Enjoy the season's festivities with good company and sparkling wines.
For holidays and other special occasions, one wine stands out as the most festive and celebratory of them all: Champagne. This crisp, fizzy beverage is the stuff that memories are made of. But you don't have to spend the family fortune to get a great bottle of bubbly. In fact, you don't even have to splurge on Champagne―instead, try sparkling wines made in California.
What's the difference? Champagne is made only in the Champagne region of France, about 90 miles northeast of Paris. Here, the cold climate and chalky soil gives the wine a unique character. If it's from California or elsewhere, it's simply called sparkling wine.
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Is one better than the other? Not anymore. Fifteen years ago, I would have said that true Champagne reigned supreme. But today, sparkling wines made outside of France―and especially in California―have gotten incredibly good. So much so that when I conduct tastings for my students (all adult professionals) and the identities of the wines are hidden, virtually no one can correctly identify which are the Champagnes and which are the California sparklers.
Which is not to say they're all created equal. These wines are divided into two broad categories: those made using the Champagne method (methode champenoise in French; look for the phrase on the label) and those that get their bubbles from the same carbonation process used to make soft drinks. Avoid the second group; though these wines are attractively priced, they taste terrible. Those made by the Champagne method are vastly superior and well worth their price tags. They take years to make, and their fizz occurs naturally inside each bottle. This lengthy process results in tiny, frothy bubbles, as opposed to the large, coarse ones found in the cheap stuff.
Expect great sparklers to be creamy yet boast a snappy acidity at the same time. Flavors to look for include hints of baked apple or pear, cream, toasted nuts, and just-baked bread. The texture should be nothing short of fabulous―those elegant little bubbles should tingle, refresh, and delight as they slide over the palate. And above all, a good sparkler should result in a joyful state of mind―just what you want this time of year.
Here are five great sparklers to try:
Korbel Brut Nonvintage (California), Simple, light, and frothy, and the price is certainly right.
Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage (Carneros, California), Sleek and stylish, with a hint of lemon-cream-pie flavor.
Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs Brut Vintage (Napa Valley, California), Schramsberg, a top California sparkling-wine producer, makes bubblies that are complex, rich, and dramatic.
Laurent-Perrier Brut Nonvintage (Champagne, France), Nice yeastiness and just a hint of exotic ginger make this a fascinating Champagne.
Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs, Brut Vintage (Champagne, France), This great sparkler is created using Chardonnay grapes and has decadent tarte Tatin and creme brulee flavors.
30 of the best red, white and sparkling wines to drink this summer, plus vineyards to visit
Summer, at last, and now that we’re able to socialise perhaps you’d like a few glasses of wine with your conversation? I’ve picked out 30 excellent red and white (and a couple of sparkling) wines below, for the aperitifs, lunches, barbecues and dinners I hope we will all be sharing with friends and family this summer.
They include Aldi’s grassy (and bargain!) vermentino from the south of France, a delicious Argentinian malbec, a Greek white that tastes like it was made to be drunk with your feet in a paddling pool (at least) and a simply superb English sparkling wine made by Gusbourne in Kent.
Speaking of English wine, a couple of weeks ago I caught a train out of London and stood in a vineyard, Albury Estate, for the first time since lockdown started last year. There weren’t many leaves to see. “Spring was so cold that we’re three to four weeks behind where we’d usually expect to be. Hopefully we can catch up a bit of that now that the weather has got warmer,” explained Alex Valsecchi, the vineyard manager.
The vines might be slow but you know one thing that’s moving fast for every English vineyard? Bookings.
At Harrow and Hope in Buckinghamshire the tours are sold out for the rest of 2021. At Albury, a small family-run place in the Surrey Hills, they’ve added a tour to their weekly Saturday programme because the existing dates were getting so full.
Speak to pretty much any British winemaker and they have the same story to tell: newly released, we are happy to be getting out and about and local (or local-ish) vineyards are high on the list of places to visit. I’ve pulled out five good ones and you can find a more extensive list at Wine GB.
Finally, for the bucket list. If, like me, you’re dreaming of travel I’ve included a list of some of the places I wish I were going to this summer. Maybe one day.
Five English wine producers to visit
Tucked between the North Downs and the Surrey Hills, Albury Estate is a family vineyard founded by Nick Wenman, a former IT specialist, who planted his first vines here in 2009. It’s one of England’s few organic vineyards and is also certified biodynamic.
Taste at tables among the vines, book an organised tour (weekends only, no children) or take the self-guided tour (children allowed), stopping to look at the bug hotel and butterflies. Other events like beekeeping demos and musical evenings organised by Nick’s opera-singer daughter sell out quickly.
What to sip: Silent Pool Rosé 2020, a still rosé that in previous vintages has been listed at Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.
Best for: relaxed days out, nature lovers, musical evenings among the vines.
Coates & Seely
Coates & Seely refer to themselves as “a very English secret”, an unusually accurate strapline as I’ve been wondering for ages why more people haven’t caught on to this delicious sparkling wine.
A vineyard centre is planned, but for now the Coates family offer a small number of high-end private visits (price on application), which they host either at the vineyard or at their family home on the River Test, a couple of miles from the vineyards. Virginia Coates does all the cooking, using local ingredients.
What to sip: If this style of tour isn’t for you, do try a bottle – Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV is £32.95 at Lea & Sandeman.
Best for: bespoke private tours for special occasions or boutique corporate dinners.
