Long before the dulcet tones of Roy Wood, Noddy Holder and others began dominating the airwaves, preparations for Christmas food and drink were well under way … and for good reason. Supermarkets' and indies' autumn/winter drinks portfolios are so important for sales and perhaps even more so now as people's social lives change due to COVID restrictions. With drinking at home replacing pub, bar and club visits, now's an ideal time to try different options and extend our comfort zones with new styles of wine, beer and spirits.
There are so many choices in sparkling wine now. Unless you're determined to opt for your tried-and-tested favourite brand, then why not go for something else?
So here are some sparkling suggestions, many of which you might not have considered before. It's an unashamedly eclectic and unorthodox list to suit many tastes and budgets, reflecting some of today's trends. These bubblies can be enjoyed with your festive meal or on their own, while listening to "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" for the 500th time!
You can't get away from Champagne for that extra Christmas chic, so here are two examples to tantalise your taste buds and get you into the festive spirit.
If ever there were a classic style to put a smile on everyone's face, it would have to be Billecart-Salmon's Brut Rosé NV. Made from a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Meunier and 30% Pinot Noir vinified as red wine, it's been aged on its lees for 36 months and the dosage is 9g/L. This iconic wine is the perfect way to add some class to your festive mood!
Bright, pale pink in colour, the nose is refined and gently floral with red berry and citrus notes plus hints of brioche. These continue on the palate, which is fresh, light, elegant and long with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Ideal as an apéritif, it would also pair well with wild salmon or sushi. It's not a cheap wine, so won't be within everyone's reach as wallets are squeezed hard during these difficult times. However, if you are able to splash out on a little bit of self-indulgence and spoil yourself, then you can't go wrong with this delicious, legendary sparkler.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV is available from ChampagneDirect.co.uk, for £65.00 per bottle, or £60.00 in a case of six.
However, not everyone can or wants to drink a full bottle of Champagne in one evening, especially if drinking alone or with friends online during these times of social isolation. Yet we should still be able to join in with a taste of something special. So, here's a half bottle of just that from historic family house Champagne Taittinger.
Taittinger Nocturne is a 'Sec' Champagne made from 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the final blend coming from over 30 'crus' from different vintages. The wine is aged on its lees for at least four years, often longer, before being disgorged, followed by a dosage of 17.5g/L.
Pale yellow in colour, it's floral and aromatic on the nose with notes of stone fruit and white flowers. The rich, rounded palate shows ripe, juicy flavours of nectarine and apricot, some dried fruit and a soft, creamy mouthfeel with a touch of butterscotch. The sweetness throughout is subtle, while the finish is long and mellow, complemented by a crisp tang from the acidity and fruity character.
This style of Champagne would be perfect for rich pâtés and terrines, fruit salads and many other fruit-based desserts.
Taittinger Nocturne Sec NV 37.5cl (half bottle) is available from ChampagneDirect.co.uk for £23.50 per bottle (normally £24.90), or £21.50 in a case of six.
No list of sparkling recommendations would be complete without English wine, so let's start with the rolling chalklands of Hampshire!
Hattingley Valley is one of England's most awarded and respected wineries. Their Classic Reserve NV offers a taste of quality English bubbly.
Made from 53% Chardonnay, 31% Pinot Noir and 16% Pinot Meunier and based primarily on the 2015 harvest, 19% of the total blend was barrel fermented in old white Burgundy barrels in the signature Hattingley house style. Additionally, 23% of reserve wine was added to the blend before secondary fermentation, adding softness and consistency. After three years ageing on lees in bottle, the wine was disgorged with a light dosage of 7g/L.
Pale gold in colour with a fine mousse, the nose shows aromas of green apple with lemon brioche, custard cream biscuits and delicate toasty notes. On the palate, these continue with a refreshing tang of lemon sherbet, subtle oak and an elegant finish. This wine shows a lovely balance of freshness, lightness and richness. Perfect as an apéritif or with Christmas canapés, but you could also try this with grilled fish or roast chicken.
Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve NV is available from selected retailers or direct from Hattingley Valley online, RRP £30 or £35 with gift box.
Chapel Down is one of England's best-known and largest wine producers. Based in Tenterden in Kent, they have been making still and sparkling wine since the 1990s, gaining an ever-growing collection of awards, as well as more recently, a range of premium spirits and the Curious Brewery beer and cider brand.
This wine is made from a blend of 48% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier and 5% Pinot Blanc. The fruit is sourced from vineyards in Kent, Essex, Sussex and Dorset with a variety of soil types, including chalk, clay and loam. Having matured on fine lees in tank for six months before bottling, the wine saw an average of 18 months further ageing on lees in bottle. ABV is 12% and the dosage is 9 g/l.
Attractive salmon pink with a slight tinge of orange in colour, the mousse is fine and prolonged. The nose shows notes of blackcurrant, strawberry, lemon sherbet and a slight creamy hint, while on the palate, there's blackcurrant, citrus, wild strawberry and a touch of buttercream. A slight savoury edge with hints of red cherry and raspberry continue on a long finish. This wine would make a deliciously joyful apéritif and would also pair well with many canapés. Alternatively, you could drink it with a fruity sponge pudding.
Chapel Down English Rosé NV is available from Majestic for £29.99 per bottle or £26.99 in a mix of six.
You just looked that up, didn't you? I like this definition - 'loud, enjoyable, and full of energy' - and that just about sums up the next recommendation!
Bolney Wine Estate, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, is one of the country's longest established vineyards, growing grapes for over 40 years. Situated on well-draining, sandstone-rich land listed in the Doomsday Book, the winery has already won many domestic and international awards and continues to invest in its future. Among their extensive list of wines is this rarity - an award-winning, 12.5% ABV traditional method English sparkling red.
Sparkling wine from 100% Dornfelder - surely that's not possible? Well at Bolney it is! On the nose, there are fruity notes of blueberry and cranberry plus gentle spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. The palate shows dark berries, cranberry, cherry, Christmas spices and gingerbread with a rounded mouthfeel and a touch of creaminess from the three years' lees ageing. The finish is dry, fruity, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Residual sugar is 7g/L.
This wine is fizzy fun-tastic and would go well with rich, gamey dishes, but how about drinking it with Christmas pudding, Christmas cake or dark chocolate? It's rich and fruity enough to cope with any of those!
Bolney Estate Cuvée Noir 2014 is available from Bolney's online shop for £24.99 per bottle.
Crémant offers a great value option for fans of traditional method sparkling wine and we're seeing it increasingly on supermarket and indie shelves across the country.
Château de Bonhoste B de Bonhoste Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé will add a splash of colour to your Christmas table. Made by a fifth generation brother and sister winemaking team, Sylvaine and Yannick Fournier, this delicious Crémant Rosé is produced from a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot. ABV is 12%.
Striking pink, this aromatic sparkling rosé has notes of red berries and blackcurrant on the nose plus hints of freshly baked bread. The palate is fresh, lively, well-balanced and juicy with notes of red berries, plum and blackcurrant plus a hint of salinity, complemented by a softening, creamy touch of brioche and a slight savoury edge on the finish. Perfect with Christmas canapés, it would also go well with a fruit salad or fruit tart.
Château de Bonhoste B de Bonhoste Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé is available from Pierre Hourlier Wines for £15.85 per bottle.
This sparkler has been one of the best value bubblies in the UK for a few years now and never disappoints. The current vintage is 2018 and the blend is 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. Aromas and flavours of crisp green apple and citrus plus brioche and lemon meringue with a fresh, elegant finish make this a lovely celebratory sparkler.
This wine would be great as an apéritif, but would also pair beautifully with a cheeseboard containing Comté cheese, also from the Jura. I haven't paired it with roast turkey, but I reckon its juicy, tangy flavours and slightly creamy mouthfeel could work!
Aldi's Crémant du Jura is available in store and online from the supermarket for £8.49.
Cava is often overlooked in favour of entry-level Prosecco at one level or premium traditional method sparklers at the other. Cheap imports certainly haven't helped its image in the UK over the years. Recent changes, including the Cava de Paraje Calificado designation launched in 2017, have tried to address quality issues. Further concerns over DO Cava's reputation also led a year later to a breakaway trademarked brand, Corpinnat, comprising several top Penedès producers.
However, awareness of the quality of Spain's iconic traditional method sparkling wine style is growing and it does offer superb food-matching potential. The following recommendation is a great value, classy choice.
This organic Cava, made from a blend of 50% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeo and 20% Parellada, was aged on its lees for nearly two years. Residual sugar is 5g/L. It's made by one of Spain's oldest family estates, Oriol Rossell, located in the highest part of Penedès. Dating back to 1637, wine has been made at the property for over 40 years.
Straw-coloured, the nose shows notes of apple, lemon meringue, biscuit and yeast, while the palate is fresh and crisp with apple, citrus, a hint of white peach, digestive biscuit, toast, a little salinity and a delicate creamy feel on the finish. This would make an elegant apéritif with almonds or olives, but would also partner well with smoked salmon and other fish/seafood dishes.
Oriol Rossell Cava Brut 2018 is available from Laithwaite's for £13.49 per bottle, or £11.99 in a case of twelve.
I remember my first taste of Cava from many many years ago. Years later, I introduced a Madrileño friend of mine to the same wine. That was Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia and I always reckoned that if it was good enough for the King of Spain, then it was good enough for me!
Made mainly from the free-run juice of the three classic Cava varietals - Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo - this award-winning, elegant 12.5% ABV Brut Nature Gran Reserva spends on average 36 months on its lees. Attractive, bright pale gold in colour, the nose shows notes of white peach, citrus, golden apple, biscuit and toast plus a touch of honey and almond paste. These continue on the long-lasting, bone dry palate that feels fresh and rounded with a savoury edge, a touch of fine white pepper and a hint of dried apricot on the finish. This wine is perfect as an apéritif or matched with tapas and light snacks.
Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia 2016 is available from Majestic for £17.99 per bottle, or £14.99 in a mix of six.
Well, it's taken some time to come, but it's finally here, there and everywhere. Pink Prosecco has arrived and there's no hiding from it!
Following a much talked about change in Italian law, the sparkling wine can now be made with Pinot Noir grapes vinified on skins as red. In order for it to be called Prosecco Rosé DOC, the wine must include a minimum of 85% Glera and 10-15% Pinot Noir and be ready on 1st January after vintage. The minimum fermentation period is 60 days and the bottle label must contain the word 'Millesimato' plus the vintage with a minimum of 85% of the grapes from that year.
Villa Sandi is one of Italy's best-known wine estates and a leading producer of high-quality Prosecco. The company's headquarters - a beautiful, Palladian-style Venetian villa - is located in DOC Treviso, the heart of the Prosecco region.
The sparkling, light salmon pink hue is beautifully enticing, while on the nose, it's fresh and aromatic with notes of red pear, light red berries plus a hint of lemon. The palate is balanced, refined, elegant and similarly fruity with notes of red pear leading to wild strawberry, a touch of watermelon on the mid-palate and a saline freshness. Although made in a Brut style at 12g/L, the sweetness is not that obvious, as the crispness of the wine and good balance of fruit and acidity shine through. You can read more information on this wine and on Villa Sandi in a recent article on these pages.
Villa Sandi's pink Prosecco is on sale from Amazon and Bellavita Wine Shop, RRP £14.99 per bottle.
When Prosecco-loving entrepreneur Ed Smith launched The Emissary in 2018, he wanted to build a stand-out brand. A journey to Treviso and the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains followed, where he discovered a third-generation, family-owned vineyard near the village of Cornuda, who have been producing Prosecco for over 70 years. Their 40-hectare vineyard covers both DOC and DOCG designations, with Glera accounting for 35% of plantings. The other grapes are a mix of international varietals like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet plus local ones, such as Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera and Boschera. Impressed by the quality of their Prosecco DOC, he brought it back home to London and created his new drinks company. Since then, he has added to his portfolio with a Prosecco Asolo DOCG. Both the Emissary Proseccos are 100% vegan and created using environmentally friendly techniques.
The Emissary Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut is made from 85% Glera and 15% Chardonnay, sourced from the family's clay-rich, oldest vineyards of Asolo dating back to 1948. The grapes undergo primary fermentation separately, before the resultant base wines are blended together for secondary fermentation. Residual sugar is 8g/L and the ABV is 11%.
Light straw yellow in colour, the nose is aromatic, floral and refined with gentle notes of pear, green apple, a touch of white peach and a slight hint of herbs. The palate is fresh, beautifully balanced and elegant with soft orchard fruit notes, a hint of citrus and almonds and a clean, crisp finish.
You can buy The Emissary Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut from the company's online shop for £17.99 per bottle, with free delivery on orders of a case or more.
The popularity and availability of canned wine is growing all the time. Aluminium cans are lighter than glass bottles and more compact, requiring less packaging and lower energy to transport. When made from 100% recycled materials, they avoid the negative environmental effects of mining bauxite (the world's main source of aluminium), which contributes to biodiversity and habitat loss, carbon emissions and erosion.
Also cans fit easily in your fridge, as well as a Christmas stocking! So, if you're looking for a 'cool', sustainable option for your end-of-year celebrations, then why not crack open a can this Christmas. After all, cans aren't just for summer picnics!
Since launching in 2018, The Uncommon has been producing eye-catching, cool cans of bubbly, sourcing grapes from the South-East of England. Their 5.5% ABV spritzers contain carefully selected English botanical extracts, while their 11.5% ABV English bubblies are made from 100% English grapes. The company's canning process is carbon positive, using green renewable energy and packaging is all made from recycled materials.
Gerald 2019 is the quintessential English cheeky chappy! Made from 70% Bacchus and 30% Chardonnay, it's crisp, dry and refreshing with notes of elderflower, pear, freshly cut grass and a hint of gooseberry. A viable option for those seeking a lighter, sparkling wine style and a reminder of an English garden in summer, as we try to look forward to a better year ahead with the months of lockdown behind us.
Cans of The Uncommon wines and spritzers are available from the company's website at £42 and £38 respectively for a pack of eight. You can also find them in selected retailers nationwide.
Nania's Vineyard was planted by documentary cameraman James Bayliss-Smith and Shelley Nania on the urban allotment behind their family home in the heart of Bristol. With only 30 vines, they're not making wine commercially from these grapes. Their products are 'inspired by', as opposed to 'produced by' the allotment vineyard. "We see our brand as a collaborative project where we highlight other vineyards' efforts", says James. "My ambition is to have a range of products that change each vintage depending on who we collaborate with."
For their first vintage, they've created a rosé spritzer at 5.5% ABV, made from early-ripening Rondo grapes sourced from Sandyford Vineyard in Essex and vinified at Litmus Wines. Next year's vintage will be vinified at specialist rosé wine producer Off the Line Vineyard. A touch of raspberry shrub from Bristol Syrup Company plus Glastonbury spring water are then added. The result is a light, refreshing spritzer bursting with red berry notes, in a 250ml can with a label made using compostable corn starch. It taps into the trend for lighter, lower alcohol, lower calorie drinks with provenance. A box of six cans costs £24 from the Nania's Vineyard website. However, if you get in quick, you can use the Christmas discount code GRAPETIMES, valid until the end of the month, for 20% off!
Kanpai, the UK's first sake brewery has launched a range of four gift sets, with UK-wide delivery to save Santa the job! These include a brand new flavoured sparkling sake for the colder months, Wasabi & Apple, in a 250ml can.
Established in Peckham in 2017 by Tom and Lucy Wilson, Kanpai is one of only five sake breweries outside of Japan, recognised by the Japanese Government. Therefore, they have access to the government's sake yeast bank, sourcing pure strains of traditional sake yeast. With several accolades, Kanpai is the first non-Japanese sake brewery to win a medal in the International Wine Challenge (IWC) Sake Division, gaining a Bronze for its sparkling FIZU in 2019. You can read more about Kanpai in an article I wrote last year.
Their new Wasabi & Apple flavour is light, refreshing, sparkling, fruity and easy drinking. It's a naturally fermented Junmai Sake at 5.5% ABV, infused with Japanese wasabi leaf and British apple. It's available from the brewery's online shop at £4.50 or less per can depending on quantity, or as part of one of their Christmas gift sets.
… and what about non-wine drinkers? Are there some classy options to see off a year to forget in style?
Each year, more people are discovering high quality, naturally-produced ciders and perries. In fact, the premium craft market is growing the fastest of any cider segment at 11.9% (Westons Report 2020). Cider Is Wine is a company dedicated to promoting artisan ciders and perries made from 100% apple or pear juice, not from concentrate. Within a growing portfolio of high quality products from around the world, English ciders are unsurprisingly well-represented.
Gospel Green is an artisan cider producer from Hampshire. The company's ciders are made in the same way as traditional method sparkling wine, i.e. with a secondary fermentation in bottle. Cooking and dessert apples are handpicked to order from the nearby Blackmoor Estate.
This 8.4% ABV, gold-coloured sparkling cider is an elegant, refined choice for non-wine drinkers seeking a celebratory, high quality alternative. It's also vegan and gluten-free. The nose has notes of green apple, elderflower, brioche and a hint of toffee, while the palate is crisp, fresh and zingy with notes of apple, hints of toast and caramel, soft tannins and a long, smooth finish. This cider would be perfect as an apéritif, but also has great food versatility. It would pair particularly well with white meat, many pasta or fish dishes and also cheeses, especially goat's cheese.
Gospel Green ciders are available from Cider Is Wine's online shop. This Brut cider costs £16 per bottle, or £8.50 within a case of six or more bottles.
Not everyone wants to drink alcohol, but are there any premium non-alcoholic alternatives that look and feel as celebratory as a bottle of full-strength sparkling wine?
Wild Life Botanicals offers two innovative options that are only 0.5% ABV and deliver less than 35 calories per glass. These unique English bubblies, crafted in Cornwall, are infused with an uplifting elixir of vitamins, minerals and botanicals each chosen for their health-giving properties.
The sparkling white has a hint of green with notes of gooseberry, greengage and banana on the nose, while fresh, light and zingy citrus and tropical fruit flavours dominate the palate.
The sparkling rosé is characterised by wild strawberry notes on the nose and palate with a slightly creamy mouthfeel and hints of red apple too.
Served cool in a Champagne flute, you don't have to miss out on the fun. You can enjoy a refreshing premium sparkling wine alternative that's 'botanical alchemy' in a glass!
🍾 So there we are - a selection of ideas to keep you going over the festive period that caters for a wide range of tastes and budgets. Whatever you choose, have a great and safe time and let's all look forward to a better year ahead. The hospitality industry, anyone involved in the food/drink sector, our frontline NHS and care workers and everyone else deserve it! 🍾