Sparkling wines are vying for the position traditionally held by champagne. Catherine Fellows bursts a few bubbles.
'l‘he b’lls must have been a worrying time for champagne. 'l‘here it was in all its golden regalia being treated like a vin very ordinaire by hordes of disrespectful yuppies. The wine producers of France‘s champagne region have always jealously guarded their elite reputation. and with three price increases over the last year (the cheaper bottles have soared from under Ell) to nearer £15). the damage done to harvests by this year‘s April frost. and increased duty and VAT. they can feel relieved to know that champagne is once more on its pedestal: a drink for prestigious occasions only. well out of the reach of your average Tom. Dick or I lenry — or me for that matter.
But the reputation ofchampagne as the thing for celebrations has spurred many wine people to put their energy into producing sparkling wines of comparable quality. Independent wine merchant. .ludith Paris. believes that several have succeeded for being better than lesser champagnes and a whole lot cheaper.
It is not as difficult to find your way
around the sparkling wines section of
an off-licence as it is many other areas. 'l‘here are several clear pointers that facilitate choosing. For a start. only the best years' produce is offered as a vintage; most bottles are blended and so are more consistent than wines made from the grapes of a single harvest. The most important indicator of quality is the method of production. which is described on the bottle. Undoubtedly. the best sparkling wines are tnade in the same painstaking way as champagne itself. lightly pressed grape iuice is fermented. blended and bottled with the liqueur (1e tlrage. a solution of sugar. w inc and yeast. lt is this second fermentation which is responsible for the maiority of the alcohol and the bubbles of carbon dioxide. ()ncc complete. the
time-consuming remaage begins: the
horizontal bottles are gradually rotated and tip-ended so that the sediment. which is Vital to the flayour. \s ill liaye collected ill the neck of the bottle when the initial ageing pel'lotl is o\ er. 'l'lic necks are
82 'l he I .lst 2(l.luly ls' August l‘)‘)l
Many wine people are producing sparkling wines of comparable quality to champagne
" then dipped into freezing brine
solution — the sediment turns to ice and shoots out of the bottle when the cork is removed. Finally. the bottle is topped up with a wine and sugar
solution; the strength of this dosage
determines the sweetness of the wine.
Champagnes and sparkling wines range from very dry extra bra! to mild or sweet doux. Until recently. sparkling wines made in this way were described as met/lode (‘ll(l)l1[)(’!l()f.8‘(’. but the champagne producers have succeeded in getting an EC resolution forbidding this. so more and more bottles are now labelled ntr‘l/tm/e Iradiﬂmte/fe.
A step down from this is the
the mousse: champagne should have streams of miniscule bubbles that keep on rising to the surface of the glass. There are. however. grades of 5 fizziness. not all wines aspiring to be fully fledged moasseux. ('rt‘malll denotes a more gentle. creamy foam: peril/an! a slight. often naturally occurring sparkle; and per/(m! wines have just a hint of bubble. '
Another thing to look out for is the ' grape variety. Champagne itself is made from both white chardonnay 7- which is fine. light and fresh — and lightly pressed red pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. which give depth of flavour and strength. Many New World producers. in particular. , have adopted these strains in various combinations. whereas older European sparkling wines tend to have their own established varieties. ()fcourse each bottle is different. but. says Michael Romer of Edinburgh‘s Peter (ireen. the sparkling wines from the [IS and Australia will tend towards full. fragrant fruit. because of the warmth of the climates. but may lack the prized freshness and dry acidity of those ofthe Loire. for example. ()n the other hand. these latter can be too sharp. and thin on flavour. As with other French wines appellation contra/tie indicates that the bottle meets certain regional standards —: the more specifically located the wine’s production is. generally. the better.
Spain has recently acquired a reputation for good sparkling wines of an earthy. characterful style. the best ofwhich are the atlas. which must have spent a minimum of nine months in bottle on yeast before being disgorged and re-corked. According to Romer. the Spaniards have corrected their wines' tendency to lose their fill. and now have good lasting mousse. Freixenet (‘ordon Negro. in its distinctive black bottle. is particularly popular.
Italian sparklers. meanwhile. vary enormously because almost every winemaker produces one. Apart from its own alternatives. ltaly consumes more champagne-proper
transfer method. Once again a second fermentation takes place in bottles. but the expensive remaage and (legumenlen! is avoided. because the bottles are emptied under pressure into a tank where the sediment collects on the bottom. dosed and rebottled.
Probably the most common means of producing sparkling wine is known as cure close. ('ittlr'lrlrtt. bulk or tank. Here. the second fermentation takes place in tanks. the wine is filtered off and bottled under pressure so that the bubbles remain trapped. The cheapest bubblies are simply still wine pumped with carbon dioxide. Asa rule. the better the method. the finer
FLAVOUR OF THE FORTNIGHT
Alistair Nicol Smith olthe Doric Tavern, Edinburgh, russles up one of his house specialities.
STIR FRIED CHICKEN WITH HONEY AND LEMON GRASS
10—1 2 oz boneless chicken, cut in generous strips
24 inches tresh lemon grass
One wine glass diluted honey-1 part honey, 3 parts water
Carrot, onion, leek and pepper cut in medium to line strips (you only need about two tistluls)
Heat a little oil in a good-sized (10 in) ‘ sauté pan. Put in the garlic. chilli and ; lemon grass and let it sizzle a wee bit.
Raise the heat and add the chicken. Let '- it singe. Add vegetables and stir.
' ; Sprinke the arrowroot, add saltand f pepperand then honey. Stirsome more and cover.
Leave lor two or three minutes
. (reduce the heat it necessary). Uncover and stirwliile the juices evaporate. It is cooked to pertection when the liquor is just turning syrupy.
[Vi .‘ - ' / Serve with rice anda lightgreen
As much or as little garlic and lresh l saled. The quantities in the recipe are
chilli as you like : sulllcient lortwo main courses or tour
1 tsp arrowroot (cornllowerwill do, but Starlets-
it is heavier) l .
Salt, pepper l The Doric Tavern, 15—16 Market Street, I