Another of England’s newer vineyards, and one that’s making lovely sparkling wines in an old barn on a picturesque estate. Langham offers three levels of tour: guided, self-guided and private (for 10 or more people). It runs a series of weekend evening events – winemaker’s dinners, seafood platters with music and fizz, paella nights and so on and it also has a café that’s open from Wednesday to Sunday offering vineyard picnics, lunch (Wednesday and Thursday only), afternoon tea and pizzas.
Best for: imaginative vineyard picnics (think dainty Portland crab sandwiches and Portland lobster, mango and fennel salad), which must be booked in advance.
Established in 1989 by Bob Lindo, a former RAF pilot, and his wife, Annie, who originally planned to farm sheep and cattle, Camel Valley is one of the stalwarts of the English wine scene. Taking its name from the nearby River Camel (from the Cornish Dowr Kammel, meaning crooked river), it’s a dynastic business – the wine is now made by Bob and Annie’s son Sam. Visit the shop, enjoy a glass of wine or a tasting flight in the garden or on the sun terrace (do book in advance) or take a guided tour (“well-behaved children” are allowed and get a soft drink). It is closed at weekends.
What to sip: Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rosé Brut NV, a sparkling pink that smells of cherry blossom.
Best for: A glass with a view.
What would you do if a well known champagne house came asking to buy some of your land to plant vines? Sell? The Warde family thought if there was so much potential they’d better do it themselves and planted 36 acres in 2006. Now they offer tours and tastings and also have a restaurant that is open for lunch, serving starters such as Rye bay scallops with parsnip purée and black pudding at £10 and small/large plates like miso-roasted Scottish salmon with purple-sprouting broccoli at £9.50/£17.
What to sip: Vintage Brut Reserve 2016 is a brilliant wine: toasty, savoury, beautifully structured and only available now in magnum.
Best for: going off the beaten track to discover excellent wines that few have heard of (yet).
International dream list
Usually my suitcase is constantly being packed ready to get on a plane to a vineyard, but over the past year all travelling has been done in my imagination. With many of us looking forward to a time when we can once again roam the world at will, here are a few global vineyard highlights to put on your bucket list.
During lockdown I found myself longing for the cool forests and wild beaches of Margaret River on Australia’s west coast. One vineyard you would not want to miss in this beautiful region is Cullen Wines in Wilyabrup, not least because it has an extremely good – and very relaxed – restaurant.
Staying in the Antipodes, Rippon Vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand, makes some of the best pinot noir in the country and has spectacular views across Lake Wanaka, and if you’re a fan of both pinot and scenery you’d also want to go to Martinborough on the North Island. Ata Rangi would be on my hit list there.
Heading west, as a country South Africa does wine tourism supremely well. If you’re in the Cape do not miss Klein Constantia (for its history, superb sauvignon blanc, Vin de Constance and the food) Iona (for the drive up and the views when you get there) Paul Cluver (to hear about its conservation work and drink riesling) and Newton Johnson (incredible pinot noir and chardonnay and a fab restaurant). I could go on and on.
Closer to home, the Lebanese are famed for their hospitality I ate and drank extremely well on my visit to this country and need to go back to check out the restaurant at Massaya, Faqra (I already know I like the wine and have heard good things about the food).
In Europe a place I go as often as is reasonably possible is Piemonte. Check out Ceretto, Massolino and Produttori del Barbaresco for sublime nebbiolo and make sure you go between late October and Christmas when there will be truffles on the menu in every good restaurant.
In South America, I hope one day to return to Bodega Colomé in the province of Salta, a region in the foothills of the Andes in the north of Argentina that looks like a living geology lesson with rainbow rock formations, canyons and cacti.
And on my never-visited-but-absolutely-must-one-day list is California. Here’s hoping that might happen sometime soon.
30 of the best summer wines
For everyday drinking
Malbec Comte Tolosan 2020
Soft and juicy but also blissfully (and increasingly unusually for a cheap supermarket red), completely dry, this is a friendly malbec from the Comte Tolosan IGP in south-western France. Think damsons and mulberries with a subtle earthiness running through it.
Pierre Jaurant French Vermentino 2020
A calm summer breeze of a white. The grape is vermentino, also known as rolle (in southern France) and pigato (in Italy’s Liguria) and the wine is much fresher than other cheapie vermentinos I’ve seen around: think gentle scents of grass and hay.
STAR BUY Mimo Moutinho Loureiro 2020
Vinho Verde Portugal (11.5%, Aldi, £6.49)
Love this white from northern Portugal. Made entirely from loureiro, one of the vinho verde grapes, it is breezy and easy with flavours of apricots and lemon sorbet and a very gentle background prickly spritz. Perfect for a sunny day.
Morrisons the Best Marques de los Rios Rioja Crianza 2017
Muriel Wines is the producer behind this very typical Rioja Crianza, which is aged in both French and American oak and tastes of sweetly ripe red berries with spicy oak running through it. A very good buy.
Domaine Bousquet Finca Lalande Malbec 2020
Mendoza, Argentina (14%, Waitrose, £7.49 down from £10.49 until June 22)
Argentina changed the game for malbec. This one’s made from grapes grown at an altitude of 4,000ft in the Tupungato district of Mendoza. Juicy and beautifully smooth, it’s also unoaked. A real steal on offer.
Finest* Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues 2020
A wonderfully perfumed Côtes du Rhône, this one sashays out of the glass all raspberry jelly and stewed damsons with a touch of dried herbs and pumice on the palate. Unoaked, it’s rich in red fruit flavours. Very attractive.
Kintonis Dipnos Dry White 2019
A simply heavenly and very simple Greek white made in the Peloponnese from the roditis grape, this is all about lemon blossom. Softly aromatic, all florals and lemon juice, it has a pleasing acidic verve and cut. Bliss on a hot day.
