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

Living France - - A La Maison -

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.

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