What to drink…
Enjoying a glass of festive fizz needn’t break the bank. Richard Hemming looks at the sparkling wines that make great-value alternatives to champagne
All that glitters is not gold – and all that sparkles is not champagne. In fact, every viticultural region in France makes their own fizzy wine of one kind or another. While they are normally made using the same methods as champagne, they’re not allowed to put that magic word on the bottle. Instead, most are known as ‘ crémant’ – for example, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant d’Alsace and so on.
By following the same production techniques, the flavours often resemble those of champagne. The most important factor is ageing in the bottle sur lie, when the wine is left in contact with yeast cells left over from fermentation. This develops distinctive flavours known as ‘autolytic’ – such as brioche and toast.
However, the grape varieties used vary according to the region. For example, in the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc is the main ingredient, while in Alsace it might be Pinot Blanc. Generally speaking,
Tesco Finest 1531 NV Blanquette de Limoux (£9 Tesco) Blended from Mauzac, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this is a great-value fizz to have standing by for spontaneous celebrations. There’s a lovely biscuit aroma alongside fresh, green apple fruit and the bubbles have a creamy, soft texture. It’s a simple, straightforward style at a keen price. winemakers prefer to use grapes which don’t have a very strong aromatic profile, to ensure that those autolytic flavours don’t get obscured.
Some regions have their own specialist types of sparkling wine. For instance, Clairette de Die Méthode Ancestrale is a sweet sparkling Muscat from the Rhône valley, with only about 9% alcohol – it’s a bit like Italy’s Asti Spumante. Whereas Blanquette de Limoux hails from the Languedoc and is a conventional, dry sparkling style using the local grape variety Mauzac.
Luckily, Blanquette de Limoux is quite easy to find. Here are two specific recommendations, plus a classic crémant from the Loire. They are all great value, so there’s no need to wait for a special occasion to crack one open! They’ll certainly add some seasonal cheer to your festive celebrations though.
Delmas, Tradition NV Blanquette de Limoux (£11.99 sustainablewines.co.uk) Domaine Delmas has been making wine organically since 1986, specialising in the traditional sparkling wines of Limoux. There’s a really distinctive bitter herb character in this wine, which comes from the Mauzac grape variety that makes up the majority of the blend. It’s an appreciably different flavour to champagne – delicious!
Langlois NV Crémant de Loire (£13.50 winetrust100.co.uk) This Loire estate is owned by Bollinger, so it’s a cunning buy if you want champagne quality for a bargain price! It’s made from Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc and has a charming toasty aroma that has definite hints of Bolly about it. The wine is aged for 24 months on lees – serious stuff.