It’s that time of year again when we all get into a flurry of Christmas shopping, seasonal cooking and planning for the perfect Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sparkling wine for the festive season features high on the shopping list and there’s an ever bigger range to choose from. So here’s a handy guide to help you select a wine that’s right for you. For a full 101 on sparkling wines, how they are made and how to get your head around the terms on the labels, check out my guide: How to choose sparkling wine (1) and How to choose sparkling wine (2).
In time-honoured tradition, a group of us got together to taste just some of the wines on sale and I’d like to say a big thank you to our team of tasters, including Lauren Hand, Ricardo Parada, Yi Wang, Natascha Scott-Stokes and Irina Axenova, for valiently tasting their way through 9 different sparkling wines: 4 Chilean premium wines and 5 wines from Europe.
European sparkling wines for the festive season
Prosecco, currently one of the world’s favourite wines, made in the Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy, from Glera grapes in a fresh, uncomplicated style with the second fermentation usually taking place in a tank. We tasted Riccadonna Prosecco Extra Dry. A subtle nose with some notes of apples and a biscuity note, this is a light, easy-to-drink wine suitable for pre-dinner drinks or accompanying light-flavoured bites.
More information about Riccadonna
Hailing from Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Lambrusco is made from one of several grape varieties that go by the name Lambrusco. It’s usually made into a red sparkling wine but we tried a white one: Chiarli, an off-dry, lightly sparkling (frizzante) uncomplicated wine with aromas of sweet red apples. This was among the favourites at our tasting.
Another very classic wine from Italy, Asti is one of a kind, always sweet and low alcohol. This is because the juice is fermented just once, the tank being sealed to keep in the carbon dioxide, and the fermentation is interrupted when the wine reaches around 7% ABV, so it still has plenty of sugar that hasn’t been fermented. Some cheaper styles are still wines, into which carbon dioxide is pumped to make them fizzy. We tasted Riccadonna Asti, a sweet wine that has enough acidity to stop it becoming cloying. Asti is made with Muscat grapes, which make it very aromatic (think grapes, ginger and raisins). This wine would go nicely with dessert.
More information about Riccadonna
Another very classic type of sparkling wine, this time from Spain. Cava is always made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method and is usually made from native Spanish grapes, such as Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada, though others are permitted. We tried one of the world’s best-selling Cavas, Freixenet Cordon Negro Gran Selección Cava. This is the very same wine I bought to celebrate my 21st birthday when I was living in Córdoba in Spain a few moons ago – and it’s still a great party wine. This is a dry sparkling wine with a lightly citrus aroma, zesty acidity and a creamy mouth. A moreish crowd-pleaser.
More information about Freixenet Cordon Negro
Portuguese sparkling wine
If you haven’t yet tried a Portuguese sparkling wine, I heartily recommend them. I sampled a few during my visit to Porto, all very elegant, made from native Portuguese grapes using the traditional method (check out the details of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008 and Terras do Demo in this post). We tried Luis Pato Maria Gomes Bruto from the Beiras region, made with 90% Maria Gomes and 10% Sercialinho grapes. This was one of the most aromatic wines in our tasting, with floral notes and just a hint of brioche from the autolysis. A lovely fresh, fruity, dry sparkling wine with plenty of body and lots of personality.
More information about Luis Pato
Chilean Premium sparkling wines for the festive season
For this tasting I selected four wines retailing in Chile at between CLP10,000 and $20,000 (US$15-30). All were made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method but the grapes and regions vary.
Calyptra Hera Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2012, Alto Cachapoal
This wine is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The most complex wine of the selection, with a sweet nose of classic Chardonnay aromas like banana and pineapple, together with brioche notes from the ageing process intermingled with some creamy lees aromas. Dry with high acidity and lots of body, this is a wine with personality and you’ll either love it or hate it. It was my personal favourite of this tasting.
More information about Calyptra Vineyards and Winery
Miguel Torres Cordillera Brut Blanc de Noir, Curicó
This wine is made from purely Pinot Noir grapes. A lovely fruity nose with notes of sweet red apples, but a dry mouth with high, fresh acidity and medium+ body. Very refreshing and easy to drink.
More information about Miguel Torres
Domaine Dussaillant-Lehmann Brut, Maule
This Brut is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is a light and elegant style with subtle notes of fruit and croissant from the autolysis, high acidity. A very refreshing wine that was among the tasting team’s favourites.
Leyda Extra Brut, Leyda
The winery doesn’t specify the grapes on the label or their website. This is a very neutral and correct style of sparkling wine sure to appeal to those looking for a refreshing appetiser. It is dry with delightful acidity and some subtle autolysis notes (biscuits, croissant) in the mouth.
More information about Viña Leyda
More ideas for sparkling wines for the festive season:
The highly elegant Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir (from the País) grape, if you can get hold of it. Tasting note here.
What is your favourite sparkling wine? What fizz will you be opening this festive season?