Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Absolutely everyone loves a bottle of fizz right? High pressure bottles are popped around the world all in the name of celebration, and while there's nothing quite like a bottle of bubbly when you feeling like partying, I always find it a shame that sparkling wine isn't ever seen as a midweek choice. Just like you'd uncork a humble Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon on a Wednesday, if budget allows why not a Cremant d'Alsace, Col Fondo, or even a Champagne? As you can imagine, not all sparklers are created equal (in both quality and style) so I thought I'd give you a crash course into the different production methods, styles, and how this effects the final juice in your glass. To help you on your journey of exploration, we have a promotional Fizz Pack of four stylistically different but equally as fantastic bottles.
Methode Champenoise. I guess we should start with the most famous, the ever venerable, and often (but not always!) delicious Champagne. The Champagne method, Traditional Method, Methode Champenoise, or even Methode Cap-Classique if you're in South Africa, is the most revered production of sparkling wine and is generally thought to make the highest quality or at least the most complex of the sparkling wines. Champagne itself uses this technique with grapes grown in the area, but you can create Traditional method sparkling wine anywhere in the world (Cava and Cremant are also made this way). Simply put, you make a still wine as you would normally; you then take that wine and pop it in a bottle and add a solution of yeast, wine and sugar called the liqueur de tirage and then you cap the bottle (usually using inexpensive beer bottle type crown caps at this point). This then creates what we call a secondary fermentation as that yeast works its way through the added sugar, creating more alcohol but also carbon dioxide - hence the bubbles! Depending on how fancy the wine is going to be, you can age it on the lees (the now dead yeast cells) in the bottle to promote more bready and toasty flavours referred to as autolytic notes. Once you've left it on the lees for as long as you see fit, you then need to riddle it. This means getting the yeast cells to the tip of the bottle by either slowly manually tilting and twisting them by hand on a rack over a series of months, or if you've got a swanky winery - and are making less artisanal wine - you can use a gyropallet that does the job in around 24hrs. Post riddling you disgorge, meaning you pop the caps off and the yeast cells fire out, which can either be frozen first or not, and then you're left with a clean and clear juice ready for corking and either further bottle ageing or getting on shelves for sale! As you can imagine, this all takes quite a bit of work, so traditional method fizz tends to be pricier than others; but this extra work in the secondary fermentation pays off by producing wines that, at best, combine a weightless elegance with a rich and intense power - those fruit flavours from the terroir working harmoniously with the autolytic aromas.
So obviously Champagne makes banging wines, our 100% favourite Champers under £40 is the Cuvee de Reserve from Gallimard - for the price nothing even comes close, and if you want something a bit more baller and toasty, Fourny et fils do a corker of a Blanc de Blanc from Chardonnay. But like all prestigious wine appellations there's a lot of bad producers that get away with making crap because it has the word "Champagne" on it. As such, usually under about £30 I steer people away from Champagne and point them toward a Cremant (the term for a traditional method fizz made elsewhere in France) like Cremant d'Alsace, Cremant de Jura or something not French like an English Sparkling Wine. or this banger from the Czech Republic.
Pet Nat is short for Petillant Naturel meaning a wine with a sparkle rather than an aggressive mousse. It can be called different things in different places with slight changes, but wines made under Methode Ancestrale or Col Fondo (The original way to make Prosecco) are also essentially the same thing. The darling of the natural wine world, pet nat's are properly in vogue, and for good reason! Stylistically they're great fun - they're usually juicy and in your face, easy drinking, fizzy but not too much, and can be reasonably low alcohol, commonly around 9-12% alc. So how's it made? There's not so many rules around it as a trad method meaning there's lots of experimentation, but you essentially make a wine and you bottle it unfiltered before it's finished fermenting, and it finishes off in the bottle creating fizz. Generally they're not disgorged so the sediment sits in the bottles giving it a fuller mouthfeel and an often richer almost yoghurty acidity adding to it's drinkability. They're usually meant to be drunk young, but grab one from a good producer and the sediment in the bottle can age them wonderfully supercharging the baked fruit tart type vibe, from a more fresh fruit taste in their youth. We popped a 2018 bottle of Tillingham's COL recently and it was like drinking a dry tarte tatin. As I said, there's loads of experimentation so it's a fantastic journey to go on exploring bottles from around the world. Our favourites beyond the COL are this delicious Pinot Grigio from Abruzzo, the peach iced tea like cuvee from Folias de Baco in Portugal, Limeburn Hill's unbelievable rose made in BRISTOL(!?), and the swanky bottle from Claus Priesinger in Burgenland, Austria.
Tank Method. The tank method, Charmat method or the Prosecco method, this is probably the quickest method to make the most amount of wine on a large scale. That's not to say it can't make good quality wine, don't worry, it promotes the fruity and floral aromas in a wine over the richer bready ones that you can get in the Champagne method wines. So you get a big steel vat, make your wine in it, you pressurise the tank and then add more yeast and sugar, and the secondary fermentation happens in situ. You then bottle and filter it under pressure and hey ho you're ready to get that seccy on the market! Like everything, and certainly every wine, once it gets very popular the demand causes cheap and bad quality products to litter the market, so while Prosecco isn't my personal go to sparkling wine, it is by no means bad stylistically! It's just a lot of the supermarket stuff really really is. We've got a lovely little prosecco on the shop at the moment. Awful label, but really really floral, fresh and appley in the glass, it's a true joy.
So hopefully you've learned a little bit there, and now you're armed with some knowledge ready to tackle that sparkling section, and if not you can always just get order the Fizz Pack with free delivery and sip a glass of Champagne in the bath.