I’ve never been a fan of those huge-name Champagne producers: whilst occasionally a wine they produce does hit the spot, I often find their Cuvees too generic, too similar and, let’s face it, a large part of the often £30-40 asking price is just pretty packaging. There are loads of other producers to choose from: those without a large-scale brand offensive often invest more of their capital into winemaking rather than wine-marketing.
One smaller-scale produce is Veuve Fourny & Fils in the commune of Vertus. Nine Cuvees emerge from the company’s cellar: amoung them every style of Champagne you can imagine. The one that intrigued me most was their Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature – a wine where no sugar is added to the dosage – the yeasty mix added for the wines second fermentation in the bottle. This means the yeast only has the residual sugar of the basis wine to work with in the bottle – final wines therefore have less than 3g of sugar per litre – this process is commonly known as “Brut Zero”.
On top of that, this Champagne is sourced from Premier Cru vineyards and is the product of only three consecutive vintages (some of the larger houses use up to seven to ensure a similar product every production cycle). Being a Blanc de Blanc, Chardonnay is the only grape varietal used and 25% of the basis wines are aged in oak for up to seven months before the second fermentation – the final product is aged for at least two and a half years before release.
White gold with quite a lively Mousse.
Green apples and pears but also apricot, pineapple, vanilla and white bread.
The attack is one of fresh green apples but also stone fruit: apricot and peach. The body is smooth and the finish clean-cut – it brings with it a hint of wood, vanilla and freshly-baked white bread. As predicted, it is dry but this doesn’t feel bitter as Brut Natur so often can.
The wine is compact, fruity and rather delicate. All of the notes are in the right place and the dry, woody finish is a highlight. Priced at around £35, this offers some of the best value-for-money drinking there is to buy – miles better than most of the stuff you’ll find in the supermarket for the same amount.
Les Folies de la Marquetterie is a terroir Champagne from world-famous brand Taittinger. The grapes used (45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir) are sourced only from the Folies vineyard, a slope that overlooks the Château de la Marquetterie – the origin of the Taittinger Champagne brand.
Only the must from the first pressing is used to create the wine, which is produced in small batches and some of the base wines are aged in large oak casks before the second fermentation.
Taittinger is one of the largest and best-known Champagne brands from Reims, as one of only a handful of brands still privately owned, its wines are available worldwide and, alongside its standard Brut Reserve line and its renowned Comtes de Champagne vintage series, the house has a selection of limited-edition specialities: les Folies de la Marquetterie is one of these.
Deep golden yellow with a fine, consistent and delicate mousse.
A delicate undertone of fresh fruit defines the wine at all times: whilst there is a certain amount of citrus: particularly sweet lemon and pink grapefruit, the deciding characteristics are of stone fruits: mostly white peach and sweet, juicy apricots. A fresh sense of green apple was also to detect as well as a sense of toasty sweet pastry and a faint sense of Cognac.
After a fairly long, sweet-sour attack in which both the peach and lemon played a role came a big yellow-fruit body which brought with it brioche, fresh toast and a faint sense of wood. Whilst the body was pleasant and relatively large, it was composed and clean and a slight mineral touch consisting of iron and slate finishing off the wine cleanly without a long finish.
A very appealing sparkling wine – whilst it possessed all of the notes typically attributed to Champagne, it was all very compact and tidy. The body was large and yet delicate – not a note out of place and strong enough not to disappoint. It felt a little more exclusive than its price tag would suggest and I was pretty sure that the Chardonnay came through a lot better than the Pinot Noir despite it being of a smaller quantity.
Serve with white fish starters, Raclette or simply as an aperitif to a light meal.
When you think of Italy and sparkling wine, two words spring to mind: Prosecco and Asti. Whereas both can be rather good (although it is rare in the case of the latter), neither are on a par with the sparkling wines of France and even Spain.
Italy’s true sparkling wine production region is, without doubt, Franciacorta – situated in Northern Italy’s Lombardia region. Made using Chardonnay Pinot Noir/Nero and Pinot Blanc/Bianco in a similar way to Champagne (second fermentation in the bottle), it is some of Europe’s finest sparkling wine.
The higher annual temperatures make an impression on the final wines which are fruitier and less sour than their Northern-French counterparts. Unlike Champagne, Franciacorta must spend a minimum of 18 months in the bottle during the second fermentation (Champagne 15 months) although the classification requirements in relation to residual sugar are exactly the same.
Due to the majority of consumers being less aware of the wines, Franciacorta is rather well-priced. A decent wine costs seldom over 25€ and even the vintage stuff is priced at around 30€. The quality is however very similar and, although there is a fuller, neater feel to Franciacorta, there are certain parallels between it and the world’s most famous bubbly.
Contadi Castaldi is a producer of Franciacorta DOCG in beautiful Adro. This is their entry-level wine and it is priced around 20€/£. 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero and 10% Pinot Bianco make up the final cuvée which is aged for a minimum of 18 months before release.
A pale satin colour with a very fine and discreet mousseux.
Fresh citrus was the first thing I picked out – lemon peel and ripe lemon juice. A hint of lime was in there too as well as a handful of stone fruits: particularly white peach. There were also unique nutty notes: almond and walnut but also a feel of fine fresh white bread.
The attack was mild and yet dominated by fresh lemon and grapefruit. Alongside melon, orange, clementine and peach in the body a uniquely fresh sense of freshly-baked white bread and lemongrass was present. The finish was smooth rather than yeasty and the whole affair felt rather light.