AA Badenhorst The Curator White Blend 2020
Swartland, South Africa (13%, Waitrose, £8.99)
A superb and seamless South African blend of roughly half chenin blanc with chardonnay, viognier and the tiniest bit of semillon and colombard. I love the way the chardonnay comes through, mealy and not heavy. A triumph of texture and taste.
Jordi Miró White Grenache 2020
For those who like white wines that have some texture without being bogged down with oak, here’s a beautiful fresh white from Catalonia that’s like the gentle riffle of a warm summer breeze through an orange grove that’s in full bloom.
Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2019
Clare Valley, Australia (14%, Co-op, £10)
A shiraz that’s inky and intense but also very smooth, a rush of rich, dark, sweet liquorice and black berries with the faintest hint of nutmeg. If you’re looking for a red that’s full-flavoured and rich, here it is.
Jacques Mouton Madeleine Chardonnay 2020
Franschhoek, South Africa (13.5%, the Wine Society, £10.95)
There’s a touch of hazelnut and a rinse of fresh lemon juice about this brilliant barrel-fermented Cape chardonnay from La Couronne wine estate. Great value and one for Burgundy lovers.
Mirabeau La Folie Sparkling Rosé NV
France (11.5%, Waitrose, £10.99 down from £14.99 until June 22)
From a domaine in the heart of Provence, an easy-going pale pink sparkling rosé (made in the same way as prosecco), that is breezily effervescent and sings of ripe strawberries.
Weissburgunder Weingut Jülg 2019
Quintessential summer drinking, this is a just off-dry pinot blanc (aka weissburgunder). Made in Germany from grapes grown over the border in Alsace in France, it mingles a salty/seltzery flavour with juicy notes of apricots, clementines and lemons.
Vignerons Ardechois ‘Grand Aven’ 2019
Côtes du Vivarais, France (14.5%, Yapp.co.uk, £11.25)
A classic Yapp red, this one’s a hearty blend of syrah and grenache that sings of the Rhône, of sun-dried herbs and ripe red and black berries. Côtes du Vivarais is an appellation in the southern Rhône.
Tesco Beaujolais Rouge 2020
Ridiculously good for a fiver, this light-bodied red is lively and bright with a smooth rush of red berry-scented fruit and a tinge of graphite. The family of Charlotte Lemoine, the Tesco buyer, are from Beaujolais: perhaps that’s why she knows how to find such good wine?
La Marinière Muscadet 2020
Muscadet fell out of fashion as white wine drinkers who like this bone dry, marine style flocked instead to picpoul. But as this wine proves, muscadet is now looking much better value. This one’s like soft clouds of lemon with a salty lift.
Domaine de Mandeville Viognier 2020
Languedoc-Roussillon, France (13%, M&S, £7.50)
One of the most charming whites (and most unattractive labels) on the M&S shelves, this marries a delightful, subtle peach and jasmine perfume with a clean and citrussy vibe. Absolutely not a heavy or sluggish viognier, it’s dewy and fresh.
Domaine du Cros Lo Sang del Pais 2019
A distinctive, lightish red made in south-west France from the fer servadou grape, this is a red with the bloody tang of iron and it’s superb with lamb kebabs, steak-frites, green salad with a very mustardy dressing or cheesy pasta.
STAR BUY Daniel Dampt Petit Chablis 2019
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s an expensive Petit Chablis.” But it’s a brilliant one, like lemon blossom with cool, wet stone and an unexpected complexity. Honestly, superb. You’ll want to buy it by the case, at which point it gets cheaper (£14.20 a bottle).
Gilles Bonnefoy La Madone Gamay sur Volcan 2020
A gamay that is not from Beaujolais but the old volcanic terrain of the Côtes du Forez, an appellation in central France close to the source of the Loire. Smooth, almost impossibly juicy and brimful with the flavours of squished berries.
Domaine Catherine & Pierre Breton Trinch Bourgueil 2019
Loire cabernet franc that’s suggestive of the shimmer of new leaves, of summer berries and the grain of dry soil. It’s biodynamically produced in the region of Bourgueil and is fantastic with pink lamb or duck.
Daniel Chotard Sancerre 2019
A Sancerre that’s in a warm and waxy rather than a flinty and grassy register, this is all orange and lemon blossom and yellow stone fruit. Jancis Robinson has already pointed out that it has characteristics reminiscent of a Cotat Sancerre and I agree.
STAR BUY Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Montlouis-sur-Loire Rémus 2019
From a fabled domaine, here’s a dry Loire chenin blanc that is mouth-wateringly tart, with classic flavours of Bramley and floral quince yet also something else. An elemental wine that manages to be precise and ethereal.
STAR BUY Ktima Foundi Xinomavro Naoussa 2016
A glorious and very barolo-like red made from xinomavro, the increasingly fashionable Greek grape that’s often said to taste like a cross between pinot noir and nebbiolo. This is beautifully structured, reminiscent of dried flowers and underpriced, in my opinion.
Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Eden Valley Viognier 2017
Yalumba is Australia’s viognier specialist. You might have tried its fresher supermarket ones but this is an Arabian Nights viognier, heady and musky, aged in oak, all ripe peach, ginger with a heavy air of expectancy.
Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño 2020
Rías Baixas, Spain (13.5%, the Wine Society, £17 Waitrose, £15.99)
From a long-established producer whose winery lies behind thick, cool stone walls in the seaside town of Cambados, this is always a beautiful albariño: lithe, saline and mingling notes of fresh white peach with citrus. Bring out the dressed crab.
