Champagne is always touted as the best sparkling wine in the world. But is it true?
To put champagne to the test we asked Honest Grapes to show us the best of the fizzy world. Tom Harrow, their wine director, bravely volunteered to lead the DrinkUp team through five sparkling wines to highlight the differences
The Cava: Quim Vila Babot Cava Brut Nature
Cava has quite an interesting reputation to say the least. For some reason it has been cast as one of the lesser sparkling wines but in fact some of it is quite delicious. This one certainly was.
As soon as the cork was popped everyone in the room agreed we’d just been served a very tasty glass of fizz, as far away from cheap supermarket cavas as you possible can be.
This is a Brut Nature so there’s no extra sugar added when the yeast is removed from the bottle, and the dryness of this helps bring forward its lovely citrus notes, and dried apple. At £12.70 for a bottle this cava felt like incredibly good value – and something we were happy sip on. However does it match up to the complexity of a champagne? We were yet to see.
The Prosecco: Bonotto delle Tezze Prosecco Terviso Spumante Brut
Prosecco is never as vibrantly fizzy as a champagne or any other sparkling wine made with 2nd fermentation in the bottle. For the same reason it also lacks those typical biscuit and brioche notes you get from the yeast, in place of this however, prosecco is all about freshness and typically has ample orchard fruit and peaches on the nose – possibly why is goes so well in a Bellini. Thanks to prosecco’s residual sugar it’s certainly more drinkable than any champagne for those not used to the classic dry styles of France’s fizz and this particular bottle could be put away all night long.
The key to finding a delicious prosecco is hunting down one that strikes a balance between the tart fruit and sweetness – and this one certainly hit the mark with fresh, tart fruit carried forward by the residual sugar. As Tom says, that fruit should come from the centre of the wine which then unpacks the rest of the flavour, and for a mere £10.60 a bottle Bonotto delle Tezze is excellent value for money.
Hows does it measure up? The prosecco seemed to offer more than the cava had when it came to flavour, and as Tom put it – you’re better spending more money on prosecco than cheap champagne, but despite being more complex than cava there still wasn’t loads to unpack. Tasty for sure, but we were still awaiting the champagne to judge properly.
The German Sparkling: Clemens Busch Spatburgunder Sekt Blanc ce Noir Brut
Who knew the Germans made sparkling wine that tasted this good? Not us. This sekt has to win best discovery of the day with its elegant fizz, light fruit notes and wondrous complexity. There was brioche, nuts and subtle red fruits coming from the pinot noir grapes, and yet still plenty of differences between the sekt and any champagne due to the soil – the typical chalky character is missing here, but not to the wine’s detriment.
Clemens and his wife Rita, the producers, tend to their vineyards biodynamically and the result is an incredible wine, which is available for £27.17 coming this December. Definitely worth the money, and whilst not rivalling champagne in terms of numbers, this is a wine we agreed we’d happily serve alongside France’s famous bubbles.
The Franciacorta: Castello Bonomi Franciacorta Saten
As a saten style of franciacorta, a less-famous Italian sparkling wine than prosecco, this is a blanc de blancs made with chardonnay grapes and features the saten style of very soft and less gassy bubbles. It’s made by fermenting most of the wine in steel tanks while a part of it ferments in oak casks adding a delightful creaminess to balance out the acidity. The chardonnay brings in those typical notes of bread crust and brioche but there’s still plenty of minerality and an apple-like freshness. A definite crowd pleaser – everyone in the room said this might be there best so far.
Franciacorta now sells more wines in Japan than champagne, and with good reason – this wine pairs fabulously with sushi and tempura, cutting through the fatty notes from the fish and batter whilst providing the freshness to go alongside Japan’s national cuisine. Retailing at £25 it’s not as cheap the cava or the prosecco but had a lot more to offer.
The Champagne: Frerejean Freres Blanc de Blancs
And then the champagne came and stole the day.
This particular champagne was incredible, with loads of nutty brioche on the nose as well as apples and orchard fruits. Its mouthfeel was far silkier, richer and plumper than any of the wines beforehand and as a small grower champagne, with a production of only 3000 bottles, this rivals any of the big brands for taste alone. We’re going as far to say it outstrips them. Sorry Ruinart but we’re got a new favourite Blanc de blancs
The family behind Frerejean Freres are a trio of brothers who are busily trying to take on big champagne at its own game… and totally smashing it. At £48.60 a bottle this isn’t cheap, in facts it’s nearly double every other wine we tried. But it’s also not going to break the bank like other champagnes and considering its flavour we’d say it’s actually a bit of a bargain.
So whilst there’s certainly a time for well-balanced prosecco and citrusy cava, for complex sekt and a creamy franciacorta, sometimes champagne really is the king among sparkling wines. It all depends on what you feel like drinking that day (champagne, always champagne).