We all deserve to drink great wine and picking any wine based on how colourful the label is invariably leads to utter disappointment.
We feel that sparkling wines, be it the revered Champagne, the trendy Crémant or the eternally popular Prosecco, are a largely unknown quantity to many.
It’s a grey area which must be demystified.
We are not here to get into the finer details and intricacies of the world of sparkling wines… we are here to give an easy to digest starter manual for millennials who need to know the basics, where to buy and the tech available to assist with buying wine.
Topics we will cover in this post:
This handy guide will outline the different types of sparkling peddled in the UK, how to pick a decent sparkling (so you don’t unsuspectingly purchase cooking wine from your local off license) as well as where to find the best deals, and comment from some of our industry friends who are at the top of their game.
There are three key methods for producing sparkling wine. Here goes:
Champagne Method (méthode champenoise)
AKA The Traditional Method
This method is the most cost- and labour-intensive, producing bubbly via secondary fermentation in the bottle. Find out more about The Champagne Method here.
AKA The Tank Method
This method ferments in a pressurised stainless steel tank – fresh yeast and sugar is added to the wine, triggering a rapid fermentation. This method of making sparkling wine does not allow the wine time to develop smaller bubbles. Find out more about The Charmat Method here.
Soda Stream method
AKA The Carbonation Method
This method does not involve secondary fermentation, but instead the injection of CO2 (carbonation) into the wine. This is the same method used in making Coca-Cola and Iron Bru. The resulting large bubbles are short-lived. Find out more about The Carbonation Method here.
Types of Sparking Wine
Everyone knows Champagne. It’s the Rolls Royce of the sparkling world. Made with three grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and lesser known Pinot Meunier – Champagne can only carry that name if it is from the region and there are strict controls in place for this. Comparatively, Champagne prices are through the roof, but this is largely reflected by the quality of the product, and the fact that land in the Champagne region is some of the most expensive in the world. Inevitably, some of this cost is passed on to you as the consumer.
Another household name, Prosecco came like a freight train about a decade ago and has been impossible to stop. Prosecco is a different beast to Champagne, produced in a less labour intensive way (the Charmat Method) and with a sweeter and less complex palate. Its popularity is in no doubt down to its attractive price point and the ease with which it sits on some palates. Prosecco is a player in the sparkling wine category, with the UK outdrinking the US last year.
Less trendy. Far less trendy. Cava’s rep was obliterated in the 1990’s by some dreadful people, drinking dreadful Cava on the Costa Del Sol. These days Cava has quietly been biding its time and is no longer the ugly sister of the category. Production-wise Cava has a lot going for it, using several grape varieties for complexity and being produced in much the same way as Champagne. True to form, the price point is good; Cava is the third most popular sparkling in the world.
On the up…
The French are good at sparkling, no doubt, and Crémant is starting to creep its way over the channel to our fine shores here in the UK.
It’s appearing in supermarkets, restaurants and bars up and down the country in part due to its great price point, its alternative play on the sparkling category and its arduous production method similar to Champagne (it’s very difficult not to keep harping on about Champagne).
Style wise it’s less effervescent than Champagne so is smoother in that respect and is, we guess, partly why Crémant is so named – as it translates to “creamy”.
The German sparkling wine you have probably never heard of. The Germans produce a massive amount of this stuff and they are one of the biggest annual consumers of sparkling in the world – approximately five bottles per person!
Some call English sparkling the new Champagne. We are slightly biased here and tend to agree.
The British stuff has made serious waves in the global dominance of Champagne, Prosecco and Cava. Allegedly, the homegrown fare is trouncing the French in taste tests and is also highly coveted by those in the know.
We’ve actually produced sparkling wine for centuries in the UK, so a renaissance was long overdue.
Produced in the intensive traditional method, and with the hallmark of high acidity, English sparkling wine lends itself to becoming a world beater.
Ok, it’s not a type of sparkling but we need to signpost the great pretender… perry.
We think it’s important to clear up for those under the impression that this is sparkling wine. Lambrini, in our opinion (and I would hazard a guess we are not the only ones) is the biggest culprit in the “is perry sparkling wine?” saga.
Derived from pears, Lambrini comes in several unedifying flavours, all cheap and low alcohol.
It sits on the shelves with a low-price tag and a joyful abandon, but we advise anyone looking for a cheap sparkling to avoid. You have been warned! #WINOwarning
Super low grade German sparkling… it’s low quality and we (and many others of the interweb) advise you give it a wide berth. In Germany there are several classifications of sparkling and Sekt sits sadly at rock bottom.
Very little of this bubbly moonshine actually escapes Germany but it’s a one-way ticket to a sure fire hangover if you get involved…we say it’s best left in the bathtub.
