At the moment, the UK is the world’s largest consumer of Prosecco. In 2019, that added up to over 110 million bottles of the stuff. I’m not sure if these statistics are something to be proud of or scared of… either way, it’s clear that we all love a bit of fizz. With the festive season fast approaching, many of those festive gold foiled bottles into our trolleys. But do you know your cava from your crémant? And, more importantly, which wine will be best for your occasion?
The nation's favourite Italian sparkling is made using the Glera grape. Its popularity probably stems from the fact that not only is it super affordable, it’s also delicious. It’s a little lighter on the alcohol and has a fresher slightly sweeter taste than other varieties. Flavour profile: apples, pears, honeysuckle.
The crowd pleasing, easy drinking nature of Prosecco makes it the obvious choice if you're after a bottle to pop with a bigger group. It's also the fizz I would use to make any festive cocktails such as a mimosa or bellini. See my recipe for a festive twist on a Bellini here!
The big hitter in the field of sparkling wines. Champagne is seen as the most prestigious form of fizz. All Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France. Every part of its production is tightly regulated and controlled to preserve the heritage and quality of this decadent drink – from the treatment of the soil, to when the grapes are harvested, and how the bottles must be shaped. All of this attention to detail adds up to a pricey yet poised drink. Flavour profile: toast, honey, biscuits.
Frankly, if I've splashed out on a bottle of champagne, I'm going to drink it exactly whenever and however I fancy! But one thing is for sure, I'm only going to be cracking into the good stuff when we are an intimate party. I wish my pockets were deep enough to have an endless stream of champers at every party, alas, they are not. So, for me, Champagne is best enjoyed in smaller groups because I want to make sure I get a good couple of glasses from the bottle! We often think of fizz as being an aperitif wine, rather than something to drink with food however the creamy yet bright flavour of Champagne can be a wonderful pairing with lots of Christmas food. Smoked salmon, crab or lobster, and oysters for example. It can also be lovely with creamy cheeses such as camembert and brie.
Spain’s fizzy wine offering often is often seen as the cheap (and therefore kind of naff) option but this is changing. Unlike in France and Italy, they aren’t too fussy about what grapes they use to make cava, so it varies a lot more in flavour. Their easy going approach to making wine is reflected in the flavour: cava makes for very easy drinking and goes easy on the purse strings too. Flavour profile: quince, citrus, almonds.
Cava is our go to when we fancy a bit of sparkling "just because". Cava can be very acidic and snappy compared to the slight sweetness of prosecco or the rich elegance of cava but I kind of like that. I think if I was a wine, I would be cava: fancy but also a bit feisty. There's something so thrilling about that distinctive pop on a casual Friday night; proper bougie behaviour! The acidic and citrus flavour of cava goes really well with fried foods. Crisps, for example. So if you're looking for a bottle of bubbles to pop open with a share bag and a film, cava is the one.
This catchall term refers to all other sparkling wines that are made in France but outside the Champagne region. They’re still subject to the rigorous quality controls that Champagnes are, however they are far less expensive. Crémant de Loire, Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Limoux are my top three and you can pick up some excellent value bottles for the quality. Flavour wise, they’re usually a bit more complex than Prosecco but not as refined as Champagne. Champagne is always made from a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes which gives it the characteristic flavour. However, because Cremant is produced in different regions of France, each style of Cremant has a slightly different blend of grapes, reflecting the style of wine that that area is known for. It's worth trying a few different types of Cremant to see which region produces your favourite style! Flavour profile: lemon, peaches, brioche.
I want to write that Crémant is the most versatile sparkling wine, but that sounds pretentious as hell. What I mean is that, at Christmas time especially, crement seems to hit that sweet spot between decadence and practicality. A decent bottle of Champagne will set you back at least £30 whereas you can get a really delicious Cremant for around £15. So, at this price point it's still a special treat but you can make your budget go a little bit further. At this price point, it feels ok to drink it casually, to pop the cork at midnight when you're already trashed, or you can savour it and pair it with food in the same way you might linger over champagne.
What about English Sparkling?
There is more and more English Sparkling wine hitting the market each year. Some wine experts predict that in a few years, as a result of global warming, the climate in the South of England will be more perfect for making champagne than it is in Champagne. The last couple of years have, apparently, been exceptional for English wine making. However, the price of English sparkling is high - as high as Champagne. As someone on a limited budget, I haven't had the chance to drink much English sparkling - yet - because if I am looking to spend circa £30 on a bottle, I want to go for something I know will deliver for me. So, more often than not, I'll pick a champagne. However, this year, I already have an English sparkling on my shelf in preparation for the festive season because I recognise that its a burgeoning style of wine and I want to learn more about it. So maybe check back next year to hear my thoughts on English sparkling!