Inspiration / Food & Wine

Fizz file: the ABC (and P) guide

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Joanna Goodman Joanna Goodman

Do you know your perlé from your Prosecco, your Cava from your crémant or any of these from Champagne?

We all know that sparkling wine gets its bubbles from CO2, that Champagne is fermented twice (the second time in bottle) and can only come from Champagne, that small region in northeastern France. Or do we?

And what about some of the other bubbly personalities out there? Where do they come from? How are they made? Which one is for you? We take a browse through our sparkling and Champagne selection, pointing out some of the differences in style and explaining some of the terms along the way. And of course we suggest some truly sparkling examples to kick-start your fizz-ical education (sorry!).

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Fizz file: the ABC (& P) guide

Méthode Ancestrale

(also known as, méthode artisanale, rurale, or in Portugal, método antigo)

Where?

Limoux, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, is thought to be the birthplace of sparkling wine, predating Champagne by almost a century. In 1531 a Benedictine monk in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire discovered that the wine he had bottled had started bubbling again.

How?

The wine undergoes just one fermentation (in bottle), and ends up being only lightly sparkling and lowish in alcohol and usually a little sweet, with a gorgeous flavour of baked apples. It's a notoriously tricky production method, so only small quantities are made.

What?

The Antech family's Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale, Antech NV is one of the best from the area made from the local mauzac grape.

When?

Delicious served with fruit-based desserts or lightly spiced canapés.

Blanquette

Where?

Blanquette is simply the word for 'white' in Occitan, the ancient language of southern France, and the name traditionally given to the sparkling whites of Limoux.

How?

Unless made by the method described above, these are wines made by the traditional (Champagne) method (of second fermentation in bottle – see below), producing more fizz, higher alcohol and drier wine, but crucially the local mauzac grape must make up 90% of the mix, giving it that same palate-cleansing hint of apple on the finish.

What?

Compare and contrast the Antech family's Blanquette de Limoux Réserve, Antech 2014, or magnums for parties!

When?

Perfect party starter for serving with savoury nibbles

Cava

Where?

The region best known for Spain's most famous sparkling wine is Catalunya ('cava' means 'cellar' in Catalan), but it can actually come from anywhere in the country.

How?

This is top-quality traditional (Champagne)-method wine. The best, like Champagne, spend longer than the minimum nine months in bottle on its lees (the sediment left over after the second fermentation). The longer this lasts, the finer the bubbles and the creamier the taste!

What?

The Society's Cava Reserva Brut NV is made of the traditional trio of local grapes parellada, macabeo and xarel-lo and stays a whopping 30 months on the lees giving it a lovely richness, like toasted brioche, a fragrant aroma and zippy bone-dry flavour.

When?

First-class fizz for Christmas parties (and converting your Prosecco-loving mates!).

Champagne Method

(also known outside Champagne as traditional method, méthode traditionnelle, método tradicional, méthode classique)

Where?

This, the most meticulous method of making sparkling wine may only be attributed to the wines made by second fermentation in bottle that come from the Champagne region of France. The technique – the traditional method, as it must officially be called – is now widely used for top-quality fizz throughout the world, but if the wine is not from Champagne, then it isn't Champagne!

How?

The key is that the bottle you buy is the same one that the wine has spent its life in, after the bottling following first fermentation (when grape juice is turned into wine). There are many fancy words for the seemingly mystical process involved, but it's the quality of the original wine which counts, then the amount of time the wine spends ageing on its lees in that bottle – 12 months for Non-Vintage Champagne and three years for Vintage Champagne (where the grapes are the product of one year's vintage).

What?

There are many different styles of wine made by this classic method, why not try the attractively priced Jean de Foigny Brut Premier Cru NV and contrast it with a new world traditional-method wine like the creamy-textured Californian Quartet Anderson Valley Brut made by Champagne house Roederer.

When?

Classic and classy for the price, the Jean de Foigny Champagne is great to have on hand for celebrations, big and small. Fuller and more fruity and richer in style, the Quartet isn't just for toasting and would be a lovely festive brunch tipple.

