I have recently been awash with champagne and sparkling wine, researching a modest tome called Drink More Fizz! (currently available in a good bookshop near you for just £14.99, a snip). Indeed, I’ve hardly drawn a sober breath for months. Well, you didn’t think I was going to spit any out did you? Actually, I did, but only a couple and they were cavas, which I’ve decided I just don’t like very much. I drank all the champagne though.
Not that I’m a fizz snob. Far from it. I came across all manner of tasty sparklers during my research, many of which I recommend in the book. The cheapest fizz in the book sells for just £7.95 (a charming Australian Moscato since you ask) and for every fine champagne there is an easy-going prosecco, say, an Asti Spumante or a sparkler from the Loire, the Rhône, Burgundy and even Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Good heavens, I even found a cracking fizz from Nova Scotia, albeit quite a pricey one.
Champagne, of course, is the acme of fizz and even though the finest sparkling wines are fabulous (and the best – particularly those from southern England or Franciacorta in Italy – really are fabulous) they just don’t quite have that something, that élan, that dash, that style, that glamour, that je ne sais quoi that first rate champagne possesses. And that’s largely because they don’t boast that magical name.
After all, would you rather go to a champagne bar or a sparkling wine bar? Live a champagne lifestyle or a sparkling wine lifestyle? Have a champagne breakfast or a sparkling wine breakfast? Be a Champagne Charlie or a Sparkling Wine Charlie?
A word of warning though: the word ‘champagne’ on a label is no promise of quality. All it guarantees is that the wine is made in Champagne, using one or all of the three major permitted grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and is produced by the so-called Champagne or Traditional Method (with its secondary fermentation in bottle).
The best champagnes are the best fizzes in the world; the worst champagnes are the worst. Find a producer you like and stick to them like glue. The following 10 champagnes, listed in alphabetical order, will never let you down.
Ayala Brut Nature NV (£29.75): Formidable zero sugar fizz from the sister house to mighty Bollinger.
Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV (£60): One of the chicest, most sophisticated and understated of champagnes.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV (£34.99): As delicious a non-vintage champagne as you will find.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV (£42): Stunningly fine fizz from the original Champagne Charlie.
Henri Chauvet Blanc de Noirs Brut NV (£28.50): One of the very best so-called grower’s champagnes.
Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec NV (£38.99): A delectable sweet champagne that’s perfect with wedding cake.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV (£24.99): From a hugely successful co-operative, the best-selling champagne in France.
2008 Pol Roger (£75): The finest Pol vintage that I have ever tasted: a belter!
Serge Mathieu Brut Tradition NV (£25.95): Outrageously tasty, made entirely from biodynamic Pinot Noir.
Champagne Tarlant Rosé Zero Brut Nature NV (£43.50): So deliciously fruity you’d never think there was no added sugar.