Broke the bank on Christmas booze and still got New Year to get through? Raise your glass to some good-value sparklers
There are more bargains than ever this year, with retailers falling over themselves to come up with the ultimate promotional discount. And with only Tuesday to Thursday to do your shopping before New Year's Eve, it's worth contemplating one do-or-die spree. Certainly anyone needing fizz for a party or wedding early in the New Year would do well to look at some of the current deals.
My own sparkling wine baptism began in the early 1980s with Castellblanch Brut Zero Cava. I stuck with this good-value Spanish fizz for so long that I could have lined a roof with the lead capsules I collected. The price, I seem to remember, hovered around pounds 3.49. While the quality of the bubbly has improved considerably over the years, competition and the power of the supermarkets has kept the price of Cava to a minimum. So much so that the reliable Tesco Cava has been reduced by a fairly significant pounds 1.50, from pounds 4.99 to pounds 3.49, until 5 January, an offer well worth grabbing. And, until next Saturday, the full-flavoured, tangy-fresh Sainsbury's Cava is also reduced, from pounds 4.99 to pounds 3.99.
Blanquette de Limoux, made mainly from the Mauzac grape in the south of France, claims a heritage dating back to 1531. Clearly, it lacked the marketing nous of Champagne's Dom Perignon, as its price seems to have changed little over time. Waitrose is offering a particularly good deal this week, bringing the pounds 6.75 price of its yeasty, biscuity Cuvee Royale, Blanquette de Limoux, down to a fiver each when you buy two.
But it's down to Sainsbury's for possibly the best Champagne deal this week. Normally pounds 11.99, you get one bottle free when you buy six of its fragrant and youthfully fruity Blanc de Noirs Champagne; then there's the normal 5 per cent discount, plus pounds 1 off, all of which subtracts down to a miserly pounds 8.75 per bottle.
When I was enjoying Castellbanch, New World fizz was simply a bubble on the horizon. Angus Brut, released more than a decade ago, was one of the first Aussie sparklers to capture the palates of the British, since when sparkling wines from the southern hemisphere and California have, literally, exploded. Now Angas Brut is back, and not only revamped into a stylish-looking package but with the contents upgraded, too.
Once, a fruit-salad (some might say kitchen-sink) blend of indeterminate grape varieties, it has matured into a grown-up Champagne-style blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Retaining a fresh, made-to-make-your-mouth-water tropical-fruit edge, it has developed an altogether smoother, richer texture. Launched on the market at pounds 5.99 and widely available, it is worth taking advantage of this month's most aggressive deals: pounds 4.49 at Majestic - buy six and save 25 per cent; pounds 4.49 at Oddbins - eight for six; and buy two for pounds 9.99 (Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Thresher).
Across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, Montana has developed an enviable reputation for its excellent sparkling wines made with Deutz Champagne expertise. Its own upmarket version of Lindauer, the Lindauer Special Reserve (pounds 8.99, widely available, but on special offer this week only at Thresher, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack, at pounds 7.49) is a delicately pink-tinged Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fizz. Its pure, red-berry aromas feature an unequalled clarity of cool-climate fruit flavours, rounded off with a touch of nuttiness on the aftertaste.
It is no secret that the best New Zealand and California sparkling wines, using Champagne grapes, are now outperforming Champagne at similar price levels. From the Cloudy Bay stable, 1993 Pelorus (pounds 13.99, Fuller's), is a world-class New Zealand sparkling wine bringing the pedigree of its parent Veuve Clicquot Champagne to a complex Champagne-like bouquet and highly well-developed, biscuity flavours in a foaming mouthful of bubbles.
My current favourite non-Champagne sparkling wine is Quartet Brut (pounds 14.95, Waitrose, Majestic, six for five). This stylish fizz, from the Roedere Estate in California's cool Anderson Valley close to the Pacific, beats cheaper Champagnes hand over fist. A number of California sparklers from Champagne houses emphasise the fruitier qualities of California sparkling wine, whereas Quartet - made by the experienced French bubble master, Michel Salgues - aims at a complex, toasty style with a nut-biscuit bouquet and creaminess of texture balanced by the elegant crispness of Mendocino grapes.
Despite the name, finally, you're clearly not intended to wait until millennium eve to taste Tesco's Millennium Cuvee (pounds 19.99) a tempting, golden rich mousse of bubbles. Already the aromas are well-developed with that typical toasty bouquet and what the French refer to, as if it were an oxymoron, as gout Anglais (English taste). The fizz itself is full of attractive beeswax and honeyed flavours topped off by a baked-apple fruitiness.
So, until next year, do keep yourself healthy and re-hydrated with plenty of water alongside the fizz on New Year's Eve. Failing that, my well-qualified colleague, Michael Jackson, will be on hand next Saturday with a few handy remedies for sore heads. Will we ever learn?
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