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Top 10 sparkling wines of 2018

Searching for some fizz for the festive season but want to try something other than Prosecco or Champagne? Then take a look at our top sparkling wines of 2018, taking in fizz from Italy, Germany, California, England, Spain and a cracking option from Hungary.

We’re often asked at the drinks business for sparkling wine recommendations, particularly for a fizz that isn’t Prosecco or Champagne. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with either of these options, but due to a growing desire to try something different.

It’s also a question of cost. For many, Champagne is that bit too pricey and particularly when large groups are involved. Prosecco, on the other hand, is not only an entirely different stylistic option to Champagne, but the popular Italian fizz is also seen by some as too mainstream for a special occasion, such as Christmas.

That leaves quite a big price gap between Prosecco, priced around £9-£14, and Champagne, which in terms of a branded quality offering, starts at around £25.

Now, in this void is a highly varied selection of fizz from right around the world, but how do you know what’s good?

Well, that’s where our Sparkling Masters comes in, which seeks to identify the best fizz, whatever the source, using highly experienced judges. It also employs a ‘blind’ tasting format, meaning that we assess every sample without any knowledge of its identity, beyond its price band and basic style.

Importantly, by judging wines this way, we remove any preconceptions that may be associated with their origin, helping to break down assumptions and highlight quality at all price points.

With that in mind, over the following pages, I have picked out the top performers in 2018’s competition, taking in a range of prices and sources. This means you can opt for something unusual, safe in the knowledge it won’t disappoint.

On the other hand, if you do want to stick with the more standard options, then you can see my selections for Prosecco here, and for Champagne under £50 click here, and over £50 click here.

While, for a full report on this year’s Sparkling Wine Masters, including all the medal-winning wines, click here.

For now, here are my favourites from 2018’s tasting.

10 Cuvée Aurora, Alta Langa DOC, Piedmont, Italy, 2013

While Italy is predominantly know for Prosecco when it comes to sparkling wine in export markets, the country in fact has a huge wealth of fizzy options, and an increasing number at the more premium end, using the traditional method of fizz-making (where the bubbles are created in the bottle, rather than a sealed tank, like Prosecco).

Among these latter upmarket options is this brilliant and good-value fizz from famous Brunello-maker Banfi.

Coming from its Piemonte estate cellars in Strevi, this traditional-method sparkler uses Pinot and Chardonnay from the Alta Langa DOC, and 30 months lees contact, to produce a vanilla- and berry-scented, creamy-textured fizz.

Approximate retail price: £15

9 Bouvet Ladubay, Excellence, Brut, Blanc, Crémant de Loire, France, NV

If you are searching for a cheaper Champagne-alternative, then cremants are an excellent option, and deserving of a stronger reputation.

Among the best places to look are Limoux and the Loire, and this example hails from the latter region, coming under the Crémant de Loire classification, which stipulates that the wine must be made within a specified area, and employing the traditional-method sparkling winemaking process, as practised in Champagne.

Although there are several high-quality producers in this region, one of the best, and most widely distributed, is Bouvet Ladubay.

The example we have chosen, called Excellence, performed extremely well in this year’s Sparkling Masters for its combination of orchard fruit flavours with a touch of toasted bread, and a long fresh finish – all for a pretty reasonable price.

Approximate retail price: £15

8 Reverchon, Riesling, Sekt, Crémant, Brut, Hessen, Germany, 2010  

When hunting for something fizzy and unfamiliar – don’t forget Sekt (which should perhaps be the strapline for exporters of this distinctly German product).

Made from Riesling, the wines tend to be fresh, slightly floral, with plenty of apple and lime fruit flavours, and depending on the amount of time the fizz spends in contact with its lees, a touch of breadiness too.

This sekt, a 2010 vintage from the cellars of Weingut Reverchon, is a particularly good example, with a touch of dried fruit and a creamy texture, as well as a very dry, bright finish.

Approximate retail price: £18

7 Quartet, Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley, USA, NV, blanc and rosé 

It is a little-known fact among consumers in the UK at least that Champagne Louis Roederer – the maison that makes famous prestige cuvée Cristal – has a sparkling wine operation in California.

Based in the Anderson Valley, the producer brings its sparkling wine savoire-faire to this relatively cool-climate US region, and the results are brilliant. Indeed, this sparkling wine consistently outperforms fizz from all corners of the world, including Champagne, within its price band.

Expect something creamy and fresh like Champagne, but with a core of riper fruit than you’d find from Roederer’s Brut from France.

And their Pinot dominant rosé is a benchmark for great New World fizz too.

Approximate retail price, blanc: £25 and £26 for the rosé

6 Fontanafredda, Vigna Gatinera, Alta Langa DOC, Piedmont, Italy, 2008        

Unlike the Piedmontese sparkling featured above, this fizz from the Alta Langa DOC contains no Chardonnay, but is made entirely from Pinot Noir, or rather, Pinot Nero, to use the Italian name for the grape.

And, hailing from the 2008 vintage, it is five year’s older than the example from the aforementioned Banfi. As a result, this fizz from the famous Fontanafredda producer has plenty of nutty, biscuity richness, along with fresh apple and pear fruit characters, and a touch of dried yellow fruit.

