Last year, an equivalent of 26 million bottles of sparkling wine was sold in pubs and shops – that’s a 9% increase year on year*.
And while it’s good news all round that sales of wine continue to rise, hearing that English wine is becoming more popular is an even greater boost for our industry. In fact, one pub chain has stopped selling Champagne in favour of English wines. However, having a varied wine list is crucial. Whether your customers’ preference is extra special Champagne or an affordable Prosecco, Take Stock shows you which sparkling wines to stock so every customer is catered for…
Only wines from the Champagne region of France can be labelled as such, which has contributed to the wealth and prestige of vineyards centered around Reims and Epernay. Champagne can be made from three grapes – white chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, – the latter two, somewhat surprisingly, being red skinned grapes. Because of these different grapes, Champagnes can have distinctly different tastes or ‘House’ style. Actual blends are a closely guarded secret, but if a wine is described as ‘blanc de blancs’ only white grapes have been used, while ‘blancs de noirs’ tells you the Champagne is made from the red skinned varieties.
Champagne also has the distinct advantage of offering something to suit everyone’s palate. If a customer wants a super dry taste, offer Brut Nature or Brut Zero. Then moving up the scale of sweetness you have Extra Brut; Brut; Extra-Sec; Sec (medium dry); Demi-Sec and sweetest of all – Doux. The use of the word Champagne is strictly controlled. French producers outside of the area have therefore adopted different terms to describe the sparkling wines they make. Two examples to look out for are:
Crémant – wines from 8 AOC areas that are produced within strict guidelines, using the same methods as in Champagne.
Vouvray – hailing from the Loire Valley, Vouvray wines are typically made from the chenin blanc grape and can offer brilliant value.
British is Best
Interest in British wines has exploded in recent times with English wineries now regularly winning international awards – taking on and beating competition from French Champagne houses. It’s therefore no surprise to see that Champagne houses like Vranken-Pommery and Tattinger are investing in UK vineyards.
English Wine Week (21-31 May) is a great way to support English wine too. Award-winning names to look out for include Hattingley Valley, Rathfinny, Coates and Seeley, Nyetimber, Hambledon and Camel Valley.
It is true to say that the French think anything but Champagne is second best. However, ask an Italian and they’ll tell you that their sparkling wines are as good, or better! Historically by far the best known Italian sparkling wines were Asti’s and Lambrusco’s, joined now by Franciacorto and Prosecco.
Hailing from the Asti region in Piedmont, Asti is made from the moscato grape, giving it a slightly sweet taste. Asti is normally lower in alcohol level than Champagne, with the Moscato d’Asti ‘frizzante’ even less.
Go back a few years and many people will immediately think of cheap red fizzy wine. This is a shame, as there are growers in the Emilia-Romagne region of Italy who use the Lambrusco grape to produce some really high quality red, white and rosé sparklers.
Because of the wide range available you should discuss your selection with your wholesaler. However, look for a bottle fermented Lambrusco for quality, and have one of the sweeter varieties as a superb accompaniment to chocolate desserts.
The Franciacorta region is home to most of Italy’s sparkling wine production, mainly using chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes. Wines carrying the DOCG label have no more than 15% Pinot nero grape and will have been aged on their lees for between 18 and 30 months.
Made in and around the town of Valdobbiadene, by law Prosecco must be at least 85% Glera grape. UK demand for Prosecco has seen some poorer quality wines reaching these shores. The good news is that Italian vintners are now making strenuous efforts to both produce and clearly label their wines, to ensure a top quality drinking experience. Look for wines with Prosecco DOC or DOCG classification, or ask your wholesaler for advice!
Sekt is the German word for sparkling wine and is used to describe sparklers from both there and Austria. Around 90% of sekt is made at least partially with imported grapes. If you want a wine made with just German grapes, look for the label Deutscher Sekt or Sekt b.A.
Made in exactly the same way as Champagne, Cava is Spain’s favourite sparkling wine.
Most of Spain’s production comes from the Catalan region – where the main grape varieties of macabeo, parellada, Xarel-lo and of course chardonnay thrive. These grapes contribute to a slightly less complex taste than Champagne, but standards get better, year-by-year. Production costs are kept down through the use of greater levels of mechanisation, so there are some excellent value wines available to the on trade, Freixenet being a prime example.
Other Sparklers of note
South Africa – Wines made using traditional Champagne methods carry the label MCC – Methode Cap Classique. Grapes are predominantly chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc, though these are now being joined by chardonnay and pinot noir. There’s even a red sparkling pinotage being produced, which really is something different for your wine list.
USA – California has been producing sparkling wine sine 1892 – pioneers being the Korbel brothers who brought the méthode champenoise across with them from Bohemia. Some of the world’s most famous Champagne houses now have wineries in the region, including Moët et Chandon, Tattinger, Mumm and Louis Roederer.
Australia – while the history of Australian sparkling wine goes back nearly 200 years, it is in more recent times that Australian wine producers have established themselves as masters at making high quality sparkling wines. Predominantly based in Victoria and Tasmania, quality has been driven by both the willingness to embrace new techniques (e.g. Screw caps) and investment by and cooperation with French Champagne houses, including Moët and Roederer. Most Australian sparkling wines use the classic grape combinations of chardonnay and pinot noir, but in recent years there have been new offerings, including red sparkling Shiraz. Prices will undoubtedly rise due to the Australian forest fires, so stock up now.