Top 10 sparkling wines for a Champagne shortage
Don’t panic if the Champagne runs out – there’s a world of sparkling wines to choose from, and we bring you 10 of the best from across our competitions.
As posted on thedrinksbusiness.com earlier this month, such has been the concern surrounding a shortage of Champagne in smart East Coast US seaside resort The Hamptons, stories have emerged of the super rich jetting in their own supplies directly from France.
And in the UK, such has been the post-pandemic surge in Champagne demand, exacerbated by problems shipping the fizz, there have been suggestions that the supply may run out – that is, in the short term.
However, there’s no need to give in to despair should there be a Champagne shortage, because they are plenty of fine alternatives to choose from, even if they don’t offer exact replicas of the real thing.
So, after years tasting sparkling wine from all corners of the world as part of The Global Wine Masters, I have picked out 10 bottles of fizz I’d opt for should there be a genuine Champagne shortage.
All of these have been rated highly by myself and others as part of the competition series, which sees all entries sampled blind, which means that the judges have no knowledge of the bottles’ source when assessing it for quality.
In each case I have selected a sparkling wine that comes with a similar price to Brut NV Champagne or higher, and is made in a similar manner – which means that the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, known as the traditional, or Champagne method.
It’s this approach that’s gives the fizz its baked bread- and biscuit-like aromatics, and fine, persistent stream of bubbles, ensuring the sparkling wine provides layers of pleasing favours, as well as creamy-textured refreshment.
Champagne may provide the pinnacle of sparkling wine quality, but other places are catching up, as proved by the bottles below, taking in a range of great areas for fine fizz, from Franciacorta to Kent, and countries from Hungary to South Africa.
10. R. Schlumberger Grosse Reserve Chardonnay Brut
Among the star performers in 2019’s Global Sparkling Masters was this delicious, creamy, pure Chardonnay Brut from Austria’s R. Schlumberger. Using grapes from the Weinviertel in the lower part of the country, it combines flavours of peach with bready notes and a touch of orange zest. A delicious, if sadly small-production, Champagne-alternative from Austria.
Approximate retail price: £45
9. Domaine du Chant d’Eole, Blanc de Blancs, 2015
One of the thrilling aspects to blind tasting is the discovery of unexpected sources of quality, and last year’s Global Sparkling Wine Masters certainly delivered a surprising result. Among the top wines in the £20-30 category were some delicious samples from Belgium. Hailing from a producer called Domaine du Chant d’Eole in Quévy-le-Grand, which is a village in Mons, we tasted two vintages of its fizz that were remarkable for their honeyed stone fruit richness and apple-fresh finish. Here I’ve recommended the pure Chardonnay expression from the 2015 harvest.
Approximate retail price: £25
8. Langlois-Château, Crémant de Loire, Prestige Cuvée Quadrille, 2012
Along with Bouvey-Ladubay, the Loire’s Langlois-Château has been a consistent high performer in The Global Sparkling Masters. In particular, this top-end expression from the producer – which is owned by Champagne’s Bollinger family – took home a Gold in our 2019 competition, winning praise for its lovely mix of characters, from fresh and dried apple fruit, to toasted brioche, chalk and citrus zest. In short, it’s a delicious and fine alternative to Champagne whether or not the famous French fizz faces a shortage.
Approximate retail price: £30
7. Roederer Estate Quartet NV
Although rarely seen in the UK, some of the leading Champagne houses make fine fizz in California – notably Taittinger, Pommery, Mumm and Louis Roederer. The latter maison – who is the source of the prized Cristal prestige cuvée – makes a particularly good sparkling wine from California’s Anderson Valley, with Champagne’s hallmark biscuit-like flavours and fine bubbles, but, due to the warmer climate conditions, more richness –there’s even a touch of pineapple to the taste – along with zesty citrus to refresh.
