17 December: I've updated this post (first published on 3 December) with the addition of two more English wines: Denbies Cubitt Blanc de Noirs 2013 and Nyetimber Classic Cuvée.
The first of the season's round-ups is anything sparkling except Champagne. (That comes next.) They're selected for quality, interest and value for money and cross four continents, spanning the spectrum from easy-drinking crowd pleasers to quirky Pet Nat. There is, though, nothing ultra cheap. If you want cheap, your options are basically supermarket Prosecco and Cava – and keeping your eyes peeled for special offers. If you want better quality Prosecco, your best bet is almost always to trade up to a Valdobbiadene, but I'm pleased to have found one straight Prosecco that is a cut above the crowd. Alternatively, if you want something slightly more unusual, try a Pignoletto, or go completely off piste with the English mead that I've sneaked in because it'll be as much of a revelation to most people as it was to me. This year there are four English sparkling wines: they're not cheap, but there's no questioning the quality. I haven't included Nyetimber (now included – see above and below), but I can't recommend it too highly. Every year, quality steps up and the wines cellar extremely well (stockists include Majestic, Ocado, Waitrose, Laithwaites, Fortnum & Mason, Lea & Sandeman, Hennings, Frazier's and many other independents). Except for the mead at the end, the wines are set out in ascending order of price (give or take special offers, multi-buys etcetra).
Finest Blanquette de Limoux 2016, France
Made from the Limoux region’s local Mauzac grape, as opposed to the Chardonnay-based, more Champagne-like Crémant de Limoux. Refreshing, crisp red-apple, apple-skin, peach and lime flavours. A good party wine at a good price.
Cavit Lunetta Prosecco
Hallmark orchard fruit with leafy freshness and more finesse, zip and flavour than the average.
£8.99-£11.20, many independents including (at under £10) Amps Wine Merchants, ND John Wines, Rannoch Scott Wines, Cheers Wine Merchants
Graham Beck Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Brut, South Africa
Nutty, toasty, yeasty bread flavours wrapped around a fruity core. Crowd-pleasing, sunny alternative to Champagne and ideal for a new year’s eve crowd at the offer price.
£14.99, but £10.99 from 26 December to 1 January, Waitrose
Finest Franciacorta Brut, Italy
Italy’s answer to Champagne. Made in the same way, but with some Pinot Bianco supplementing the core Chardonnay. Sherbert-fresh, peachy fruit and softly savoury smoky flavours.
Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir 2018, Australia
Powder pink and brimful of mouthwatering, ripe cherry and strawberry flavours. Crisp but soft textured and dryish rather than bone dry. You can't but love it (especially at the £10 offer price). Also sold in stocking-filler sized 20cl bottles (£4.49, Waitrose)
£15.99, Waitrose, but £10 from 28 November–12 December; £14.95 for the 2017, Tanners
CVNE Roger Goulart Cuvée Gran Reserva 2011, Spain
Mature vintage Cava from a producer now owned by one of my favourite Rioja producers, CVNE. Dry but soft with yeasty bread, apple, honey, lemon and salted cracker flavours. For the Hispanophile in your life.
£15.99, Roberts & Speight; £16.99, Simply Wines Direct
Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé Brut, France
Traditional method salmon-pink fizz made from Pinot Noir in the Chablis area – not all that far from the southern reaches of the Champagne region. Elegant dry and rounded with cherry and raspberry flavours and citrus crispness. There’s also a white Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend (£14.39, The Drink Shop; £16.95, KWM Wines & Spirits).
£16.95, Secret Bottle Shop
Plumpton Estate Brut Classic, England
A Meunier/Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend (typical of many a non-vintage Champagne) with fine bubbles, smoky toast notes, lemon and apple fruit and soft brioche texture. Plumpton, Sussex is where you can train as a winemaker to degree level in the UK and this, and the rosé below, are made by students working with the in-house vineyard and winemaking team using the traditional method (i.e. like Champagne). They're good value and a great advertisement for the college's standards.
£22.99, Waitrose stores in Brighton, Crowborough, Lewes and Uckfield and John Lewis Foodhalls in Oxford Street and Bluewater
Plumpton Estate Brut Rosé, England
Pretty salmon-pink sparkling Pinot Noir with fine bubbles, enticing red cherry, raspberry and berry flavours, a supple, creamy texture and a crisp citrus finish. Another example of Plumpton prowess.
£22.99, eight Waitrose shops and waitrosecellar.com
Birichino Pétulant Naturel Malvasia Bianca 2016, California
Fashionable Pet Nat for the natural wine-lover, aspiring sommelier or adventurous drinker in your life. Lightly sparkling (pétillant), unfiltered (and therefore slightly cloudy), dry and deliciously aromatic with fresh grape, floral and citrus flavours and a soothing soft texture.
£27.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
Westwell Special Cuvée 2014, England
A blend of the three Champagne grape varieties grown on the North Downs in Kent in soils similar to Champagne but with more flint. Fine bubbles, fruity apple, peach and redcurrant aromas and creamy, chalky, hazelnut flavours. Impressive finesse and complexity.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, England
I could have chosen anything from Nyetimber, but I've opted for the flagship non vintage, or multi vintage, because it's the most widely available (note Frazier's and Hennings' special offers), comes in halves, bottles and magnums and sets a high bar for the whole range. It's a classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier blend with fine mousse, creamy patisserie, apple pie and nutty-nougat flavours and crisp apple and citrus freshness – that magical combination of richness and delicacy. It can be cellared, as can the whole range. A couple of weeks ago I drank the 2003 Blanc de Blancs 2003 (from magnums) – wonderfully rich, honeyed and complex and still impeccably fresh.
£28.49–£35, Frazier's, Hennings, The Wine Society, Lea & Sandeman, Waitrose, Ocado, Majestic
Denbies Cubitt Blanc de Noirs 2013, England
Made from Pinot Noir only in the traditional (Champagne) way, but aged for 40 months in the cellars (more than the requirement for vintage Champagne), with impressive and delicious results – pinhead-fine bubbles, creamy texture, baked apple, fresh apple and a hint of honeyed apricot. I kicked off a tasting last week and it got us off to a cracking start.
Black Chalk Classic 2015, England
A new English sparkling wine made in the manner of Champagne with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and especially Meunier grown in Hampshire’s chalky soils. Partial oak ageing adds delicate toasted vanilla and honeyed oak notes to soft citrus and peach fruit and fine textured, long lasting bubbles. Stylish.
£34.75, The Whisky Exchange; £35, blackchalkwine.co.uk
Made with Spanish orange blossom honey in south-east London, in the capital’s first ‘meadery’ (which you can visit). Crisp, perfumed, lightly sparkling and light bodied with delicate, medium-sweet honey and orange flavours. Drink chilled as an alternative to Prosecco or with fruit puddings. 5.5% abv.
£12, Borough Wines; £12.50, gosnells.co.uk
Photographs by Joanna Simon