Neudorf Tom’s Block Pinot Noir 2017
Pinot noir from New Zealand’s South Island that smells of crunchy cherries, redcurrants and cherry blossom. With some time in French oak it also has a gentle background spice but it’s really all about red fruit and bright lift.
Cedro do Noval Vinho Tinto 2018
Vinho Regional Duriense, Portugal (13.5%, vintage coming soon to Cambridge Wine Merchants, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, around £20)
Quinta do Noval is better known for port but makes excellent wines too, like this blend of touriga nacional, syrah, touriga francesa and tinto cão. It appeals to both the hedonist and classicist in me.
Château Musar 2012
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (14%, Waitrose, £32.99)
A full-throttle, intensely flavoured and very well balanced vintage of Musar. It still tastes tantalisingly young (try decanting, maybe) and is richly fruited and riven with spicy notes of cedar and vetiver. The blend is one third cabernet sauvignon, one third cinsault and one third carignan. Excellent.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2015/16
England (12%, Fortnum & Mason, gusbourne.com, around £59)
An all-chardonnay sparkling wine from Gusbourne in Kent, this is breathtakingly good pure and lucid, with a creamy texture and a sense of pent-up energy so that it carves smoothly through your mouth leaving you wanting more.
Best Overall: Schramsberg 2016 Blanc de Blancs Brut
While Champagnes dominated the top 10 most-scanned list of sparkling wines on Vivino last year, there was one bottle from the U.S.: the 2016 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut, a sparkling wine made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes in the same manner as Champagne (known as Méthode Champenoise or Traditional Method).
This wine is clean, crisp, and perfectly dry with notes of brioche, apple, honey, baking spices, and the tiniest bit of smoke. 2016 was an excellent harvest, so this particular bottle might be a challenge to find in a standard size, but you can always stock up on half or large-format bottles. Pro tip: If you sign up for one of the Schramsberg clubs, you’ll get preferential pricing when you buy directly from the winery.
Before you begin, we recommend you not try sparkling wines until you have made several sucessful batches of still wines.
- Produce a regular table wine, making sure the alcohol content DOES NOT EXCEED 11.5 %. Best results are obtained if the alcohol is about 10.5 %.
- After the wine is stable and clear, probably about 2 - 3 months old, rack it (DO NOT use a stabilizer) and add 1.5 oz. sugar per gallon. DO NOT add more sugar than the recommended dosage. For best results, re-hydrate one package champagne yeast in a 1/2 cup lukewarm water for 10 minutes, then mix this into the wine at the same time as you mix in the bottling sugar.
- Immediately bottle in champagne bottles with plastic stoppers, making sure they are properly wired down.
- Stand the bottles UPRIGHT for 6 - 12 months before serving.
METHOD II: Method II makes a sweet wine.
Proceed exactly as in Method I, but add 1 saccharin tablet before stoppering each bottle. Unfortunately, some wines will develop a metallic or bitter taste from the saccharin, so experiment first. Consider replacing the saccharin with Splenda.
- Produce a table wine that is dry with an alcohol content of 10 - 11.5% that is clear and stable.
- Add 2 1/4 oz. of dextrose sugar (made into a syrup with boiling water) for each gallon of wine . Mix this syrup with the wine.
- To insure a good second fermentation, add 1/5 package of Champagne yeast per gallon and 1/8 tsp. Super Ferment per gallon. For best results, re-hydrate the yeast in a little lukewarm water for 10 minutes prior to mixing into wine.
- Rack the wine into domestic champagne bottles and and cap with crown caps. Store upright at 65 - 70° F.
- Once a month, pick up each bottle, turn it upside down and then return to upright position. After 3 months all of the sugar should be converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol. Yeast deposited on the bottom will show that the sparkle is there. When you think the wine is fully carbonated, test one bottle by chilling it and opening and tasting. If the sparkle is there, procede with the next step.
- Put the bottles in the freezer and chill the wine to about 26° F. This will take about 2 - 3 hours. little ice will form in the bottles indicating they are ready.
- Put into each bottle 1 oz. standard sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part boiling water) and 1/8 tsp. of wine stabilizer (potassium sorbate). Note : If you want a dry wine, disregard these instructions. Place these bottles in the freezer along with the others.
- When the wine is cold enough, take one bottle of wine and one champagne bottle out of the freezer. Uncap the wine and syphon it gently into the cold champagne bottle without disturbing the sediment. Very little of the carbon dioxide will be lost due to the low temperature of the wine. If you use champagne bottles that have not been chilled, it will warm the wine and cause loss of carbonation.
- Insert the plastic champagne type stopper and wire down.
- Invert the bottle several times to mix the syrup and wine. Stand upright 2-3 months - or longer - for aging.
CAUTION: If during storage a bottle should explode, you should open the other bottles immediately. DO NOT ASSUME that the explosion was due to a faulty bottle. However, if the above instructions are followed, you should have no problems and produce an excellent sparkling wine.
Wines Under 20: Bubbly Edition!
Tis the season for twinkle lights, Christmas cookies, and holiday festivities left and right. And because there’s nothing more festive than popping a bottle of bubbly, I thought this would be a great time to tackle sparkling wines on my Wines Under 20 column.
Let’s jump right in. Champagne is the undeniable queen of sparkling wines, but with a price tag fit for a queen, it’s not an everyday purchase for most of us. Sigh. But do not worry. I am here to show you that sparkling wine doesn’t have to be an extravagance! (or a headache inducer if you’re guzzling my friends’ bubbly of choice in college, “Andre”.) For this edition of Wines Under 20, I’ve compiled a list of inexpensive, delicious sparkling wines for every occasion – from mimosas under the mistletoe to bubbly fit for an elegant holiday cocktail party.
