Light up your fizzy sales

14 November, 2008

If it's all about the credit crunch this Christmas, celebrations could be muted. But Natasha Hughes has some suggestions that will help put the sparkle back into

the festive season for bubbly lover

s

The last issue of OLN

looked at how the economic crisis might impact wine sales in the run-up to Christmas, recommending wines that

offer

great value for money

to help

you and your customers

celebrate over the festive season.

But what of Champagne, traditionally a big seller

in these months? This year has seen

the price of the average bottle of Champagne rise and

consumer confidence drop, so can Champagne ride out the storm this Christmas?

It's clear

the credit crunch is beginning to have an impact on people's buying patterns. "It certainly seems as if our customers are holding back and trading down a bit," says Dee Blackstock MW, Champagne and sparkling wine buyer for Waitrose .

"And I think brands that aren't promoting won't sell as well as they have done in the past. "

But what may be bad news for the Champenois could be good news for producers of other styles of sparkling wine.

"The whole sparkling category should look upon the current climate as an opportunity," says Graham Nash, one of Tesco's product development managers.

"Our customers have remained loyal to the sparkling category, but they have shifted their spend downwards. Where in the past they might have bought branded Champagne, they are now looking to own-label Champagne, and those who were buying own-label are now buying sparkling.

"It's a real opportunity for producers who can offer great

value products in a style that suits the modern palate, whether they be producers of

cava, Prosecco or New World sparkling wines."

Indeed, there's a whole wide world of choice out there when it comes to sparkling wines - so here's a guide to the different styles you'll find, along with some helpful recommendations.

Spain

In terms of sparkling wine, Spain is pretty much synonymous with

cava, which comes from the vineyards of Catalonia.

The typical aromas of crisp green apples and grapefruit (some critics would say there's more than a whiff of rubber in the mix too) are derived from a blend of three indigenous grapes: Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, although many cava houses now add Chardonnay to the mix.

Most cava retails at under a tenner, and

La Rosca NV (£5.99, Waitrose) ticks all the boxes when it comes to choosing a fresh, lively party wine.

Marks & Spencer's Prestige Cava Brut NV (£6.99) ha s slightly more depth and character, while Codorn íu's Cuvée Raventos NV (£9.99, Codorn íu) has both richness of flavour and crisp acidity.

Italy

For most of us, Italian sparkling wine is synonymous with Prosecco, the best of which comes from the DO of Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (no wonder most of us just call it Prosecco) and is made from a grape of the same name.

Because the aim is to ensure

the wine is full of crisp, refreshing fruit flavours, the wine is not made using the Champagne method. Instead, the grapes undergo their second fermentation in tank , so the wine doesn't acquire that yeasty characteristic so typical of fizz made using the traditional method. Prosecco is best drunk young, so don't buy more than you know you can shift.

Sylvoz's Le Colture Colli Trevigiani Brut NV (£8.79, Corney & Barrow) balances a honeyed palate with a long, dry finish ; Col del Salici's Extra Dry cuvée NV (£10.99, Berkmann) shows good balance and fruit, and Bisol's Crede 2007 (£13.99, Bibendum) is ripe and intense.

If you're not in the market for Prosecco, Carino's Sparkling Pinot Grigio NV (£6.49, PLB ), should please fans of the grape. Those with a taste for something a bit more exotic might like the enjoyable cherry fruit and zingy acidity of Marks & Spencer's Autentico Lambrusco 2007 (£7.49), a sparkling red.

France

French sparkling wine, for most, begins and ends with Champagne. This is a

shame as many of the country's wine-producing regions have their own sparkl ers, known as crémants.

Among my current favourites are crémant de Bourgogne,

made from Chardonnay, one of the main grape varieties used in Champagne. As Burgundy lies further south than Champagne, its crémant tends to be a bit riper in style, and I'm a big fan of Waitrose's Sparkling Burgundy Blanc de Blancs (£8.99) - it shows really pleasant honeyed fruit with plenty of citrus and peach notes.

Marks & Spencer's Sparkling Burgundy NV (£9.99) is also worth a look.

Limoux, in the Languedoc, is a relatively cool zone, which makes it a great place to grow white grapes, particularly Chardonnay. There's a good dollop of Chardonnay in Antech's Cuvée St Laurent Crémant de Limoux NV (£7.95, The Wine Society), along with some Chenin Blanc.

Moving north, once again the Loire is a particularly strong source of crémants, many of them made from Chenin Blanc, with a number of appellations devoted to the style.

At the generic level, it's worth trying the Langlois Crémant de Loire NV, both white and pink (£10.99-11.99, Mentzendorff). In terms of wines from specific appellation zones, Bouvet Ladubay's Saumur Brut NV (£10.49, Majestic) and Huet's Vouvray Pétillant 2001 (£12.50, The Wine Society) both punch

above their weight.

Germany

Germany might not be the most obvious stop-off on a world tour of sparkling wines, but the truth is that there's some great sekt around. Although sekt can be made from a number of grapes, Riesling

in particular, lends itself to making mouthwatering, crisp sparklers that go down very well as apéritif wines, but would also be delicious with a festive plate of smoked salmon. Favourites include Solter's Brut 2005, Rheingau (£13.25, The Wine Barn) and Reichsrat Von Buhl's Riesling Sekt 2007 (£8.99, World Wine Agencies).

