Champagne, bubbly, Blanc de Noir, Prosecco, champers, sparkling, charmat, Cava, Spumante, Cremant, Franciacorta, ancestrale, Petillant, Blanquette de Limoux, Sekt, methode traditionnelle, Lambrusco and Zitsa Debina are just a few of the many words used around the world to describe one delicious thing – wine with bubbles.
Produced dry or sweet, red and white and pink, from dozens of different grape varieties, in dozens of different countries, in an endless number of styles and flavour profiles and prices. Sometimes you need to go beyond the back label of a wine bottle to find something you’ll love, and in this case, I want to take you back more than 400 years, to 1531, to a village in southern France.
While today, Champagne is undoubtedly the most famous, expensive and celebrated sparkling wine made anywhere in the world, the first sparkling wine actually emerged from the cellars of a winery, just south of Toulouse, in a place called Blanquette de Limoux – almost 1000 km south of Champagne.
It was almost a century later before anyone understood the underlying science that lead to this accident of nature – and almost 40 years before anyone in Champagne started trying to produce sparkling wines. By the time this curious new wine style had begun to establish roots in Champagne, the effervescent fascination with sparkling wine was spreading across France like wildfire.
There is no wine more celebratory than a bottle of bubbly. From the elegant glassware, to the sound of the cork popping from the bottle, sparkling wine has become synonymous with celebration. With Mother’s Day coming up, we thought it was the perfect time to take a bit of an in-depth look at 5 of our favourite sparkling wines – any of which would be a wonderful addition to this special day.
1. Vintage Champagne
One of the great matriarchal figures of Champagne, Madame Bollinger, was once asked when she drank Champagne, and replied, “I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” Fine vintage Champagne (like this offering from Bollinger) is the ultimate expression of sparkling wine – and the perfect gift for Mother’s Day. These are profound wines that can be enjoyed with a variety of foods, or sipped on their own – and usually come packaged in a beautiful decorative box.
2. Cremant de Loire
Whether you’re considering heading to one of your favourite restaurants for brunch (or high tea) or waking up early to make a special meal at home, a glass of sparkling wine is an occasion appropriate addition to the mix. I love Loire Cremant (here’s a fabulous producer to watch for) with brunch, as the Chenin Blanc often used as part of the blend adds a beautiful floral, fruity and honey’d aromatic quality not generally found in Champagne. If you’re into the brunch of champions – anything topped with Hollandaise sauce! – this is a wine that will match brilliantly.
For many years, the Cava selection available on this side of the ocean has generally emphasized entry level bottlings and very low prices. That said, increasingly we are seeing the introduction of finer Cavas reaching our shores, many of which offer charm and style similar to quality Champagnes. Better Cava (here’s one of the best) are produced using the same handcrafted traditional methods employed in Champagne, but are made using indigenous Spanish grapes including Xarel-Lo and Perellada. The result is bright, refreshing and clean sparkling wine, often emphasizing flavours and aromas of green apple and lime. If your plans include dinner with your Mom, consider splurging on a bottle of good Cava – it’s a perfect wine to enjoy as an aperitif or with lighter starting dishes.
4. Spumante & Methode Ancestrale Sparklers
For decades, many of the cheapest, worst, most looked-down upon wines produced around the globe have been bubbly and sweet and pink. This has led to an unfortunate misconception that off-dry sparkling wines, in all their forms, should be seen as little more than cannon fodder by, ahem, respectable wine drinkers. Like most generalizations, there is some truth at the root of this belief, but it has led to an entire category of tasty wines being dismissed out of hand. Thoughtful Sommeliers, wine critics and vast populations of wine lovers in other parts of the world continue to enjoy the unpretentious charm of Spumante, Methode Ancestrale sparkling wines and even off-dry sparkling Shiraz as tasty choices next to charcuterie, soft cheeses and tapas style munchies – or as clever picks next to spicy Thai or Indian foods. In my book, this can be a fantastic choice as a wine to enjoy on a picnic, or a casual lunch al fresco.