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Festive Fizz 2020: Anything But Champagne

It may be a festive season unlike any other, but we'll still need wine of all sorts –perhaps more than ever. The first of my 2020 round-ups is, as always, any kind of sparkling wine except Champagne, which gets its own show.

This year there's a red, as well as white and rosé, and some pretty unusual wines: a Frappato, an Albariño and a stunning biodynamic wild-ferment English sparkling wine. I don't know what I was expecting when I tasted the English biodynamic natural wine, but I was blown away. Two of us polished off the bottle over three evenings, enjoying it as much on the the third as the first.

To keep it company there are several other English wines (there'd have been more had I not wanted to keep a balance) and also a couple of fine Tasmanians and, at the cheaper end, a delightful own-label cava (well done Tanners).

As in previous years, the wines are organised in ascending price order, give or take the fast-moving feast of special offers at this time of year and different retailers' prices.

Morrisons The Best Prosecco, Italy

Crisp, peppy pear flavours with a touch of herb and sherbet lemon – a very decent choice for Prosecco fans who don’t want to trade up to to a Valdobbiadene or other Superiore. 11%

Tanners Cava Brut, Spain

Really impressive traditional-method Spanish fizz made from the three classic Cava grape varieties (i.e., no Chardonnay). Beguiling creamy texture with red apple, pear and soft citrus freshness. Great value. 12%

£10.70, Tanners

Cleto Chiarli Pruno Nero Lambrusco di Modena, Italy

Dry red Lambrusco – the real thing. Foaming blackberry, black cherry and vanilla flavours, orangey acidity and a touch of tannin. Makes a statement whether as a party fizz, or served with the Christmas turkey (it’ll take all the trimmings in its stride), the cold leftovers, charcuterie, cotecchino or a pizza. 11%

£10.99, Waitrose

Il Frappato Spumante, Italy

Dry pink spumante from Sicily – quite possibly the only organic sparkling Frappato. Lively and appetising with raspberry and red cherry fruit balanced by a sharper green apricot and citrus note. 12.5%

£13.99, Constantine Stores and its online shop Drink Finder; £15.40, Ben’s Farm Shop; £16.99, Just Natural

Oedoria Diamond Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs, France

Elegant, dry, all-Chardonnay traditional-method fizz from a co-operative in Beaujolais. Delicate, buttery, floral aromas, apple and peach fruit and attractive chalky biscuit note. 12.5%

£12.99, Hay Wines; £13.99, Eynsham Cellars; £13.99, Cheers Wine Merchants; £14.95, South Downs Cellars; £16.95, Whitmore & White; £18.99, Martinez Wines

Simpsons Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2017, England

Straw yellow with a strikingly fine mousse, red fruit generosity, spicy, nutty patisserie notes, lemon and lemon-zest freshness. A perfectly balanced blend of 60:40 blend of Kent-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Very good value. 12%

£25.20, Seckford Wines; £28, Roberson Wine; £168 for 6,

Mar de Frades Albariño Atlántico Brut Nature, Spain

This is one for Spanish wine lovers, Albariño lovers or try-anything-different drinkers: the first traditional-method sparkling Albariño from Galicia’s Rías Baixas region. Fresh, yeasty, smoky sourdough and chewy green-apple flavours with salty zing and dryness. 12%

House of Arras Brut Elite ‘1501’, Australia

Toasty depth with crystallised lemon, honey and umami complexity – a poised, beautifully pitched, traditional-method sparkling wine from cool-climate Tasmania made from the classic trio of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. Aged on lees for 4 years, plus 6 months post-disgorgement ageing; dosage of 5.2g/l. Although non-vintage, the ‘1501’ cuvée (meaning the first base wine of 2015) is 95% from 2015. 12.5%

£29.99, Majestic

Black Chalk Classic 2016, England

This Hampshire winery’s second vintage and it’s as persuasive and stylish as the 2015 debut. Fine-boned, tight structure and creamy texture with toasted sourdough, candied citrus and apple fruit – from a blend of Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir (in that order). Dosage of 8g/l. 12%

Louis Pommery England

This is the second cuvée from the first Champagne house to produce an English sparkling wine, although it’s not yet from Pommery’s own Hampshire vineyards. Pretty peach and sweet apple fruit with shortbread notes and pink-grapefruit acidity. Based on the 2016 vintage, it’s two-thirds Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and the rest Meunier and has a dosage of 8g/l. 12%

£26.99, Ocado until 1 December (then £39.99); £27.99, Majestic £29.75, The Champagne Company; £32.95, Lea & Sandeman

Roebuck Estates Classic Cuvée 2014, England

The first vintage from this West Sussex estate is a class act. Made from the Champagne trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, it has lovely toasted-brioche, peach and crystallised lemon flavours with a hint orange blossom and a fine-silk texture. 12%

Gusbourne Exclusive Release 2016, England

Appetising apricot and candied peel fruitiness fringed with sourdough crust and biscuit. A classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier vintage blend from the Kent and West Sussex vineyards of one of the well-established stars of the English classic-method wine scene. (I can also highly recommend Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2014 (£50–£59, Mr Wheeler, Buon Vino, The Whisky Exchange, Fortnum & Mason, Hedonism, Slurp, Harvey Nichols)

£27 on offer until 1 December (then £36), Waitrose

Digby Fine English Vintage Rosé 2014, England

Arresting, salmon-pink, generously flavoured Pinot-led rosé (60% Pinot Noir, 10% Meunier) with flavours of red cherry, strawberry, peaches-and-cream and spicy, toasted maturity refreshed by fine acidity. Disgorged in December 2018. A good choice for whole baked or poached salmon. 12%

House of Arras Vintage Rosé 2007, Australia

A glorious, long-matured Tasmanian rosé (9 years on lees) that has become more old-gold than pink in colour and unfolds one arresting flavour after another – dried peach and strawberry, baked medlar, spicy Christmas cake, cappuccino, crème brûlée – and all the while having a deeply umami base note and impeccable freshness. Two thirds Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay, with a dosage of 7g/l. 12.5%

£47.95, Fortnum & Mason

Albury Estate Biodynamic Wild Ferment Blanc de Blancs 2014, England

This is a spellbinding – a natural, organic, biodynamic Chardonnay from Surrey. I could stop there, but I’m going to add that it has exceptional texture, crème fraiche richness and complexity, peach, pear and a touch of spice, biscuity sweetness and perfectly tailored lime-citrus acidity. Aged on its lees for 48 months. Lovely. 11.5%

£49.95,; £52, Buon Vino.

Photographs by Joanna Simon


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