Approximate retail price: £23

5 Cantine Monfort, Monfort Riserva Brut, Trentodoc, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, 2012          

Undeservedly little-known beyond Italy’s borders is the brilliance of fizz from Trentino-Alto Adige. Using predominantly Chardonnay, but also Pinot Noir from vineyards in the foothills of the Dolomites, the traditional-method sparkling wine from this beautiful part of Italy is termed Trentodoc. It is this style of fizz from this area that creates Italy’s best-seller, Ferrari, which is the hugely respected Moët-equivalent of this Mediterranean nation.

But in the spirit of identifying something that bit more obscure, this year’s Sparkling Masters gave its ultimate accolade of Master to a top Trentodoc from Cantine Monfort. Exciting the judges was this wine’s delicious combination of a creamy texture, and a slightly honeyed ripe pineapple character, along with a citrus-zest finish. A delicious find, although it is at the pricier end of Trentodoc.

Approximate retail price: £23

4 Torelló, Cava de Paraje Calificado, Barcelona, Spain, 2011

I think it’s fair to say that Cava isn’t associated with luxury fizz, at least in the UK. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t first-rate examples that can rightly command premium price points. And it was pleasing to find that one of the tastiest samples in this year’s Sparkling Masters was a Cava, and an example classified under Spain’s new term for the very pinnacle of style and quality: Cava de Paraje Calificado.

Using grapes from a wonderful part of Penedes, the high altitude Vinyes de Can Martí, this is a fruity, fresh, bone-dry fizz with a toasty character and a touch of vanilla. It may be priced like a Grande Marque Champagne, but it offers something different and delicious that will surprise your guests, and should alter any preconceptions attached to Cava – that is, if you thought that this Spanish sparkling area can’t produce something truly top-end.

Approximate retail price: £32.50

3 Ca’ d’Or, Saten, Franciacorta DOCG, Lombardy, Italy, NV      


Bonfadini, Carpe Diem, Saten, Franciacorta DOCG, Lombardia, Italy, 2015     

For those that follow the sparkling wine scene closely, you’ll probably know that the Italian region of Franciacorta has carved out a reputation for very fine traditional-method fizz, and is now widely seen as Italy’s answer to Champagne.

Confirming such a status for this product, which hails from the province in Brescia, in Lombardy, were two delicious sparkling wines, one from Ca d’Or and the other from Bonfini.

Both delivered masses of bright lemon and peach flizz, with a lovely toasty edge, and each was a Saten style of Franciacorta, meaning they used only white grapes – the equivalent of a blanc de blancs in Champagne.

Approximate retail price for both Franciacortas: £24

2 Wiston Estate, Cuvée, South Downs, Sussex, UK, 2009 


Wiston Estate, Blanc de Noirs, South Downs, Sussex, UK, 2010  

Such is the quality of fizz being made in Britain today, no list of great bubbles from the world would be complete without the mention of at least one English sparkling wine.

And in this year’s Masters, it was in fact two samples that wowed the judges, although both were made by the same brilliant producer.

Coming from the Wiston Estate in Sussex, one was a deliciously creamy but biting fresh fizz using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the 2009 harvest in the South Downs, and the other was a pure Pinot from the subsequent vintage, 2010.

The former is a touch cheaper and softer in taste and texture, while the latter offers masses of berry fruit, spice and toast, as well as greater rarity – 2010 was the inaugural vintage of a Wiston blanc de Noirs, and just 3,000 bottles were produced.

Approximate retail price: £33 for the 2009 cuvée and £48 for the Blanc de Noirs

1 Törley, François President, Brut, Etyek-Buda, Hungary, 2014           

And finally, we were delighted to discover this rich, layered, bottle-fermented fizz in this year’s Sparkling Masters. Delivering huge amounts of character for just over £20, it turned out to be from Hungary’s biggest fizz-maker, Törley, a legendary name in the nation that was founded in 1882 by József Törley, who learnt his craft at Champagne Louis Roederer.

Owned today by sparkling wine leviathan the Henkell Group, this historic Hungarian brand lives on thanks to the strong backing of this major Germany company – which also owns among other brands, Alfred Gratien Champagne and more recently, leading Cava brand Freixenet.

But it’s this prestige cuvée expression from Törley, using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the 2014 vintage, that really impressed the judges for its depth and precision, as well as keen price.

Approximate retail price: £22

About the Sparkling Masters

The Sparkling Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions such as Rioja and Chianti.

The competition is exclusively for sparkling wine and the entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.

The top sparklers were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Sparkling Master.

The sparklers were tasted over the course of a single day on 12 July at Les 110 de Taillevent in London’s Marylebone.

About the tasting process

All the entries are tasted blind, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.

Once a score for each wine from every judge has been revealed, and the reasons for the result given, the chair of each judging group will compile an average score, and award medals accordingly.

Each wine is scored on the 100-point scale, with pre-set scoring bands corresponding to the medals awarded, which range from Bronze to Gold, and Master – the ultimate accolade, awarded only to outstanding samples. The judges are told to consider the resulting medal when assigning their score.

The bands are as follows: 85-88 – Bronze; 89-92 – Silver; 93-96 – Gold; 97-100 – Master.

Although the judges are tough, they are accurate and consistent, and the open judging process allows for debate and the revision of initial assessments.

Within the style and price category, the judges are looking for appropriate flavours – be they attributable to the vineyard or the winemaking processes. They are also in search of complexity, intensity and persistence at levels expected of the style and price band. In particular, the judges will reward wines highly if they have both balance and personality.

Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, the Global Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.

For further information please contact any of the team at the drinks business on +44(0)207 803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at

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