Wines of the week: 8 sparkling bottles for spring
You don’t have to push the boat out on pricey champagnes to add a bit of fizz to your occasion, says Terry Kirby – often a better bet lies within the more humble ranks of prosecco and cava, as well as the more upmarket cremant sparklers
One by-product of our nation’s obsession with prosecco is that is has, hopefully, opened the eyes of many of us to the wide variety of everyday, modestly priced sparklers from Europe out there which can offer much better value than classic champagne and are a simple and fun way of both enlivening otherwise everyday meals, gatherings or special occasions.
Having some years ago experienced the surprisingly excellent combination of prosecco and fritto misto in Italy, a cheapo supermarket bottle is simply the best accompaniment to a simple fish and chips supper in the UK. And they can be just sometimes better value and more refreshing than a dull bottle of wine as an aperitif or to accompany main meals. For instance, on a warm evening earlier this week with a simple pasta puttanesca on the table, I opened the first chilled rose of the year, but rather than a cork I flipped the beer bottle-style cap on the sparkling PS Petillant Rose NV (£9.89 laithwaites.co.uk), a semi-sparkling rose from Provence, filled with refreshing strawberry and hints of citrus flavours which acted as a lovely aperitif but was also perfectly fine for the rich pasta sauce as an alternative to a red. At only 11pc ABV it’s pretty unbeatable for a summer lunch party or picnic.
Some say such pétillant naturel wines – or “pét-nats” – which are general lightly spritzy and low in alcohol are the coming thing and will rival prosecco. Many are also products of the natural wine/minimal intervention trend, which can make them a bit challenging for some, both in flavour and price. For a more outre “pét-nat” try the Cascina Zerbetta Shan Pan, Pét Nat 2017 (£20 pullthecork.co.uk), a cloudy, richly flavoured, lightly fizzy sauvignon blanc from an organic producer in Piemonte in northwest Italy, made from natural yeasts with no added sulphites.
Of course that does bring us to that other product of northern Italy, the ubiquitous prosecco. There are zillions of labels out there, but a couple that have recently impressed me are the award-winning Di Maria Prosecco (£12.49 ocado.com), which is elegant, zesty and everything a proper prosecco should be; and the Lunetta Prosecco Brut (£8.99 ndjohn.co.uk & £9.99 drinkfinder.co.uk), which happily fits into the fish and chips category as well as being great with orange juice for a boozy brunch. If you are seeking something much more upmarket for a special occasion, but like the prosecco style, look for the Valdobbladene Superiore DOCG mark on the label, which indicates a much more high quality prosecco, from a specific area, such as the Carpene Malvolti Cartizze (£23.99 strictlywine.co.uk & £25.82 corkingwines.co.uk), which comes from one of the best parts of the prosecco area and is an intense, complex wine, utterly different to most supermarket prosecco and ideal as an aperitif or with seafood canapes. And, actually, you won’t find the p-word on the label.
The rise of prosecco has rather overshadowed the other great bulk sparkling wine of Europe, cava, which struggles to find a foothold in the same market. A lot of cava can be a bit too sweetish, but some is very good and like prosecco, if you pay a little more and look for a reserva style you will be rewarded, as in the Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava (£8.98 until 14 May (normally £12), ocado.com & £12 tesco.com). Drink, as they do in Barcelona, with toasted bread, drizzled with olive oil and crushed tomato, often with a slice of Serrano ham in top.
In France, cremant sparklers, produced in a number of regions using the champagne method, bridge the price gap between the real budget end and champagne, and sales to the UK have risen as prosecco has opened eyes to these alternatives. Most represent much better value and higher quality than, say, a sub-£20 bottle of champagne. So, two wines from smaller cremant appellations: from Burgundy comes the Cremant Du Bourgogne Sainchargny, Émérite 2014 (£14.95 fromvineyardsdirect.com), a chardonnay and pinot noir blend which is fresh and creamy, but with some complexity from its bottle age. Serve it blind and many will struggle to see the difference from a NV champagne. In the south of France, the Limoux area of Languedoc is renowned for its chardonnay-based whites in what is otherwise a mainly red zone, and Berry Bros and Rudd have sourced this cremant from one of the leading producers: the Berry Bros & Rudd Cremant de Limoux (£12.95 bbr.com); made from chardonnay with some chenin blanc and the local mauzac, it’s richer, with a slightly honeyed hint from the chenin and a great introduction to the cremant style. For this, you might want some fairly upmarket fish and chips…