Crémant

Where?

France's finest sparkling wines (made by the traditional method) outside Champagne, crémant literally means 'creamy'. Most of the principal regions have their crémant. We tend to follow those of Limoux (made with more chardonnay than the Blanquette above), Loire, Jura and occasionally Alsace.

How?

You've got the message by now! The same labourintensive techniques are used as in Champagne production. The key difference is the mix of grapes used which will vary from region to region.

What?

The Society's Celebration Crémant de Loire 2014 from our oldest suppliers Gratien and Meyer in Saumur is pretty hard to beat for value and flavour. While chardonnay makes up half the blend, the Loire character comes shining through with the inclusion of chenin blanc, pinot noir and a little cabernet franc giving it a distinctive, almost floral nose.

When?

As the name suggests, this is the perfect sparkler for celebrations, but that addition of chenin blanc gives a lively citrus kick making it food-friendly too. Lovely with the local Loire rillettes – pâtés of pork, goose or fish.

Champagne Perlé

Where?

This rarity comes from the village of Cramant in the heart of the Côte des Blancs, the area of Champagne renowned for the quality of its chardonnay grapes. It has a long tradition of making this more gently bubbly style of Champagne.

How?

A little less sugar (dosage) is added for the second fermentation in bottle so the bubbles produced make for a lighter mousse than you usually get in Champagne.

What?

Lilbert Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Perlé NV, as a blanc de blancs ('white from white', and so made from 100% chardonnay), Lilbert Perlé is light and elegant, with notes of brioche and toast on the nose and a generous, yet fresh palate.

When?

A special treat, especially for those who find traditional Champagne too fizzy, the perfect aperitif or accompaniment to canapés. Oysters are a classic combination or try with delicate fish or crab dishes.

Vouvray Pétillant

Where?

Pétillant just means lightly sparkling in French but this style is a speciality of the Vouvray region of the Loire where the chenin blanc grape has the perfect profile for sparkling wine production. It partly owes its existence to the shortage of Champagne during the First World War.

How?

Made by the traditional method but with about half the atmospheric pressure of most sparkling wine. It takes great skill and fastidious attention to detail to achieve this and, because the wine is less fizzy (and more wine-y), there is no room for imperfection (bubbles can trick the tastebuds!)

What?

Domaine Huet, the stars of Vouvray, are specialists in this style, making a very refined wine and giving it more than three years' ageing in their limestone cellars, allowing an almost opulent honeyed flavour to develop, complemented by apple freshness. The 2012 Vouvray Pétillant Brut has a fine mousse and complex flavours.

When?

A stylish aperitif but this style also works well with food because of its vinosity, compared with other sparkling wines: try with poached chicken or fish dishes.

Prosecco

Where?

Italy's (and the world's!) popular sparkler comes from the regions of Veneto and Friuli-VeneziaGiulia in the north-east of the country. Confusingly, the grape, now known as glera, which must make up 85% of the wine, was also called 'prosecco' up until 2010.

How?

Prosecco can actually be tranquillo (still), frizzante (semisparkling), or spumante (properly sparkling and the one we see most). The bubbly stuff is made by the Charmat method where the second fermentation, the one that makes the bubbles, takes place in a pressurised stainless-steel tank. Though not as labour-intensive as making sparkling wine by the traditional method, it's a highly technical process and the challenge is to keep all the lovely fresh floral flavours of the wine in the finished product.

What?

Our Society's Prosecco comes from a family concern who have vineyards in some of the best plots of the region and take great care to make a really enjoyable wine with a pleasing lightness of touch.

When?

Prosecco is the traditional wine to serve with cake in Italy, but they also seem to have it at almost any hour, even for breakfast in the hotels! While we couldn't possibly condone that, it's perfect to get the party started, with or without nibbles or cake. (Find out more about The Society's Prosecco and the Prosecco phenomenon in a Travels in Wine trip to the region.)

Find out more about Champagne in our regional guide


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