For this wine tasting, I called in my friend-couple Louisa and Jeremy, who I knew had what it takes to try five different bottles of wine in one night. Louisa is also an incredibly talented illustrator- she did the illustration of me at the beginning of this post!! (Check her work out here!) We tried a handful of wines, discussing them, comparing them, and as always, taking down some amateur notes along the way.
First, a quick Champagne primer that I think will be helpful to keep in mind as we go along:
Champagne is a type of sparkling white wine produced in the Champagne region of France. ONLY sparkling white made in this region, following a very specific set of requirements surrounding the grape varietals and wine-making process may be labeled ‘Champagne.’ No exceptions!! (Turns out that André we drank in college was NOT actually Champagne- who would have guessed?!)
Champagne is made using a two-step fermentation process. The first fermentation is the same used to make non-sparkling wines: added (or sometimes naturally occurring) yeast converts the sugars in grape juice into alcohol. In the second fermentation, the wine is individually bottled along with sugar and yeast. The ensuing reaction produces CO2, which, trapped in the bottle, creates bubbles. Et voila- Champagne! This method is often referred to as the “methode champenoise” or “methode traditionelle.”
Oh, and a fun fact! Champagne is made with a blend of grapes that typically includes two varities of red grapes – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and Chardonnay. The skins from the grapes are quickly removed from the extracted juice so they don’t turn it red!
And now, on to our Wines Under 20.
Hubert Clavelin Brut-Comte Crémant Du Jura ($19) – France
I’m starting with Crémant, because it reminded my panel of tasters the most of true Champagne. And that’s no coincidence. Crémant is a French sparkling white wine made using the same process as Champangne (the “methode traditionelle”) BUT because it’s produced outside of the Champagne region, it’s not given the distinction of being labeled Champagne. Lucky for us, Crémant is just as delicious – and without the prestige that comes with the word Champagne on the label, it tends to be less expensive.
Ask the Amateurs:The Cremant we tried was bone dry, crisp, and light in body. Someone remarked that it tasted “fancy” and “celebratory” and we all agreed this would be the perfect bubbly to serve at a cocktail party. This would also be our pick to bring as a gift to your holiday host.
Zardetto Brut Prosecco ($12) – Italy
Champagne aside, Prosecco is likely the sparkling wine most familiar to you. It’s inexpensive, it’s sparkling, but it’s also… hit or miss? Here’s the thing. Unlike Cremant, Prosecco is not made using the methode traditionelle, where the second fermentation process happens once the wine is already individually bottled. When Prosecco is made, that second fermentation (the addition of bubbles) occurs in giant steel vats. This method (called the Charmat or ‘tank’ method) makes the process faster, cheaper, and easier than the Champagne method. BUT, because Prosecco is both very popular and relatively easier to produce, two things have happened. There has been a surge in the number of large-scale producers pumping out the stuff AND high-demand has led to a price increase not always reflective of the wine’s real value. In other words, there is a lot of bad, and bad and expensive, Prosecco out there. David at Domaine Franey in East Hampton told me a good bottle of Prosecco shouldn’t set you back more than fifteen bucks. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting a *premium* bottle if you’re paying closer to 20.
Ask the Amateurs:Prosecco is good, it’s fine, it’s affordable. It doesn’t make us particularly excited. This is our pick for cocktails, especially the brunch variety. This would also be our recommendation if you want to have a giant Champagne tower at your holiday party.
Bohigas Cava Brut Reserva ($14) – Spain
Cava is basically Spanish Prosecco, right? Wrong! Cava is made using the methode traditionelle, so it has more in common with Crémant and Champagne than with Prosecco. Cava is typically made with a blend of Spanish grapes – including Macabeo, Parelleda, and Xarel-lo- that give it great character and depth of flavor. Given all this, Cava is considered to be an excellent value wine- with many highly rated bottles coming in well under 20 dollars.
Ask the Amateurs:We’d pick Cava as our favorite bubbly to drink with a meal. It’s got more body and personality than Crémant and can stand up to bolder flavors. Its bouncy, persistent bubbles make it especially refreshing when paired with heavier dishes. Serve this one alongside your holiday feast and feel the Christmas magic!
3. Pétillant Naturel or “Pét-Nat”
Château Barouillet ‘Splash’ ($23) – France
Pétillant Naturel has become the sparkling wine of the moment (with a cool nickname to boot) but it’s actually made using an age-old process that even predates the Champagne method. While yeast and sugar are added to wine to induce Champagne’s second fermentation, wine made using the “methode ancienne” is bottled before the initial fermentation is complete. The CO2 produced in the first fermentation remains trapped in the bottles and there’s no need for additional sugar and yeast to be added.
Because of this process, Pét-Nat is only lightly fizzy, nothing like the big hard bubbles of Prosecco. It can have the “funk” typically associated with natural wines, though it certainly depends on the bottle. While Pétillant Naturel originated in France’s Loire Valley, but the methode ancienne has seen a resurgence around the world as natural wines have swung back into popularity.
5. Honorable Mentions: Sekt, Lambrusco and American Sparkling Wines
A few other sparkling wines to keep on your radar!
Sektis the German’s answer sparkling wine. While the process for making Sekt was originally based on the Champagne method, Sekt can also be produced using tank fermentation (like Prosecco.) Quality can vary, but make sure to look for the word ‘Trocken’ (the German word for dry) on the label to make sure the wine you choose is crisp and dry.