Approximate retail price: £26
6. Cantine Monfort Trento Riserva Brut
Although little-known outside Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige – a beautiful area of hillside vineyards in the foothills of the Dolomites – is a brilliant-value source of fine traditional-method sparkling wine. Sold under the regional brand, Trentodoc, and made primarily with Chardonnay, the area yields gently fruity, creamy styles of fizz, with attractive nutty notes too. Trento is also the source of Italy’s best-selling fizz: Ferrari, which makes delicious sparkling wine at keen prices. It’s Perlé is particularly good. But I’ve picked this Gold medallist from our 2018 Global Sparkling Masters, which, by Trentodoc standards, is quite a pricy expression, and comes from Cantine Monfort. In my view, this Riserva is worth the outlay for its ripe fruit and biscuity richness.
Approximate retail price: £22
5. Ca’ d’Or, Franciacorta DOCG, Saten
Among the world’s many sources of Champagne alternatives, Franciacorta is the most convincing. Using primarily the same grapes, and made according to strict rules – which are in fact more demanding than those in Champagne – it yields a high standard of fizz with plenty of biscuity richness. With Franciacorta’s low production levels – less than a tenth of Champagne’s annual output – and quality-minded approach, the prices tend to be quite high, but the disappointments are rare. This prestige expression from Ca d’Or is a particularly fine example, and won a Gold in our 2018 Global Sparkling Wine Masters in the £30-50 category – gaining one of the highest scores of its price band when judged alongside some seriously good rivals.
Approximate retail price: £35
4. Törley, François President, Brut, Etyek-Buda, Hungary, 2014
Delivering huge amounts of character for just over £20 is this top-end sparkling 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 names, Alfred Gratien Champagne and more recently, leading Cava brand Freixenet.
So, have fun surprising your Champagne-loving friends with this bread and lemon-scented fizz from Hungary safe in the knowledge it’s been made by one of the most professional sparkling wine producers in the business.
Approximate retail price: £22
3. Gusbourne Brut Reserve
No list of Champagne alternatives would be complete without featuring at least one English sparkling wine, and, among the many excellent possibilities – from Wiston to Louis Pommery, Hattingley to Hush Heath – I’ve chosen this Brut Reserve from Gusbourne. That’s because, when sampled blind in the Global Sparkling Masters 2020, it was assumed by the judges that this was fine, if noticeably fresh, Champagne. That was due to its pleasing flavours of pastry, apple, and chalk. However, this Gusbourne fizz has something different, which is a sharp, taught character that’s typical to English sparkling, and makes it especially mouthwatering.
Approximate retail price: £35
2. Graham Beck Cuvée Clive
While New Zealand and Australia are well known for producing high-quality, good-value traditional method sparkling wine, and have attracted investment from leading players in fine fizz, from Pernod Ricard to Moët Hennessy respectively, in last year’s Global Sparkling Masters it was a sample from South Africa that wowed the judges among those entries from beyond Europe’s borders. Known as Cap Classique, which is the name for Champagne style fizz from the Western Cape, Cuvée Clive is the ultimate expression from leading South African sparkling wine producer Graham Beck. Made with Chardonnay from the 2014 vintage, it’s nutty, fruity and fresh with just a touch of honeyed development, and, while not cheap, it’s a wonderfully indulgent drop for the price.
Approximate retail price: £50
1. Can Sala Cava Gran Reserva, Brut Nature, 2008
If you looking for a top-end vintage Champagne equivalent in terms of price and quality, then this Cava is a sound pick. Gaining the highest overall score in last year’s Global Sparkling Wine Masters, it is a fine bottle of fizz, with layers of flavour from fresh apple and lemon zest to ripe nectarine, complemented by notes of toast and roasted nuts. And, as a Brut Nature, it’s bone dry too, ensuring it will refresh the palate, making it suitable as an aperitif, as well as with light dishes. It’s the most expensive fizz in this list, but, compared to the price of prestige cuvée Champagne – which it’s been made to rival – it’s actually relatively affordable.
Approximate retail price: £70