Three Fine Bubbles to Ring in the New Year.

Three Fine Bubbles
To Ring in the New Year

Champagne can be expensive, sometimes very expensive indeed. But there are some excellent alternatives out there at more attractive prices. And I’m not talking Cava or Prosecco here. The three below come from France, Germany and England. And one, the Saint Hilaire, was being made a hundred years before champagne and indeed I’ve read that Dom Perignon may well have learned a trick or two here. Don’t know how much truth is in that one.
Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux brut 2010 (Languedoc-Roussillon, France), 12%, €23.35 Karwig Wines

This is France’s oldest sparkling wine, produced by the Methode Traditionnelle where it is naturally fermented in the bottle. It was first created by the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint Hilaire over 450 years ago. Written records survive from 1531. The abbey is 25 miles south of Carcassonne.

The main grape in the blend is the Mauzac which is called Blanquette locally. This accounts for ninety per cent of the mix with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay also used (up to a maximum of ten per cent). White fruits (peaches, apples) feature in the aromas. The palate is fresh and fruity, rather intense in flavour with no shortage of fine bubbles, persistently on the up. This is real bubbles. Think non-vintage champagne at a fraction of the price! Very Highly Recommended.

Furst von Metternich Riesling Sekt  (Rheingau, Germany), 12.5%, €23.50, Karwig Wines

Riesling, believe it or not, is the grape here, one hundred per cent, displaying its amazing versatility in a rather elegant wine, “a wine for special moments”. You’ll note the fountain of extremely fine bubbles, always a good sign, rising through the pale yellow colour. This is a serious sparkling wine, with a fresh fruitiness (peach and tangerine), and again Very Highly Recommended.

Not sure that Karwig Wines carry them but the producers also do a sparkling Chardonnay and a sparkling Rose made from Pinot Noir.

This German winery also has quite a history, over 300 years, though their sparkling is more recent, dating from the mid 19th century, the current brand from the 1920s. The Schloss Johannisberg headquarters was destroyed in a 1942 bombardment and rebuilt by 1965.

Dermot (left), pictured with wine writer John Wilson
and Simon Tyrell (right)

Wiston Estate Blancs de Blancs NV (South Downs, England), 12%, €53.00 Le Caveau

The Wiston Estate has little by way of wine history but the South of England has in a few decades carved out quite a niche for itself in the high end of sparkling wine and one of its leading men is Dermot Sugrue from County Limerick, the winemaker at Wiston. Amazingly, the first Wiston Vines were not planted until 2006 and the first grapes picked in 2008. There are now 16ha of vines planted on the chalk slopes (same chalk as Champagne).

I won this rather expensive bottle at a pre-Christmas dinner raffle and I am keeping it for the big night - not long now! I’ve tasted it before and it is a notably agreeable companion!  

This Blanc de Blancs NV has been voted the best in England and Dermot himself told us all about it. “It has a sense of richness that belies its youth. It is one hundred per cent Chardonnay, mostly 2011 plus reserve from 2010 and has spent 18 months on its lees.” It has indeed a delicious palate, a depth of flavour with excellent balance, bubbling all the way with finesse and elegance. Again, Very Highly Recommended. Happy New Year.