No celebration is complete without it. A glass of bubbles is the top choice of many who come together for a special occasion, bringing a sparkling stamp of luxury to the proceedings.
Sparkling wine and champagne styles vary between white, red and rosé, and there are many different sweetness levels too.
Before we go on, it’s good to remember that even though all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. A sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it is produced in the historical province of Champagne in North East France. Here, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes are primarily used in its production.
Recognisable producers of non-vintage Champagne include Moët & Chandon and Bollinger. A bottle of either will set you back in the region of €50-€60 in good wine shops around Ireland.
Champagne is held in universal affection – everyone adores the occasional glass, and it is one of the finest wines to pair with many styles of food, notably fish and cheese. However, over the last 20 years, various value-driven alternatives, such as Prosecco and Cava, have begun to burst Champagne’s bubble.
Prosecco, grown principally using the Glera grape in the Veneto region of North East of Italy is a sparkling wine thrived amid the economic woes faced by Ireland and elsewhere, and its popularity continues to rise. Growth in sales of this simple sparkler rose 34 percent from 2015 to 2016 alone.
Base-level Frizzante Prosecco (small, dense bubbles), and the slightly more expensive Spumante Prosecco (high octane bubbles) have satisfied many of a Champagne lover who might only have €10 to €20 to spend.
Another alternative, Cava, hails from the Penedes region in the Catalonia region of North East Spain, and it is as close to Champagne as one may get. In fact, until 1986, Cava was labelled as ‘Spanish Champagne’.
This wine, made in the same style as Champagne using indigenous Spanish grapes, such as Macabeu and Parellada, is in many instances at least half the price of most Champagnes by brand-name producers. Notable producers of Cava include Freixenet, for which you can expect to pay around €20 per bottle, and Recaredo Gran Reserva, which will set you back around €30-€40.
With our love-affair with sparkling wines and Champagne showing no sign of abating, special gatherings and cheers of celebration are likely to be accompanied by that flamboyant pop of the cork and unmistakable fizz of bubbles for many generations to come.
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.