Choosing a sparkling wine is complicated. May I present Exhibit one, Margaret Rand’s wonderful Decanter piece from 2010: “Champagne used to be so simple. There was nonvintage, which was what you drank. There was vintage, which was special…” Modern complications continue with her satirical creation, “rosé prestige saignée blanc de noirs zero dosage aged in futs de chêne”. This is why so many people trot up to parties with the same bottle as always. Why not try something else? Before you label me a sparkling bore, note I identify as vin-curious and for good reason. There is a world of champagne and sparkling wine far beyond the perfectly nice bottle with the lady on it.
Before you label me a sparkling bore, note I identify as vin-curious and for good reason
Exhibit two: need a bottle which will impress? Try Gosset Celebris Vintage 2012. At the very least, you can sip it propped against a mantlepiece spouting, “You know Gosset was founded in 1584 making it the oldest wine house in Champagne.” This is a taut, elegant champagne with all Gosset freshness and fragrance, ten years on lees. Or opt for the newly released Henriot Millésime 2014, brimming with freshness, flowers and vanilla with a bold feel in the mouth. That freshness goes very long, ending in a sophisticated hint of bitter. Both 2012 and 2014 are considered some of the best years for champagne in that decade, so each is worth seeking out to make that subtle, informed big glamorous splash.
Want to make a grand entrance? Exhibit three: learn from my mistake and do not take a great bottle to be squandered on a swilling mob. To impress a host, arrive bearing a well-made magnum. This style tip comes to you from the annual Female Chef of the Year event which serves shining bottomless magnums of Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2016, a golden and instantly quaffable enhancer of exciting food and exacting palates. A consistent magnum also worth cellaring, no wonder it’s called an Ode to Chardonnay.
At the other end of the social spectrum, there’s Exhibit four, the personal bottle: Ayala Brut Nature as a single glass refresher. Based on the Ayala Brut Majeur blend with approximately four years on lees, its grapefruit and dry mineral notes snaps me out of my doldrums at the end of the day. If it’s too tight for you, serve in larger bowled stemware to allow the succulent green apples and white peach notes to blossom. Don’t go full red wine glass, though. You’re not that guy. Do remember that you can keep sparkling wine a day or so if you have a good topper, or more with a sophisticated “wine preserver”. Toppers shaped like tiny Etruscan helmets are often too ill-fitting to work well. Always take care when re-opening. Bottles can emit an ear-busting explosion of compression upon release of a manual topper which can be quite alarming.
Exhibit five: bottles to suit Virgos and other difficult friends. Happily, 2023 brought forth two new Bollingers, both 100% pinot noir. Either will show that you’re in the know with the PN released in June 2023 and the LCEF three months later. Bollinger PN AYC 18, base year of 2018 blended with wine reserve to 2009, whiffs of bitter orange and tastes of honey, quince and candied citrus all in that sleek, manicured Bollinger style. The more robust Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants 2013 is 100% pinot noir, aged in oak barrels, supplying wafts of mint, acacia and citrus with a tang of lemon, butter and deep candied fruit. They say this pairs well with curried scallops.
Exhibit six: tricky celebratory bottles. There is a school of thought that people’s tasting habits are either up or down. Some of us start and continue tasting exclusive vintage bottles while others cajole their friends to help multi-buy at Lidl. There is delicious quality to be found in each instance. For that fun party where some will pull faces at anything that’s not prosecco, opt for the friendly fizz of Silver Reign English Sparkling from Silverhand Estate, England’s largest vineyard. Made in the Charmat method like prosecco, its got really lovely stone fruit notes following soft bubbles at the start. It’s all froth of prosecco but local. “Are you tasting peaches or apricots?” is a giggly party game to play with this bottle.
Exhibit seven: There’s a lot out there so keep learning by tasting (not necessarily drinking) as much as you can. Simply keeping up with grower champagne is a full time job which is what Sip Champagnes has done. They’ve earned an international reputation as trustworthy servants of the grape by befriending an immense variety of smaller producers. A choice pick right now is the debut of Perrine Fresne Sarmate, a grower champagne with super powers made by 33 year old Perrine Fresne. Think apples and cherry bringing citrus into focus finishing ultra dry and sweepingly clean.
Exhibit eight: taste a luscious local. It’s well known that the UK is rising fast in the ranks of wine, both sparkling and still. For an irresistible chalk and fruit experience, the bottle to get is The Grange’s recent release White From Black 2022. Swirl it onto all of your tasting surfaces. With each sip, you’ll want to feel every atom of succulent fruit following fresh minerality. Sure, you can just “drink” this but it’s better to pay attention. White From Black 2022 is an English sparkling which deserves the same attention you pay your phone. This is simply delicious adult candy, if you know what I mean. C