New World

I may well come in for some flak for bunching all New World sparklies together, but by and large they've got so much in common that it makes more sense to do so than not.

Most New World fizz is inspired by Champagne,

so tends to be made from Champagne grapes - or rather, two of the Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir and ­Chardonnay. The much-maligned Pinot Meunier rarely, if ever, gets a look in

with the New World. Similarly, vinification methods tend to follow Champagne's well-worn route, with the secondary fermentation taking place in bottle, although cheaper wines are often made using the tank method.

New Zealand has become a good source of sparkling wine, although this often comes at a price. For this reason, the blush pink Lindauer Special Reserve Brut NV (£9.99, Majestic) offers good value for money and lots of ripe berry fruit, while Pelorus's iconic NV (£13.99, Mo ët Henness y) is elegant and restrained.

At £19.99, Louis Roederer's Quartet NV,

northern California (Majestic), comes perilously close to being a dead ringer for the real deal. I've yet to taste an Argentin ian fizz that really impresses me, but I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of Chilean newcomers, particularly Cono Sur's Brut NV, B ío-B ío Valley (£9.99, Concha y Toro), an exotic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling with plenty of zesty tropical fruit.

Australia has long been a source of good sparkling wines, the best of which tend to come from cool-climate regions. Green Point is based in Victoria's Yarra Valley, and the wines are sophisticated and elegant. Try the Green Point Brut 2005 (£12.99, Mo ët Hennessy) and save the 2005 Rosé (£13.99) for Valentine's day. Jansz's sparkling wines come

from Tasmania, an island gaining some renown for the quality of its grapes: the Premium NV (£11.99, Negociants) has layers of honey, citrus and nuts as well as vibrant acidity.

Sparkling Shiraz is one of Australia's more out-there offerings, and while there are a number of cheap and cheerful versions, these tend to taste rather like sparkling Ribena with tannins. Langmeil's Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley, NV (£22.49, Stratfords) is a stonking wine, with lots of rich, ripe plum fruit, a hit of chocolate and just enough residual sugar to balance it.

England

We've all come to realise that we make rather good sparkling wine here in England - although, to my mind, the best are those made using traditional Champagne grapes rather than cool-climate hybrids and crosses

such as Müller-Thurgau or Seyval Blanc.

The main problem with English fizz is that prices are high, although they're still below the level of many Champagnes.

Among the best

are Nyetimber's Classic Cuvée 2001 (£26, Nyetimber), Ridgeview's Merret Bloomsbury 2006 (£19.95, Ridgeview) and Denbies' Greenfields Brut 2004 (£21.99, Denbies), all traditional blends of Pinots Noir and Meunier with Chardonnay.

Champagne

For all the belt-tightening going on at the moment, there are some people for whom Champagne is the only fizz that will do, so you need to find some real bargains.

Champagne Moutard's Champ Persin (£17.99, Hallgarten Druitt) is a single-vineyard

blanc de

blancs with real character and finesse.

You've probably heard of Champagne Salon, one of the most prized and expensive Champagne brands in the world, but Salon's sister house,

Delamotte, is a bit of an insider secret - which is strange, considering the high ratings given to the Brut NV (£20.99, Corney & Barrow) by a certain Mr R Parker.

If your customers really want to blow the budget, there are still plenty of top-end Champagnes around, like the complex, lacy Cuvée R Lalou 1998 (£100, Champagne Mumm) or the dense, rich Philipponat Clos des Goisses 1999 (£105, Les Caves de Pyrene).

Gift sets

The Champenois have always been very good at creating a sense of occasion with their seasonal gift sets - a cue

yet to be followed by sparkling wine producers.

Among this Christmas's

ideas you'll find Champagne Gosset's box set (£50, McKinley Vintners), which comes with a bottle of Grande Réserve, two glasses and a bottle stopper.

Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte has come up with the perfect gift for winter sports lovers, with a bottle of Reserve Particulière served up in a padded chiller jacket (£30, Bibendum) that should look pretty cool on the ski slopes.

Or, for the ultimate in bling, Moët et Chandon's Atelier Moët provides a blinder. Customers buying a bottle of Champagne (from £50) can have it customised with their name or a date picked out in Swarovski crystals.

Suppliers

Codorn ìu 01892 500 250

Corney & Barrow 020 7265 2400

Berkmann 020 7609 4711

Bibendum 020 7722 5577

PLB

01342 318 282

The Wine Society 01438 741 177

Mentzendorff 020 7840 3600

The Wine Barn 01256 391 211

World Wine Agencies 01608 658 062

Mo êt Henness y 020 7235 9411

Concha y Toro 01865 873 713

Negociants 01582 462 859

Stratford's Wine Agencies

01628 810 606

Nyetimber 01798 813 989

Ridgeview 0845 345 7292

Denbies 01306 876 616

Hallgarten Druitt 01582 722 538

Champagne Mumm 020 8538 4484

Les Caves de Pyrene 01483 538 820

McKinley Vintners 020 7928 7300




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