Kirstie Young Photography

How I fell back in love with Fizz

My memory of every gathering in the lead up to the Millennium New Year was that it involved Fizz of one type of another.  Prosecco at impromptu gatherings, Champagne at dinner parties, Crémant with friends who had champagne tastes but Prosecco budgets, Bucks Fizz when it was too early in the day to justify wine.   By January 1st 2001 I had drunk enough sparkling alcohol to last a lifetime.  Maybe two. 

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However, we recently moved house, and “fizz” in one form or another has been the housewarming gift of choice, so it was time to get over my Millenium issues and find a sparkling drink that I loved.  It turns out that the quality is better than it’s ever been, but bewildering to an enthusiastic but uneducated drinker.  I’m a thorough kinda girl when it comes to food and drink, so in the interests of thorough research I acquired five differently produced and priced bottles of bubbly from my local wine merchants Vinotopia, and as it’s the type of drink that screams for a party, I invited a crowd of mates along to help me taste.  

First up was a classic Champagne.  I had asked for something quaffable but reasonably priced and was recommended Decelle, coming in at £23.95, (or £17.90 with Vinotopia WineClub).  

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At first glance, this isn’t something I would have picked off the shelf with it’s understated white and orange label not particularly catching my eye, but at this price I was happy to give it a whirl on their recommendation.  The first taste was of citrus rather than that classic biscuity champagne taste but was a good social drink, and the apricot flavours were enhanced by pairing it up with a delicious smoked salmon and sliced potato hors d’oeuvre brought over by a neighbour.  Got to love a bit of free trading over the fence.

Next up was a Crémant de Limoux by Berry Bros & Rudd for 14.95, (£9.98 with the Vinotopia Wine Club.)  

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Crémant is produced in the same way as Champagne (in that the bubbles are produced by a second fermentation that takes place when the wine is in the bottle) but misses out on the Champagne title by an accident of birth.  This particular bottle is made by the Antech estate in Limoux, a family winery for 6 generations, and very female led.  The forerunner of the wine dynasty was Eugénie Limouzy, one of the first women in Languedoc to manage a vineyard and it is now run by her great granddaughter Francoise Antech-Gazeau.  This had a fairly sharp lemony taste, with lovely delicate bubbles, and a creamy aftertaste, and for a tenner a bottle it was an absolute winner for a sunny afternoon in the garden.

The third recommended bottle was a South African sparkling white, Babylonstoren Sprankle.  

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This is priced at £31.95 (£22.96 with Vinotopia Wine Club) which puts it up there with a big name Champagne like Veuve Clicquot, which for a sparkling wine felt ambitious.  The label has a large blue butterfly, inspired by the Butterflies that live amongst the 300 varieties of plants in the estates garden that supply the farm’s two restaurants.  The Dutch owner pushes his eco-credentials even further by choosing not to have foil over the wire and cork, pairing the material waste down to the bare essentials. This was expensive for Sparkling wine, but it tasted complex and Vintage and fully deserved its price point.  I was smitten by the taste of almonds and passion fruit, it was beautifully dry with a real earthiness to it.  It was declared “the most interesting sparkling wine I’ve had in ages” by the assembled throng, and was the bottle that everyone went back to for more.

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Bottle number 4 was another one with great Eco credentials, Wild Thing Organic Prosecco at £13.95 (£11.07 with the Vinotopia Wine Club).  Wild Thing wines are a growing brand developed by Vintage Roots in association with the Born Free Foundation, with a donation for every bottle sold benefiting conservation and animal welfare projects around the world.  It’s also Vegan, and comes in a re-sealable and re-usable swing top bottle, so has shiny green credentials all round.  As with a lot of Prosecco, this has a fair amount of sugar added to it, and although there were some nice pear notes to it, it’s perhaps one for someone with a sweeter palate than mine.   

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The final bottle was Saint Andre de Figuiere Atmosphére, a Sparkling Rose coming in at £21.95 (16.95 with the Vinotopia Wine Club).  Another Organic Vegan wine, this one made by two sisters in their coastal vineyard just outside St Tropez.  The farm has been fully organic for over 40 years, instead of using pesticides  they bring goats in at the start of Autumn to eat the fallen grapes and fertilise the soil.  This is a gorgeous elegant drink with fine bubbles and the taste of strawberries, creamy on your palate but not too sweet, and the perfect way to end the tasting.  

I think my taste for bubbles has definitely been revived.  We played around with different glasses to taste from, from Coupés (better for aroma but the bubbles disappeared) to tall thin flutes (very little aroma but longer lasting bubbles).  We debated if the flip top bottle would work (it didn’t, the next day it was flat) and whether a butterfly on a label would deter “serious” fizz drinkers from buying it (50/50 split).   Butterfly or not, the Babylonstoren was the surprise hit of the night, and the one everyone would buy again, with Atmosphére a close second.  

It may have taken nearly 20 years to get over the Millennium over indulgences, but I think Fizz may well be back on my shopping list.

With thanks to Vinotopia for helping me choose and donating the bottles for tasting.  www.vinotopiawine.co.uk