Lambrusco is a semi-sparkling red Italian wine made using the Charmat (think Prosecco) method. It’s a favorite party wine of mine – there’s something so festive about its rich, black cherry-like hue. If you’re interested, I featured Lambrusco in a past Wines Under 20.
American sparkling wines are increasingly available, in every style from Champagne to Pet-Nat, though finding good ones under the $20 price point might be tricky. As with all these wines, ask someone at your local wine store for their recommendation.
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It would be almost impossible to ignore the temptation to spice up your Easter celebrations with a bubbly-filled weekend brunch, while your tots and teens get their fill of painted chocolate eggs. To be sure, it&rsquos without a doubt the perfect occasion for anyone to indulge in all manner of egg-inspired treats.
It does help that few ingredients are as versatile as the chicken&rsquos egg. It is one of gastronomy&rsquos most treasured supporting cast but can hold its own as the star of the dish. It&rsquos also the inspiration for a unique partnership between two celebrated examples of English produce&mdashNyetimber&rsquos award-winning English sparkling wines and Clarence Court&rsquos prized eggs, which includes their deep brown, hard shell Burford Brown eggs and the organic Leghorn whites.
To be sure, the delicate richness of eggs pairs naturally with sparkling wine&mdashand the options&mdashbe it a rosé or blanc de blancs that you may be craving&mdashgrows in relation to the wide assortment of ingredients featured in egg-based dishes. This is exactly why these two brands have collaborated to share a series of recipes for popular egg-based dishes, complete with wine pairing suggestions.
Here are some recipes to get you in the kitchen, as if you need egging on.
Crab and watercress tart
500g plain flour plus extra for dusting
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of two lemons
250g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
50 ml whole milk
200ml double cream
70g watercress, chopped (a few sprigs saved for garnish) 250g picked, white crab meat
1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
A handful pea shoots to garnish
1. Place the plain flour in a large bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper and the zest of 1 lemon. Mix well then add the cold, cubed butter. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until flakes have formed. Separate two eggs. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolks and two tablespoons of ice cold water. Use a dinner knife to incorporate the flour into the liquid and form a rough ball of dough. Use your hands to pat it into a disc. Cover in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Once the pastry has chilled, lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thickness. Take 8cm x 8cm loose bottomed tart tins and line with the pastry, allowing a little overhang. Prick the bases a few times with a fork and allow the pastry to chill in the fridge again for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, place a small frying pan on a low heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and melt. Add the sliced spring onion and sauté for five minutes or until just softened. Tip into a bowl and place to one side. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
4. Remove the pastry cases from the fridge and place on a baking sheet. Line each with parchment paper and fill with baking beans or rice and blind bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile whisk the remaining egg white a little. Remove the baking beans and parchment, brush the inside of the cases with egg white then return the pastry case to the oven for a further 5 minutes until lightly golden. Once baked trim the excess pastry off with a Y-shaped peeler.
5. Whisk the remaining eggs in a large mixing bowl with a good pinch of salt, pepper and a few gratings of lemon zest. Pour in the milk, cream, cooked spring onion and the chopped watercress then whisk again. Evenly distribute half the crab meat between the cases. Pour or ladle the mixture into the tart cases. Place the tarts in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until set and golden. Serve warm or cold topped with the remaining crab, watercress sprigs, remaining lemon zest, pea shoots and chopped chilli.
Nyetimber&rsquos Classic Cuvee Multi-Vintage goes beautifully with delicate and light crab combined with fresh and peppery watercress, like in this ideal lunchtime bake.
Unsalted butter, softened for greasing ramekins
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
6 tablespoons caster sugar plus extra for coating ramekins
3 teaspoons cornflour
1 tablespoon plain flour
100ml double cream
100ml full fat milk
Pulp of 5 passionfruits, sieved to remove seeds
Icing sugar for dusting
Mango and passionfruit coulis and vanilla ice cream to serve
1. Coat the inside of four (150ml&ndash200ml) ramekins with melted butter. Add a sprinkle of sugar to each coating, both the sides and bottom. Shake out any excess. Place these in the fridge to chill.
2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Put a tray in the middle of the oven.
3. Put the two yolks into a separate small bowl and add six tablespoons of sugar. Mix the cream, flour and cornflour into a bowl until smooth.
4. Warm the milk in a saucepan until just boiling. Add this to the cream, flour and cornflour mixture a little at a time, whisking in between until the mixture is a thick, creamy consistency. Press any lumps against the side of the bowl to break them up.
5. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set on a gentle heat. Beat vigorously and continuously with a hand whisk until it thickens. Ensure the mixture doesn&rsquot stick to the base of the pan. Remove from heat when you feel it has thickened and whisk in the passion fruit pulp a little at a time. The heat of the pan will continue to cook the mixture.
6. Next, beat the egg yolk and caster sugar together to form a thick paste. Add this to the mixture in the saucepan and mix until smooth. Return the pan to the heat and when the mixture begins to bubble, take it off the heat again. At this point the mixture should look like custard. Put to one side to cool.
7. Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites in a clean, grease-free large bowl. Whisk until soft peaks form and the egg whites look like clouds.
8. When the mixture in the saucepan has cooled to room temperature or cooler, add the egg whites one large spoonful at a time using a spatula to fold it in. The aim is to fold in air bubbles without breaking them up. Continue until the mixture is a pale yellow with no streaks of egg.
9. Fill each ramekin to the brim. Ensure they are level and flat. Run a cocktail stick around the inside of the rim of the ramekin to ensure the soufflés rise without catching.
10. Place the ramekins evenly spaced on the baking tray for about 14 minutes in the middle of the oven. Don&rsquot open the door while they cook but time carefully and at 14 minutes check if they are risen and golden. If using smaller ramekins, reduce the time by a few minutes.
