WINE TO DINE

Devo­tees of lux­ury fizz no longer restrict them­selves to Cham­pagne, says Peter Ranscombe

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Peter Ranscombe finds him­self in a Cham­pagne Su­per­nova in the sky with the best fizz from around the globe

I f lux­ury has a sound then it’s that un­mis­take­able ‘pop’ as a cork flies from the neck of a sparkling wine bot­tle. Ex­perts are sup­posed to ex­tract the stop­per with a gen­tle hiss that sounds like a ‘nun fart­ing’ but, for most of us, it’s the overex­u­ber­ant surge of es­cap­ing bub­bles that sig­nals the party’s started.

And few words epit­o­mise lux­ury like the name Cham­pagne. France’s pre­mier fizz has been the choice at royal cel­e­bra­tions since the days of Ver­sailles and is now the go-to tip­ple for F1 rac­ing driv­ers and pre­mier­ship foot­ballers.

Yet I al­ways worry with Cham­pagne that we’re pay­ing more for the brand than for the liq­uid in the bot­tle; it’s the same fear that’s so far stopped me choos­ing Ap­ple over An­droid. Top-notch Cham­pers must con­vince me it’s got some­thing go­ing for it that’s more than just the fancy name on the la­bel.

The Charles Hei­d­sieck Blanc de Mil­lenaires 1995 (£145, Wood­win­ters) lives up to those ex­pec­ta­tions. For an aged wine, there’s still plenty of fresh sparkle in its acid­ity, which is bal­anced by gor­geous or­ange flavours on the palate. Charles Hei­d­sieck’s ded­i­ca­tion to older fizz even fil­ters through to its en­try-level non-vin­tage Cham­pagnes, which fea­ture higher pro­por­tions of re­serve wines from pre­vi­ous years, adding to their rich­ness.

An­other bot­tle that shares the same ded­i­ca­tion to older wines is the Jac­ques­son Cu­vée 733 Dé­gorge­ment Tardif (£95, Har­vey Nichols), with the core grapes com­ing from 2006, plus about a third from older vin­tages. The re­sults are bis­cu­ity and slightly nutty aro­mas on the nose, be­fore it launches into bright le­mon and lime flavours on the tongue, ac­com­pa­nied by richer

mus­co­v­ado su­gar and peachy notes. The Bil­le­cart-Salmon Cu­vée Ni­co­las François 2002 (£140, Berry Bros

& Rudd) has a vel­vety smooth­ness that jus­ti­fies its price tag, thanks in part to the clever use of older oak bar­rels to age some of the blend. Lots of ripe pear and whole­meal toast to greet the nos­trils, lead­ing on to red ap­ples and short­bread on the palate.

I’d urge any­one with a pas­sion for sparklers to ex­plore be­yond Cham­pagne too. With­out the his­toric bag­gage of brand­ing, other re­gions can hold their own in the lux­ury stakes.

Ital­ian sparkling wines don’t be­gin and end with Pros­ecco – Fran­ci­a­corta in Lom­bardy uses the same tra­di­tional method as Cham­pagne to make fizz, with the sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion that adds the bub­bles tak­ing place in the bot­tle, as op­posed to a tank un­der pres­sure for Pros­ecco. The Bellav­ista Vit­to­rio Moretti (Exel Wines, £82.76) is a prime ex­am­ple of ev­ery­thing that’s great about Fran­ci­a­corta, pro­vid­ing fresh acid­ity paired with brioche and cake flavours, plus a but­tery vanilla twist.

Cal­i­for­nia also pro­duces top-qual­ity sparkling wine and the Schrams­berg J Schram (£103, He­do­nism Wines) really caught my eye. It’s got the full gam­bit of flavours from red ap­ple and lime through to but­ter and bis­cuit, and of­fers a much fuller tex­ture on the tongue.

Don’t dis­miss Eng­lish fizz ei­ther. At the topend, the Ham­ble­don Première Cu­vée (£42, Waitrose Cel­lar) has a lux­u­ri­ously-round mouth­feel that really ap­peals to me. But it’s the in­ten­sity of the fruit that won me over, with gala ap­ples and a touch of smoke on the nose then straw­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries and more red ap­ples in the mouth. De­li­cious.

‘I worry with Cham­pagne that we’re pay­ing more for the brand than what’s in the bot­tle’

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