Sparkling Wine Facts
Tops Tips for Picking Sparkling Wine
Always Read the Label
Are there tasting notes? Does the description of intense cherry and chocolate notes make you salivate? Read the label, don’t just look at the pictures on the label… After all that’s what kids do, and kids aren’t allowed to drink wine.
Know Your Costings
So our glorious nation does have one small drawback (actually scrap that, two if you include the rubbish weather) and that’s tax.
As it stands £2.67 goes straight to the taxman for every bottle of sparkling.
So that £6 bottle of prosecco suddenly leaves only £3.33 to be split between the winemaker, shops, distributors, logistics, packaging etc. You see what we are getting at?
This is not a recommendation that more money equals better wine every time, but sometimes spending a few extra quid leaves you with a great chance of not grimacing at that first sip of the juice.
Wine Label Scanning App – Vivino
Vivino is a great app that aggregates thousands of user reviews on wines. You simply take a picture of the label and it tells you average price, style and user ratings.
It’s a great way to quickly assess if your chosen wine has what it takes to pass your taste test. If you don’t back the old-fashioned methods then this app is a must have.
Expand Your Horizons… Look Beyond Eye Level
Ok, so this is mainly focused towards the big hitting supermarkets, but looking beyond eye level can invariably find you some of the best juice. It’s no secret that brands pay a premium for the hotspot shelves at eye level.
Beware Half Bottles & Splits
Ominous? Not really. All we say is that occasionally these are not as fresh, due to the fact they tend to not move as quickly off the shelves as their older brothers. The good news, however, is that any small bottles that turn up as gifts at home should be drunk asap.
What Technology is Available For Wine Buying?
The world of wine can feel like a minefield to the uninitiated but fortunately we live in the 21st century and there is a plethora of apps available to take the hard work away.
Whether it’s a wine and food pairing app or a label scanning app, there is something available for even the most obscure questions a budding sommelier might have.
Vivino is one of our favourites (and is mentioned above) and is generally considered the top label scanning app for wines. Learn about any wine of the go including average price, reviews and ratings.
So whether you’re out for supper or in the supermarket, Vivino can ensure you are not caught with your trousers down. Vivino has over 33 million users and they proudly boast being ‘the world’s largest wine community’.
Hello Vino’s angle is food and wine pairing… which is great. A handy tool if you are planning a dinner party and picking your wine. Simply tell the app what you are eating and some taste preferences, and it will suggest suitable wines. Very clever.
One we like a lot… Wine Picker allows you to sit at your local restaurant, input your food choice and location and it will suggest a number of wines to pair with your food from the restaurant wine menu. Super clever.
The app has a location map and is powered by its community. The location map ensures you know what restaurants have the wine list uploaded.
Our Sparking Wine Expert Buying Guide
Splash the Cash…
The Belle Epoque Cuvée is the pride of the House of Perrier-Jouët. It is not by chance that many experts consider it among the finest prestige cuvées in the world. Cuvée Belle Epoque is perfect as an aperitif or accompanying a meal. So, yes, it’s delightful, but it comes at a price.
The wine that, until recently, held the title of most expensive wine in England. Nyetimber’s ‘Tillington’ is a single vineyard wine made predominantly with Pinot Noir and a small amount of Chardonnay. Just 4117 bottles were produced.
It’s a pale, with a fine array of soft, well-integrated bubbles that fill the nose with aromas of wild strawberry and juicy red berries.
Watching the Pennies…
Bollinger Non-Vintage Rosé Champagne is a special non-vintage Rosé and is the first new Champagne to come from Bollinger for more than 30 years. The new bottle shape was inspired by a 19th century bottle in Bollinger’s Cellars.
It pairs beautifully with fish, chilli and summer fruits. This quaffable bubbly is packed with raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries, and will not let you down.
Bottega Gold’s unique flavours are a result of the vineyards the Glera grape is grown on near the Venetian Prealps in northeastern Italy.
Maintained at low temperature for just over a year prior to fermentation and bottling, this gives the wine an opportunity to reach its fullest flavours and maintain its freshness in the meantime.
Floral and fruity on the nose, it is on the palate in which an intense array of both candied and exotic fruits emerge to touch your taste buds.
Fantastically crisp and elegant with green apples, perfect acidity and persistent bubbles. Made from 100% chardonnay, this wine has a sophisticated subtlety with stimulating fresh citrus notes and a lovely length.
This award winning Crémant from Aldi is a lauded tipple and is highly rated by Aldi customers.
A firm favourite, partly for the gorgeous bottle design, but mainly for its elegant style, with well-balanced raspberry and red-cherry fruit, and a dry, delicate finish. Perfect for prawns. Great value.
If you take nothing else from this post….
Our big tip is to embrace technology and download the Vivino App. It will be a game-changer if you enjoy wine but have no clue about the finer nuances of grape, region, production methods and so on. In essence it will turn you into an expert wino and should mean you never accidentally buy plonk again.
With thanks to our sources: