Champagne… the king of fizz, right? This is likely the base assumption most wine consumers have. The Champagne region has done an excellent job of marketing their bubbles to the world in such a way that we associate the very name with luxury. But… is it possible that the best Champagne may not even be Champagne at all? GASP! We know, controversial! Follow along in our 2020 guide to learn more.
First of all, what is Champagne?
This is a legit question that often has confusing answers. The short answer is that sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France, and if it’s created with the three traditional Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. To put it in simple terms, all Champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne, even though it is made using the same production method. Hence, we can think of Champagne mostly from a geographical perspective as opposed to a wine-making style.
Champagne is a creamy, effervescent sparkling wine, and for obvious reasons it’s usually the first choice when there’s a party or celebration involved. This choice comes often at high prices and most of us expect to spend up to £40 / bottle for a basic Champagne. Its price is partly due to its protected regional status, partly due to the quality production method used, and indeed, partly due to marketing. However, it’s important to remember that sparkling wines with the same production method are produced throughout the world.
Why should you consider alternative sparkling wines?
- Quality sparkling wines can be found all over the world. There is a wealth of fizz waiting to be discovered, often from regions you’d never expect.
- There are many sparkling wines created outside of France that use the traditional Champagne method of production, often a hallmark of quality. Having said that, there are other production methods that produce great fizz, too.
- Although the traditional Champagne grapes produce awesome bubbles, it’s often exciting (and rewarding) to sample fizz made with indigenous, often unusual grape varieties from other countries.
- Other sparkling wines are often much more affordable than Champagne (however there are MANY exceptions to this).
It is important to keep in mind that not all non-French sparkling wines produced with the Champagne method will blow your mind, but then again, not all Champagnes will do that either. We therefore recommend an open mind to fizz, appreciating good Champagne and non-Champagne alike! Don’t be a fizz discriminator, keep reading for great Champagne alternatives.
Prosecco, an incredibly popular “spumante” (sparkling) wine of Italian origin. Although popular and nearly universally recognised, it is NOT the Italian equivilant of Champage (we’ll get to that later). Prosecco is made using the “Charmat” method, which sees the second fermentation happen in large tanks. Prosecco like Champagne, enjoys protected status. To be called Prosecco, the wine must be made using the Glera grape, and produced in the Prosecco region of Italy (north-western Italy in the provinces of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia). Fun fact: the Glera grape had originally been known simply as the Prosecco grape, however in order to protect the status of Italian Prosecco, the grape name was changed to Glera, and “Prosecco” as a drink was granted protected status. Glera grapes may be grown world-wide, but only Glera from the Prosecco DOC is destined to become Prosecco.
There are 3 main types of Prosecco:
- sparkling (spumante)
- semi – sparkling (frizzante)
- still version (tranquillo)
Prosecco is identifiable due to its refreshing, fruity-floral nose. Presenting as slightly sweeter than actual Champagne, it’s the perfect aperitif.
Our recommended Prosecco
Often associated as the Champagne of Italy, Franciacorta must be made using the three grapes designated for growth in the area: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc. Like most of the wines on this list, Franciacorta enjoys protected status (in this case, DOCG in Italy), and only sparkling wines from the protected area in the Province of Brescia can use the term Franciacorta.The wines must be made using the traditional Champagne method, and must maintain a minimum of 18 months contact with the yeast in the bottle (which happens to be 3 months longer than Champagne).
The types of Franciacorta produced are:
- Millesimato (vintage)
- Satèn (which can only be made with Chardonnay and/or Pinot Blanc)
Our recommended Franciacorta
If Italy’s Champagne version is Franciacorta, then Spain’s is invariably Cava. The primary grapes used to produce Cava are Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Paralleda, and this interesting grape trio creates creates an experience that is somewhat different to Champagne because of this.As yet another geographically protected fizz, Cava can only be produced in the Catalonian region, and only using the traditional Champagne method. While the range of inexpensive Cava is fairly wide in the UK, one doesn’t have to look very hard for high-quality, pricier Cava. To find great Cava, make sure to look for denominations like “Reserva”, “Gran Reserva”, or the rare “Paraje Calificado” (single vineyard classification).
Our recommended Cava
An interesting fact about French sparkling wine is that Champagne isn’t the only area producing it. Many people mistakenly assume any French bubbly is Champagne, but only sparkling wine from the Champagne region hold that privilege. Several regions throughout the country produce a product which is collectively labelled, “Crémant”, which is effectively the Champagne of non-Champagne France! Enjoying protected status, Crémant is bound by some familiar production rules. You can only craft a Crémant using the traditional Champagne method of production, however the grape content in Crémant is more relaxed that Champagne.
Some of the more famous Crémant-producing regions are:
- Crémant de Loire
- Crémant de Bourgogne
- Crémant de Limoux
Our recommended Cremant
South African sparkling wines made using the traditional French method are known as “Methode Cap Classiques” or “MCC’s. Traditionally, the Champagne is made using CHardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. An interesting fact about these three grapes is that they require cooler climates to produce their high acidity levels. Research has shown that there are many regions around the world with the proper type of climate to produce these well-known Champagne grapes. Here are some of the best regions to look for sparkling wines as an alternative to Champagne:
South Africa Cap Classique
Cap Classique sparkling wine is a premium category of South African sparklers. It seems that it all started with Simonsig Wine Estate in 1968, when they produced the first traditional method sparkler, although the official release of this spectacular sparkling wine was in 1971. The coastal regions in the Cape is home to outstanding Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay sparkling wines.
Californian sparklers with Champagne grapes grown in Napa and Sonoma are the best types to look for. The price range is between $25 and and $30 per bottle. Believe it or not, Mexico has the cheapest Cap Classique you could ever find. How cool is that?
There’s one winery exporting sparkling wines named after the explorer who “found” Tasmania. Actually, it’s delicious and Jans made the hot list of wines for the holidays.
The English finally have something great to show off. English sparkling wine is truly incredible juice that meets or beats the quality of Champagne. But, since it costs the same, you might as well just buy Champagne.
Our recommended Cap Classique
English Sparkling Wine
For more than 100 years the only sparkling wine considered Champagne was the one produced in France, the Champagne region, using a specific production menthod (traditional method) and a unique set of grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). However English sparkling wine is often compared to Champagne due to the same production method and the same grape varieties. In addition to this, England has a cool and gentle climate which allows to develop complex and delicate flavours in wine. The soil and the climate is very similar to the Champagne region’s soil and climate. This has encouraged many Champagne producers to grow the three above – mentioned grapes in England.
Accoridng to IWSR English sparkling wine is forecast to add 100,000 cases to the market in the period to 2022. We came across some very interesting and tasty English sparklers throughout our journey but our recommended one is Tinwood Sparkling Brut 2010.
Our recommended English Sparkling Wine
What are your favourite alternatives? Did you had different sparkling wines that got stuck to yor palate?