WINE TO DINE
Devotees of luxury fizz no longer restrict themselves to Champagne, says Peter Ranscombe
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’