What is it about those rising columns of tiny bubbles, the chilled condensation of the glass and the feel of a coupe in your hand to give you the flutters of excitement that only sparkling wines can give you? I’m not sure about you, but I have spent the last twelve months watching “the Wolf of Crow St.”, Luca from Rosa Madre on Instagram, guide his punters outdoors to perform the ancient and very dramatic ‘Sabrage’. Suddenly, Mary from Kilbarrack is wielding a large sword and attempting to cut the neck off her bottle of Krug, with one foul swoop. Oh, the absolute drama is just palpable. Brilliant. And only a bottle of bubbles could achieve this elevation and drama.
Of course, most of us are not in our Manolo Blahniks, in Temple Bar with a large sword in our hands. We are most likely trudging through our local Aldi, or SuperValu, or perhaps we have been lucky enough to grab a wobbly table outside the local and are just so happy to be back out again we are ignoring the sideways rain and the dog weeing in the corner. There is a new-found gratitude in us all right now and I think this extends to our opportunisms for home dining. We may not want to wield our precious Wusthof butcher knives at home, but we do want to experience the glitz and glam that a bottle of bubbles can bring. There are so many affordable options in the supermarkets and independent wine shops right now that it’s hard to whittle them down. But here are some of my favourites that I have had the pleasure of sipping on lately.
The millennials are having a bit of a love affair with Pet Nat lately and it is easy to see why. Now nicknamed ‘hipster bubbles’ these lightly effervescent wines are spearheading the natural, minimal intervention campaign. Ironically, they are the most ancient form of sparkling wines. Petillant Naturel wines were discovered in Limoux around the 1500’s. It basically involves bottling the wine before the final fermentation has occurred. Therefore, the reaction between the yeast and sugar that creates the CO2 happens in the botte and is captured easily and naturally. These wines can be a little hazy because they are unfiltered, but this flipside of this is, literally none of the flavours have been stripped away. Pet Nat has an intensity of ripe, vibrant fruits on the palate that is just delightful.
I tried the ‘Tours de Gendres’ (€21) recently from Green Man Wines and I was genuinely so impressed. This is a blend of Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc from the Loire. And it is masterfully created to give incredible citrus freshness, without some of the yeasty notes that many find somewhat off putting. We paired it with some grilled mackerel fillets, and it was the ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ of food pairings. The natural bubbles were more than capable of lifting the oiliness in the fish. Just divine.
But between me, you and the rest of the world, Crémant is probably my favourite form of bubbles. They have same production methods of the mighty Champagne, but half the price tag, as the wines are aged for only 12 months. But these wines are the pride of the rest of France, and deservedly so. One of the beauties of this style of wine is that the varying regions can use their local grapes accordingly and not just the infamous Chardonnay, Pinot Noir blend. Loire often use Chenin Blanc, Alsace use Pinot Blanc or Gris, Bordeaux use Cabernet Franc and Semillon etc. I just love the Crémant de Loire from the Bollinger owned Langlois, available from O’Brien’s (€20.95).
In particular the Rose made using Cabernet Franc, is just delightful. Sweet, ripe strawberries on the palate are lifted by the tiny, piercing bubbles that can last for 2-3 days if sorted correctly in your fridge. You cannot argue with that. We recently paired this Rose Crémant with a bacon and blue cheese salad and I was surprised at the ability of the wine to slice right through the tangy blue cheese. And in fact, the luscious overripe strawberries contrasted so well with the saltiness of the bacon and the cheese. Sublime.
Another very affordable, yet extremely well-made sparkling is the Spanish Brut Cava Prestige available in M&S (€10.50) currently. We had a summer garden party recently and this wine was so well received.
Much like Crémant it is produced using a second fermentation and spends 12 months in a bottle. This is made from local grapes Macabeo and Parellada, and it has that broad fruit driven appeal. Pears and green apples dominate, but it is also the quality of the tiny bubble and the length of the freshness that really surprises you. It is also only 11.5% so it’s ideal for parties like this.
Normally you would read about a Prosecco next, but actually I stumbled across this gorgeous Grillo Spumante recently at a friend’s BBQ and I was instantly drawn in. Grillo is the local white grape in Sicily grown on volcanic soils, and it is this edge that adds depth of flavour and bracing acidity to hold the bubbles. Yes, it’s no Dom Perignon, but it has such a beautiful palate of white peaches and honeysuckle. It is far outweighing the vibrancy of their Northern Italian infamous sparkling rivals. We drank this with a Parma ham and asparagus starter, and it was just a taste sensation to behold. I know Aldi have an organic example from Castellore for €12.99.
Finally, I couldn’t talk about affordable sparkling wines without including the multi award winning Champagne from Aldi, the Monsigny. For a meagre €19 it is startling to taste the sleek biscuit notes that are reminiscent of a decent Bollinger. The quality and affordability are almost too hard to believe. This particular wine has often come in ahead of the major Champagne houses in industry blind tastings, and who are we to argue. Champagne, the queen of them all, is one of the most food adaptable wines. But somehow it goes so under the radar for this particular role. I like to have ours with a creamy camembert bake, or indeed a rich shellfish risotto. It is the perfect anthesis. The piercing acidity and tiny bubbles are ideal for cleansing away all those palate coating ingredients. Next time for your special meal at home, try an affordable sparkling instead of a lean crisp white and you might be genuinely surprised.