Football isn’t coming home, but there are plenty of other reasons to celebrate this summer. And what better way to toast your successes than with a bottle of fizz
Something to celebrate this summer? It’s a shame we could not go crazy over England winning the World Cup or Andy Murray triumphing at Wimbledon, but there are many other reasons to pop a cork and add a little sparkle to your summer: birthdays, anniversaries, exam results, new jobs, holidays or just the fact that we have enjoyed one of the longest hot spells in years. In fact, to hell with special occasions, there is nothing more enjoyable than a glass of chilled fizz in the garden or terrace on a warm evening, whether you are in the UK or your holiday destination, nibbling on a few nuts or olives.
Those at top drawer English sparkling house Nyetimber, based in Sussex, did not have to go very far to find something to toast success when their wonderful head winemaker Cherie Spriggs was recently awarded Sparkling Winemaker of the Year by the International Wine Challenge, one of the major domestic wine awards and the first time anyone from outside Champagne has even won the accolade. You can find Nyetimber sparklers in Majestic and Waitrose stores and many other major retailers listed here on their website, but I simple can’t think of a better way to celebrate a special occasion than with one of the best and most celebrated English sparklers of all. Unless, of course, it’s another English sparkler and one of the newer players on the scene that I couldn’t quite fit into my column on English sparkling earlier in the year. Westwell, whose Special Cuvee (£26.95 herculeswines.co.uk; £29.95 westwellwines.com) won an IWC Gold award last year; made from all three champagne varieties – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – is a nice balance between the lighter, more floral English styles and the heavier, richer French approach.
Speaking of France, the country probably drank most of its champagne after winning the World Cup, but if you are buying champagne or holidaying there this summer, there are two tips: firstly seek out “grower” champagnes, those from smaller vineyards, some of which grow grapes for the big marques, like Moet, Bollinger etc, which sell their own individual wines under their own labels at much lower prices. One such is Gremillet, whose Champagne Gremillet Brut Selection (£20.99 allaboutwine.co.uk; £23.99 virginwines.co.uk) demonstrates that toasty, brioche French style with elegance. The second tip, as I wrote here also earlier this year, is to look for Cremant wines – made with local grape varieties in several regions of France and exactly the same way as champagne, but, as is certainly the case with Lidl’s delightfully effervescent Cremant de Bordeaux (£7.99 lidl.co.uk) usually priced well enough for bulk buying for a summer party or just to enliven a takeaway fish and chips. As is the Bouvet Saumur Rose Brut, (£12.99 majestic.co.uk) a splendid, raspberry inflected pink sparkler from a highly reputable sparkling producer in the Loire, which although not classified as Cremant, is made in the same way.
The elephant in the room with sparkling wine is, of course the prosecco boom. But not all Italian sparklers are prosecco – wines from the Franciacorta appellation in Lombardy, which as prosecco is to champagne, have not hogged the limelight to the same degree. Franciacorta wines are a bit more expensive but of higher quality and have much more in common with Cremants and, indeed, English sparkling, all made in the “traditional method” as used for champagne. For a fine example, try the organic Franciacorta Brut Animante Barone Pizzini 2014 (£22.50 vintageroots.co.uk; £27.50 tannico.co.uk) made from chardonnay, pinot blanc and pinot noir, bottle fermented and laced with clean, apple and citrus flavours, with a little complexity from being aged for two years. Still avoiding the p-word, the gorgeously bottled Masi-Moxxe Spumante Brut 2016 (£17.95 oakhamwinesonline.co.uk £15.95 winedirect.co.uk; min order six bottles) from the Veneto claims to be the first sparkling wine made using the “appassimento” method, normally used for red wine making and where, in this case, semi-dried verduzzo grapes are added to pinot grigio, thereby adding some complexity and depth. The result is delightful, with flavours of apples, pear drops and citrus. If you still can’t give up your prosecco addiction, please remember that quality is not always found at bargain basement prices, so spend a little more for a little extra class, such as the organic Terre Organica (£13.99 ocado.com). Very dry, very refreshing and a real sense of fruit purity.
Finally, a first for this column: a Belgian sparkler. Yes, a bit of wine is made in Belgium and has been since the Middle Ages, but very little finds its way here. One that has done is from Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen, the largest wine estate in the country: the Zwarte Parel Brut (£17.40 genesiswines.com) is 100pc chardonnay and a great, conversation piece alternative to any of the wines above, made using the traditional method and delivers full bodied flavours of exotic fruits and citrus, with a toasty edge. And that’s just Europe; we will return to sparkling wines around the world later in the summer...