11. Carefully remove from the oven, dust with icing sugar, serve with coulis and vanilla ice cream.
A tropical twist on a scrumptious soufflé. Serve with Nyetimber&rsquos Cuvee Chérie Multi-Vintage a refreshing demi-sec with honey and citrus flavours that works perfectly with a fruity dessert.
Why We Love Mexico's Up-and-Coming Wine Region
Go beyond Baja and get into wines from Querétaro. Here are 5 bottles to look for.
In the heart of central Mexico, just a few hours&apos drive from the capital, lies Querétaro, one of Mexico&aposs most exciting wine regions. Though Querétaro is dwarfed in size by the better-known Baja, the state is poised to become the country&aposs next great success thanks to its blossoming wine industry and skilled local winemakers.
Querétaro falls well outside the normal range for wine production. World-class wine being made along the 20th parallel may seem like madness according to conventional winemaking wisdom. Yet Querétaro defies the traditional 30 to 50 latitude belt that we&aposve come to accept for viticulture. Like so many marginal regions, its success lies in microclimates𠅊nd of course, its local talent. You&aposll find everything from lush rainforests to arid deserts in Mexico&aposs southernmost wine-producing state, with many distinct ecosystems represented. Querétaro is a bridge of sorts between the drier north and wetter south, and this diversity means winemakers can experiment with a wide range of grape varieties and styles.
Summer brings rain. Many of the best vineyards lie on higher altitude sites upwards of 5000 to 6500 feet above sea level, allowing an otherwise hot, semi-arid climate to benefit from the cool evenings that preserve acidity in grapes.
“This last factor is the one that makes the most difference with other areas. The altitude generates grapes with thicker skin due to the radiation of the sun, rather than the hours of sunshine. Here we say 𠆎xtreme viticulture,’” says Jesus Cardoso, a winemaker at Vinedos Azteca.
Calcium-rich sandy clay is found in vineyards across Ezequiel Montes, a municipality with many wineries. The soil offers both good water retention during the dry season and excellent drainage when it&aposs wet. Coupled with the higher altitudes and diurnal shift, those pockets of calcium carbonate do wonders for the vines, encouraging higher acidity, disease resistance, and a well-developed root system.
Classic international varieties like Chardonnay, Syrah, and the Bordeaux varieties crop up in vineyards, along with the Cava grapes Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Paralleda. Tempranillo has carved out a place in Querétaro, where it yields rich, flavorful wines. Ultimately, time will tell what varieties will come to define Querétaro, and that&aposs part of the thrill.
You&aposll see a familiar name or two in Querétaro. Freixenet has an outpost in Querétaro. The region&aposs large sparkling wine output is largely thanks to the Cava giant&aposs Finca Sala Vive and its major regional rival La Redonda. That said, it&aposs Cava 57 in the high altitude San Juan de Rio which offers some of the best sparkling wine in the country. For dry wines, Bodegas de Cote and Vinedos Aztecas have established themselves as being ahead of the curve.
Querétaro is also a hub for cheese production, including cow, goat, and sheep&aposs milk cheese. They&aposre precisely as delicious with the local wine as you&aposd expect. If you&aposre able to visit (post-COVID, of course), treat yourself by traveling the wine and cheese route, or head down to pueblo magico Tequisquiapan for the springtime cheese and wine fair.
The state&aposs wine industry is not dissimilar to how Baja looked just a decade or so ago. Right now imports to the States are few and far between, which offers the perfect excuse to head down for a visit.
5 Bottles from Querétaro to Try
2016/2017 Vinedos Azteca Pretexto Red Blend
A six varietal blend crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, and Tempranillo, Pretexto is deliciously fruit-forward with blackberry, currant, and black cherry notes laid over generous spice and a hint of vanilla in the finish. It boasts a beautifully well-balanced palate.
2015 Bodegas De Cote Tempranillo Gran Reserva
This stunning Tempranillo is barrel-aged for two years. Heady notes of red currant, cherry, fig, and candied red fruits, with elegant floral aromas layered with mocha, pepper, and a whisper of cinnamon spice. The tannins are quite plush, with lovely acidity that lingers well into this wine&aposs lengthy finish.
Cava 57 Palomas Brut Nature NV
Easily one of the best sparklers currently made in Mexico, Cava 57&aposs Palomas Brut Nature is a classic Cava-style bubbly. Ample green apple, lemon, lime, with a pleasant minerality. Lees aging lends a creamy, round texture to this brut nature, balanced by mouthwatering acidity and an overall delightfully fresh character.
Vinedos La Redonda Orlandi Vino Espumoso Brut Nature NV
A lovely Chardonnay-based bubbly from one of Querétaro&aposs oldest wineries, the Orlandi Brut Nature is a fantastic traditional method blanc de blancs which is aged for 24 sur lie. Lovely peach, zesty lemon, Granny Smith, and brioche. Vibrant, with a fine mousse, it’s truly an excellent sparkling wine.
Vinos del Marques Danza de la Marquesa
Danza de Marques is a blend of Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, and Grenache. Notes of ripe yellow peach, strawberry, cherry, and crushed rose petals. Danza de la Marquesa is a phenomenal food wine that will go with your favorite Mexican dishes.
Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine
A general rule of thumb: While all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine can technically be called Champagne—it all comes down to how and where it’s bottled. Here’s what they all have in common: They’re all wines that bubble when poured, due to carbon dioxide incorporated during the bottling process. They’re usually white wines that are on the brut/dry side (though technically, they can be any color and any sweetness). And they usually contain between 5.5% and 12% alcohol content.
