In the run-up to Christmas many of us like a glass or two of something sparkling. Some of the time it is swallowed without too much thought, unless it is truly awful or something really special that kick-starts our taste buds. But it is worth taking a little time to buy something decent: your family and friends will thank you for it.
The two national favourites are prosecco and champagne. I rarely refuse a glass of good champagne, although it can be very expensive. As far as I am concerned we reached peak prosecco some time ago, so I am delighted to see the range of sparkling wines in our shops expand to include some really interesting, reasonably priced wines. This week, a few more offbeat choices from the Loire Valley, Portugal and even the Czech Republic, as well as an inexpensive champagne that will get any party going.
I wrote about pét-nats earlier this year. These are naturally sparkling wines (the name is short for pétillant naturel), lightly fizzy and sometimes quite funky too. Some are a little cloudy with the leftovers from fermentation. A glass before dinner can be very refreshing and a whole lot more interesting than a prosecco. The Portuguese PT Nat Pinot Noir below is a milder version, with plenty of fruit and a light sparkle.
Wines labelled Brut Nature, including two of the bottles featured below, will have virtually no residual sugar, and if you are used to drinking sweetish prosecco they may come as something of a shock to your system. But both are well worth trying.
If you do want to serve champagne, it usually makes sense to pay more than €30, as inexpensive bottles rarely offer good value for money. There are, however, a few exceptions, such the Monsigny below or the very tasty Granzamy Brut Champagne (€29.95, O’Briens). For more adventurous palates, O’Briens also has the very tasty Australian Croser Brut Rosé (€24.95). Dunnes Stores has the excellent grown-up, refined bone dry Champagne Lombard Brut Nature Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (€45). Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, has a great selection of grower- or domaine-bottled champagnes. My favourites include the Agrapart 7 Crus (€69.50) and the Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (€59.50). I always enjoy a glass of the excellent Bénard-Pitois 1er cru Champagne (Whelehans, €36.95). One of the finest grower champagnes I have tasted in recent months is Leclerc Briant (€59, siyps.com, Green Man Wines). Of the bigger names in champagne, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Charles Heidsieck are all on top form at the moment. Expect to pay €55-€65 for all of these.
Two final pieces of advice. Don’t serve your sparkling wine too cold; half an hour in an ice bucket will kill all flavour. And do serve plenty of nibbles – all wine, including sparkling, tastes better with a little food.
Tuffeau 2017, Blancs de Blancs Brut Nature, Domaine Plou
Delicious crisp sparkling wine with lovely clean apple fruits, finishing dry. Grown-up fizz with a touch of class; great value for money. Serve with mixed tapas. From Cass & Co, Dungarvan, cassansdco.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie
Veuve Monsigny Fireworks Champagne NV
Elegant with crisp green apple fruits, a touch of lemon zest and a lick of buttery brioche. Quality champagne at an affordable price. For larger parties create a real stir with a magnum (€50). From Aldi, aldi.ie
Uivo PT Nat Pinot Noir Rosé 2017, Portugal
Very pale in colour, lightly effervescent, with tasty redcurrant fruits and a yeasty edge. From Liston’s, Camden Street, Dublin, listonsfoodstore.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin, clontarfwines.ie
Krásna Horá Blanc de Noir Brut Nature 2016, Czech Republic, Biodynamic
Delicious clean, fresh Granny Smith apples, with a creamy texture and subtle notes of brioche. A bone-dry, long, palate-cleansing finish. An aperitif with cheese straws or toasted almonds. From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie