“I don’t know why anyone spends more on sparkling wine than that Aldi fizz – whatsitsname?” grumbled my friend.
“Their crémant du Jura?” I ventured.
“That’s the one,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t think most people could tell the difference from champagne.”
Given it’s only £8.49, he has a point, but then, the same could be applied to many other wines – and foods – for which we pay more than we strictly need to. So let’s look at why champagne, and English sparkling wine, for that matter, might be more expensive.
The winemaking is more complicated, for a start. Champagne and champagne-style wines are made by a lengthy process during which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which gives them greater complexity of flavour and finer, more elegant bubbles. At its best, such as that produced by one of the smaller champagne houses, Drappier’s Clarevallis (currently on offer at £42.99 at allaboutwine.co.uk, 12.5%), it’s a serious wine that even I’m tempted to splash out on. That may not, of course, be what you’re after – as Tom Stevenson, author of Christie’s World Encylopaedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, says: “Most prosecco drinkers do not like yeast-aged sparkling wines and if given the opportunity to taste prosecco and Dom Perignon or, say, Cristal blind, they would still prefer the prosecco.”
So far as the relatively young UK industry is concerned, it’s also an expensive process, planting and establishing vineyards and investing in the specialist machinery for making and bottling sparkling wine, let alone trying to make wine in a marginal climate. And because most is harvested by hand, as in Champagne itself, it’s also labour-intensive.
Against that there is the fact that champagne is made in huge volumes – we’re talking millions of bottles for the best-known names, and a lot of the money we pay for it goes on marketing and fancy packaging. In that, however, they’re not alone: I recently tasted a franciacorta (see below) in a squared-off, triangular bottle that must have cost a few bob, but if you’re drinking sparkling wine to celebrate or to make a statement, it might be worth the extra outlay. Champagne is also priced to factor in big discounts, plus there’s certainly an element of charging over the odds just because they can.
Frankly, if, like my friend, you find a fizz you enjoy at the price you want to pay, by all means go for it, but if you don’t venture farther afield, there are more interesting, characterful wines out there on which you’ll be missing out. Here are a few that might tempt you.
Ferghettina Franciacorta Brut Saten 2017 £25.67 drinksandco.co.uk, 12.5%. Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to champagne, but slightly softer, riper and, in the case of this saten (a speciality of the region meaning silk), peachier. Majorly flashy, show-off bottle, too.
Boschendal Brut Rosé £14.49 The General Wine Company, £15 The Wine Box, 12.5%. Unusually, this cap classique from South Africa is made from 100% pinotage, but it’s pale, elegant and beautifully bottled. Great fizz for a summer wedding.
M&S Found Blanquette de Limoux £10 Marks & Spencer and Ocado, 12%. Made from the local mauzac grape, this soft, southern French fizz, generally held to pre-date champagne, has an appealingly appley character.
Prince Charmat £12.99 Majestic, 12%. I have to confess, I picked this mainly for the pun of a name. Charmat is the technique used to make prosecco, though this tongue-in-cheek English rip-off is drier and more characterful. The bottle to take to a party.
Domaines Vinsmoselle Cuvée Antoinette Brut Crémant de Luxembourg £14.99 (on the mix-six deal) Majestic, 12.5%. If you find champagne too dry, but want a change from prosecco, try this off-dry wine from Luxembourg that includes a dash of riesling. A good summer evening aperitif.