But here’s how they differ. Sparkling wine can come from any part of the world, while Champagne must be from the Champagne region in France and made using the traditional Champagne method. In other words, you’ll never see a sparkling wine from Italy labeled as "Italian Champagne" or prosecco Champagne. Sparkling wines vary based on the country of origin and the method by which they’re prepared. Here are a few types of sparkling wines that you’re probably familiar with:
Cava: This sparkling wine comes from Spain, and is made by the traditional Champagne method. It has an earthy aroma because of the low-altitude locations of the vineyards in this region.
Prosecco: This is a grape variety that’s now used in mostly sparking wines from northern Italy made in different fermentation process from Champagne called charmat. These sparkling wines usually have a bitter finish because of the cooler climate of the region.
Sekt: This dry variety of sparkling wine comes from Germany and Austria. Pinot and Riesling grapes are usually used in this variety.
Moscato d𠆚sti: This lightly sparkling wine made from Muscat grapes is from the Piedmont region of Italy. It’s sweet and has gentle bubbles, which is why it’s often served as a dessert wine.
What juices can you use in a mimosa?
The classical and authentic mimosa drink version is made of orange juice mixed with sparkling wine and a shot of Cointreau. However, nowadays you can find different variation and customizations. For example, many add-ins like pineapple, pomegranate, or mango juices are added as some varieties to substitute the orange juice. Here, you can personalize and experience how would you like your mimosa drink to be.
Serious Sparkling Wine to Give Your Dinner Party Host
In the holiday season, it can be easy to get sick of the standard party bubbly, sparkling wine that's easy to drink but kind of predictable—a little fruit, a little yeast—fizz that's fine in a flute as you graze your way through the appetizer table.
But it's the perfect season to break out of that rut and explore some more unusual sparklers, especially if you want to bring a bottle to give your dinner party host. The wines I've chosen to highlight are particularly good dinner party companions, serious juice that will make food shine. Chill them before bringing them over, and don't relegate them to the pre-dinner cocktail hour just because they're bubbly!
Bubbles from a Beaujolais Star
I recently asked a wine shop clerk which Champagne he'd been enjoying lately, and he steered me away from Champagne to a wine from a top Beaujolais producer. Jean-Paul Brun's Crémant de Bourgogne Charme Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs smells amazing, all Jordan almonds and apricots, and delivers elegantly: these are lean, pure, mouthwatering bubbles, focused and bright, with an elegant, soft texture. This wine is perfect for a holiday toast, or for serving with a giant Dungeness crab. It's a little pricier than some Cremants at $23, but it's good enough to beat out bubbly that costs at least $15 more. It's the kind of stuff you could sneak into a blind tasting and trick those who're loyal to big-brand Champagne.
Just a Little Jura
Les Chais du Vieux Bourg Delires des Lyres 2008 Cremant de Jura is made from 70% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, and 20% Savagnin (which you also see in the famous oxidative vin jaunes of the region). The vines average 40 to 50 years old, and are grown on soils caked with fossilized oysters. The grapes, never treated with pesticides or fertilizer, are pressed in an wooden wine press and fermented in oak casks, then undergo the traditional method champenoise, producing fine, delicate bubbles.
The scent is delicious, like roasted apples, and each sip is a swirl of tart-apple acidity, enough to pucker your mouth after each swallow. If there were a step somewhere between Champagne and cider, this is it, and the wine feels alive, a little unusual, and enriched by 2 years in the bottle before disgorgement. It's totally dry, not rounded off by a sweet dosage, but ready to come to the table, perfect for a pork roast with chanterelle mushrooms, or a savory panade with swiss chard, mushrooms, and gruyere. Around $34.
Beyond the Name
It's hard not to giggle at a name like Goat Bubbles, but Flying Goat Cellars is making some serious sparkling from grapes in the Santa Maria Valley of California. Their 2010 Blanc de Blancs is toasty and elegant, full of bright yellow-apple fruit and brioche-like richness from time spent on the lees. It's perfect for roast pork or seared scallops.
Flying Goat also makes a full-bodied but refreshingly tart pinot blanc-based Goat Bubbles Crémant, which would be perfect to serve with goat cheese crostini (add a sprinkle of lemon or orange zest on top) or any seafood appetizers.
We just wish these wines was a little cheaper—they have a lot of delicious competition in the $34-$38 range&dashbut that's one of the challenges of super small-production wine, especially wines as labor-intensive as traditional-method sparkling.
Rosé Sparkling from Oregon
We're always on the hunt for good domestic bubbly, and always wondered why Oregon's pinot noir country didn't produce more of it. But here's one to have on your radar: a nonvintage brut rosé from R. Stuart & Co, made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. The wine pours a peachy salmon color, and offers rich, slightly nutty aromas. The wine is fermented in 5-7 year old neutral French oak, and the fine, delicate carbonation is produced by traditional secondary fermentation in the bottle—richness is added by leaving the wine on tirage for about 3 years.
And it's rich, deep, slightly boozy-tasting stuff, balanced with bright acidity like buttery toasted bread smeared with a tart cranberry-lemon chutney. There's an orange-zesty quality that makes it ready to pair with food try a crown roast of pork, a holiday turkey, or a selection of nutty aged cheeses.
All wines except the J. P. Brun were provided as press samples for review consideration.
More Festive Wine Picks
Our favorite sparkling wines under $25 are all here. Looking for nonvintage Champagne recommendations? Start here. Wondering about the difference between Cava, Cremant, and Prosecco? Check out this guide.