and Librandi Almaneti Brut Bianco is a good example https://www.librandi.it/en/almaneti
I’m pretty sure Sardinia, Sicily, Marche, Abruzzo, Liguria, etc all make a sparkler if these are more popular regions and close to your heart.
Bairrada is the traditional home of espumante in Portugal but these new regions are also developing this style successfully
Douro – Vértice Bruto Rose
Dao – Cabriz Blanc de Noir Brut
Vinho Verde – Dom Ferro Reserva Bruto
Bairrada – Lopo de Freitas Brut + Caves do Solar de São Domingos Velha Reserva Brut
Thessaloniki produces a delightful sparkling wine from the Assyrtiko grape which has been such a revelation as a still and desert wine from Santorini. Brut White from Matamis is a fine example http://www.matamis-wines.com/charilys-spumante.php
But if you want something special and rare then track down a bottle of Nikolas Douloufakis’ Vidiano méthode Champenoise from Crete https://www.cretanwines.gr/en/
The Spanish have recognised the value of creating an exclusive range of sparkling wines and have introduced a super premium category to cover this: single-vineyard cava
Good examples of this are Galicia’s: Mar de Frades Brut Nature from Albaiño
Other notable examples are typically from Catalonia’s Penedès region. The 2007 Agusti Torello Mata Kripta Brut Nature Gran Reserva is amazing (it also comes in a very fetching amphora shaped bottle that can only rest in an ice bucket!). Ramona III Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature is also a very refined wine, as is Raventos Blanc Manuel Raventos Conca del Riu Anoia
Jura Brut; Bordeaux Mousseaux; Gaillac Mousseaux; Blanquette de Limoux; Cremant de Bourgone are all distinguished French sparklers but if you want to try something Gallic and cutting edge I would suggest you seek out:
Berceau Piquepoul Chardonnay Frisante Brut from Languedoc would be my pick
Romania: Rhein & Cie – (Rhein Extra Brut) or Prince Stirbey or Cramele Recas (Muse 2014)
Croatia: Tomac Aphora Brut Nature is a Decanter Wine Magazine award winner
Slovenia: Movia’s Puro is the best of the bunch
Lichtenstein: Hofkellerei des Fürsten von Lichtenstein (FL Premier) has the Princess’ imprimatur