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The Life of Wine


I’m very excited because this month I’m responding to a request from someone who actually admits to reading my column. Admittedly the request has come from my editor and she has to read what I write, but a request none the less! I think she may be a bit bored of me banging on about wines I’m a fan of, so, unbeknownst to her, she chose a type of plonk of which I am less of a fan: sparkling wines.

It’s not that there aren’t some very tasty bubblies out there, it’s just that they never really seem to be as tasty as the marketing people say they are and often come with price tags which are just nonsense. I’m going to attempt not to mention champagne in this piece, because it is a behemoth of a subject and is where my real problem with fizzy wine lies.

The really great thing about wine with bubbles in it is that it’s not like other alcohol in the sense that it’s sort of acceptable to drink at any time. Sparkling plonk isn’t really booze, is it? At occasions like Christmas, or a wedding, it’s more than acceptable to crack open a bottle of crisp, fruity fizziness, splash in some orange juice, and sip it down with breakfast. It’s still not okay, for some reason, to sit down at the same breakfast table with a goblet of Australian cabernet.

The Spanish celebrate with Cava, a lovely, refreshing wine made in the traditional champagne style but often with a decidedly softer result. The great thing about this fizz is that the Penedés region produces bucket loads of the stuff every year and the price tag is usually a fraction of some less impressive champagnes. Bugger, I mentioned champagne.

In Italy the sparkler of repute is Prosecco. It is made in a different way to champagne with second fermentation taking place in a tank and the fizzy result being pumped into bottles under high pressure to keep in the bubbliness. No matter, this is a light wine which I reckon should be just as welcome at celebrations from weddings to bar mitzvahs (does one drink at a bar mitzvah?) as champagne. I mentioned champagne again. I’m dreadfully sorry. I’ll make more of an effort.

Not that long ago the suggestion that a decent bottle of fizz could come out of England would have resulted in a nasty snigger from all but the most certifiable of wine drinkers. No flashy name as yet like Prosecco or Cava, but as its popularity soars I’m sure some clever marketing type will come up with something like Great Britagne just to rub it in the noses of the French that labels like Chapel Down, Ridgeview and Nyetimber are becoming serious challengers to – oh Crisps, here I go again – champagne. The Queen’s jubilee weekend saw English sparklers fly off the shelves and producers are desperately planting as many acres as they can get their hands on across the south of the country with vines in an attempt to keep up with the staggering demand. Although I think it might be a bit premature to keep declaring that English wine has come of age, the fact that the Frenchies are now looking to invest in sparkling wine production in places like Kent, Hampshire and Sussex is rather encouraging.

But it’s not just the Old World which is producing top-class challengers to that which I am not going to mention. The USA, Australia, and South Africa are perfectly capable of producing fizzy wine to glorious standards. And the Antipodeans are rather keen on a red sparkler made from Shiraz. Perhaps a goblet of that is acceptable at the breakfast table?