A fantastically well-composed bubbly – both light and full of flavour, it felt discreet and yet offered a great deal of character. I can imagine this as a brilliant aperitif or even a companion to simple pasta dishes or those based on freshwater whitefish. One of the best-value sparklers I’ve had in a long time.
Whilst I appreciate that I might be one of few, I genuinely regard Laurent Perrier’s simple Brut Champagne to be the pick of the bunch in the supermarket non-vintage category. I’d never tried the rosé wine of the same name mainly due to its price tag. Lucky enough though, my lovely little sister bought me a bottle for my birthday.
Made from nearly 12 Crus from all over the Reims region, this Pinot Noir-dominated blend is famous for its unique bottle shape: introduced in the 1960s, it reminds of the Champagne bottles of centuries gone by – thankfully though, this non-vintage bubbly was much younger!
A very satisfying orange-pink with a clean mousse.
Very composed to start with, the nose was one of fresh, crisp red fruit: strawberry and raspberry were immediately to detect but also was a mineral compound which felt metallic and brought with it citrus: orange peel, possibly even a dash of lemon.
In the attack were the red berries of the nose: bright strawberry and a hint of watermelon which made the whole thing feel very juicy. Eventually a toasty brioche was to discover and, like the nose promised, this brought with it some citrus for the finish: orange and grapefruit peel with a small amount of lemon juice.
This excellently composed rosé was both bursting with fruit and yet calm and composed at the same time. The minerals were simply a background note: something that works especially well with pink Champagne and the fruit was really allowed to flow and appease the drinker.
With Pommery and this brand being almost certainly the most experimental when it comes to 'new' styles of Champagne, this Taittinger is the most unique French sparkler I've even enjoyed.
Made using 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Meunier, it isn't Brut but the dryness classification level under that: Sec - not quite as bone dry as Brut Champagne but also not as sweet as Medium or Demi-Sec. The Cuvee is aged for four years before release and is a blend of over 30 different Crus and multiple vintages to ensure relatively similar wines over a number of years.
With a rich golden colour, the bubble structure is thick and concentrated.
The wine is rather fruity and the bready notes found in most Champagne is hidden or certainly more discreet. The fruit was driven by peach, apricot and other yellow fruit but some honey, a splash of lemon and some sweet floral notes were to detect too.
The fruit in the nose: fresh apricots, long smooth peach and also a faint sense of something more exotic comes through in the attack. These are joined by a hint of mineral aromas but this is impaired by the relatively high level of sugar - enough to take away the slight 'bitterness' that the standard Taittinger Brut Reserve has. The overall feeling is a smooth one, velvety and yet the finish is crisp, despite being sweet and long.
This is a great alternative to those who have trouble with the yeastier and drier side of Champagne - it isn't half-dry (half-dry spakling wine can feel rather clingy and badly made) but dry and therefore crisp, refreshing and honest. This is a taste direction very popular in Germany when it comes to bubbly but few Germanic wineries are able to combine this somewhat relaxed approach with high quality and often make wines that feel clumsy, dull and syrupy - this doesn't belong to that category - a great aperitif or companion to a simple finger food buffet.
Throughout my various blogs and online projects, it occurs to me that, whilst mentioning Chapel Down’s Vintage Reserve Brut NV on a number of occasions and actually recommending it to readers, I have never posted my review.
I drank it on my birthday of 2011 and particularly enjoyed it. Not quite as exclusive as the competition, Chapel Down’s Vintage Reserve Brut NV is a tantalisingly British offering with both the notes and feel of a classical sparkling wine but with a quintessential (albeit theoretical) Union Jack waving somewhere between the fine bubbles and fermented grape juice.
I might not have been particularly complimentary of their Bacchus Reserve although my only criticism was the price. I felt it a bit steep for that kind of white wine but this is probably by me being spoilt for choice in Germany where comparative quality and similarly made wines retail for a third of the Kent winery’s asking price. This sparkler is quite the opposite and whilst it might not be Britain’s best bubbly, it certainly is the best priced.
Although light in colour wearing wonderful satin, there is a yellow tone too although very discreet. Fine and well-balanced bubble structure.
Rich in lemon, there is also a sense of fresh apple, some succulent freshly-baked brioche but also some savoury, salty bread in there too. There are also some great notes of a herbaceous sense: some really authentic notes that remind of non-Riesling German still wines (Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner). Fine bubble
With lemon dominating the palate, some lovely brioche makes it through, just after the racing acidity and fresh fruit has been deleivered. Finishing on some great vegetative notes, the wine shows its balance, not continuing with either ripe fruit or acidity in the interests of the classical Champagne drinker.
A fantastically lively bubbly with a great deal going on but also reservedly discreet. Not just the best English sparkler for this price category but also heaps better than most other sparkling competition around the £15-20 mark too. Enjoy it as an aperitif, with smoked fish or finger food. Drink within 2-3 years of purchase. 8.6/10 points
Where to get it
Most big wine handlers in the UK now stock English wines and a great deal of them offer Chapel Down’s produce as part of their standard ranges. You can order the wine directly from Chapel Down here but you’ll also find it in most Waitrose and Marks and Spencer stores (where it sells with a slightly different label). If you live outside of the UK, your best chances lie with ordering from one of the larger UK wine dealers or by contacting the winery directly.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
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0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry