May the Fizz be with you!
All images by Robin Goldsmith
The diversity and food versatility of sparkling wine is all too often overlooked, given the array of grapes used, the countries, regions and terroirs where sparkling wine is made and the styles available. The Glass of Bubbly Champagne & Sparkling Wine Tasting Event & Summit 2018 brought this into focus once again with offerings from Europe, North and South America and Australasia.
The Glass of Bubbly Champagne & Sparkling Wine Tasting Event & Summit 2018
The day began with a deliciously cheesy masterclass - 'Cheese & Champagne Pairing', given by Ruth Holbrook from one of Britain's oldest cheesemongers, Paxton & Whitfield. Matching Grand Cru Champagne with a mélange of top quality cow, sheep and goats milk cheeses, Ruth selected La Tur from Piedmont, Golden Cross from East Sussex, Langres from the Champagne region and a fabulous Parmesan. Undoubtedly the best match was the Langres, a washed rind delight which allowed a perfect marriage of acidity, fruity nuances, saltiness and body to lift the flavours of both the Champagne and the cheese.
Neil Phillips, Prosecco DOC Ambassador
Another excellent masterclass later on in the day on 'Unlocking the potential of Prosecco' was led by Prosecco DOC Ambassador, Neil Phillips, who, in typically entertaining and informative style, presented nine sparkling Veneto and Friuli treats from Villa Sandi, Pitars, Val D'Oca, Le Celline, La Marca, Astoria, Piera Martellozzo, Tenuta Dalla Francesca and Ca de Rajo.
Each of these wines showcased the variety that exists within the DOC category, with characteristics encompassing floral, salty, herbal, citrus, apple, pear, mineral, tropical and stone fruit. With latest statistics showing 330 million bottles exported, representing 75% of production, it is clear that the Prosecco bubble is certainly not about to burst!
It was a pleasure to catch up again with Jonica Fox who, together with husband Gerard, make their Fox & Fox English sparkling wines from vineyards located next to the historic village of Mayfield in the Sussex High Weald.
An impressive selection in 2017, this year's portfolio was delightful again with a choice of styles to suit most palates, including Inspiration 2013, a unique sparkler made from Pinot Gris with a smidgeon of Chardonnay. Dry and delicately fruity with notes of citrus, honey and herbs plus a subtle, creamy touch giving balance and a more rounded mouthfeel, there are lovely hints of lemongrass and ginger that develop mid-palate, all of which makes this wine an ideal pairing for Thai sea bass and other Asian cuisine.
I'm a huge admirer of the Le Brun's No. 1 Family Estate from Marlborough's Wairau Valley and their No. 1 Cuvée Blanc de Blancs is the perennial crowd-pleaser. Spending at least two years on lees, it delivers a delicious balance of orchard fruit, biscuit, elegant bready and toasty notes plus a satisfying grapefruit freshness on the finish. The No.1 Reserve, having spent seven years on lees, offers that extra intensity and autolytic richness, yet still retains a delicate freshness with floral, honeysuckle and peach touches. Cuvée Virginie, made from 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir is named in honour of Virginie Le Brun's 21st birthday. Spending four years on lees, this beautiful wine also combines complex autolytic notes with white flowers, honey, orchard fruit and citrus.
The Motzenbäcker Estate belongs to the Menger-Krug family, who uses vineyard-owned yeasts and grapes from the Pfalz and Rheinhessen regions to create organic, vegan Deutscher Sekt of distinction. They produce superb Méthode Champenoise and Méthode Rurale sparkling wines and it was the 2014 Riesling, 2013 Chardonnay and 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Méthode Rurale that particularly impressed. Picking grapes once they have reached their desired profile and sugar levels, this traditional method produces bubbles from one fermentation only with no pumping, filtration or addition of yeast. These wines would make delicious food pairings, particularly the rich and complex Riesling, which spent around 38 months in bottle and delivers notes of baked apple, caramel, tropical fruit and lime with a hint of spice.
There were many other wines of note at the tasting, including Champagne, Franciacorta, Cava, Slovenian sparkling wine and Hay Wines' own range of artisan Valdobiaddene Proseccos, organic Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Nero and the inimitable Podere Pradarolo sparkling orange wine VEJ 2014, a scrumptious accompaniment for a rich, hard cheese. Austria's Weingut Steininger Pinot Noir Sekt 2013 is another example of a food-friendly wine and one which would be a perfect match for beef tartare.
Last but not least, special mention has to go to Cantina Serboni's Vernaccia Nera DOCG wines from Serrapetrona in Eastern Italy's Le Marche region. Indigenous Vernaccia Nera grapes undergo three fermentations – 60% fermented post-harvest, 40% dried as appassimento over many weeks, crushed and then fermented and a final stage where the wines are blended together to ferment in stainless steel tanks. These unique 12% ABV wines in both Secco and Dolce form with their strawberry, cranberry and blackberry notes, hints of spice and refreshing acidity would be perfect chilled and served with a summer's day picnic platter of roast beef or mixed cold cuts and, in the case of the sweeter wine, fruit or chocolate cake too!
So there we are, sparkling wine is not just for Christmas, Grand Prix races, ship launches, birthdays and weddings, it's for food and fun all year round!