Traditional Champagne can be expensive, especially when you’re buying many bottles for a function. Whilst there is always some element of ‘prestige’ factored into the price, the process of making and maturing Champagne is quite time and labour intensive. It has to be to bring you those distinctive rich, baked pastry flavours and fine bubbles.
In this post, you’ll find some great suggestions that are cheaper in comparison for a variety of reasons. It may be because of how they are made or where they come from. This does not necessarily make them ‘inferior’ to Champagne. In fact, in some blind taste tests it’s even difficult for experts to tell the difference.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that as with any alcoholic product sold in the UK, the products at the lower price points are more impacted by tax. In fact, import duty on sparkling wines is higher than for still wines. Currently, it is £2.63 per standard 750ml plus VAT at 20% of the final sale price. This is regardless of whether the value of the fizz in the bottle is £2, or £2000. You therefore get vastly more wine for your money when you start paying upwards of £6.
There are some great sparkling wines that are made in the same ‘traditional method’ (second fermentation in bottle), that aren’t bound by the constraints of Champagne. Or, they have found creative ways of reducing production costs without impacting on quality.
Other French Sparkling Wine Regions
Many other ‘traditional method’ sparkling wines have evolved in various areas of France other than Champagne. They make use of the local grapes of the region, often in times when the climate does not allow the grapes in certain areas to be ripe enough for good still table wine. However, it is now very common for certain producers in these areas to only focus their efforts on making sparkling wines. They are much cheaper simply because they are less well known outside France. The following ones are excellent quality examples of these:
Tesco Finest* 1531 Blanquette De Limoux. (£8.50)
This little known region in southern France is part of the Langedoc. However, it is further inland from the balmy heat of the Mediterranean coast, and at a relatively high altitude.
The combination of a warmer climate, giving a long growing season, but cooler evenings gives riper fruit, with less austere acidity than Champagne, preserving freshness of flavour. It is also made by undergoing a second fermentation in bottle, although for much less time than Champagne.
This is not a quality issue, as the local grape variety here is Mauzac. Blanquette Limoux wine is made up of at least 90% of it. It has a lovely nose of stonefruit and baked apple puddings and pastries. These delicate aromatics are best enjoyed in their youth, as any prolonged periods of ageing in a cellar would just destroy these. Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay can also be added to the balance for finesse and polish.
Bouvet Ladubay Brut Samur, France. Majestic, (From £8.99)
Samur is a town in the heart of the Loire Valley, whose specialty is sparkling wines. Made from a majority of the locally grown Chenin Blanc, these sparkling wines pick up a characteristic ‘honeyed’ aroma, apple, pear and citrus. If allowed time to mature in the cellars after second fermentation in bottle, these aromas become more like delicious fruit based pastries, glazed with apricot jam.
Although Cava is made in the same ‘traditional method’ as Champagne (Cava literally translates as ‘cellar’), it uses different native grape varieties and has different production criteria. The area Cava can be made is much bigger than Champagne, and the wine does not have to be aged as long in bottle before sale. This helps reduce costs, and means Cava tends to have less of the rich yeasty nose Champagne has.
The reason most Cava’s often have a sort of funny ‘artificial/earthy’ taste is because the three main varieties used (Macabeo, Xarel-Lo and Paradella), are a bit rustic in comparison to Champagne’s Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.However, in the last twenty years or so (and somewhat controversially in many traditionalist Cava makers’ views), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have both also been permitted. Lo and behold, this led to much more elegantly tasting Cavas like this one.
Codorniu have incorporated Chardonnay into the blend of traditional grape varieties in order to make a more aromatic, elegant style. This doesn’t disappoint, with ripe stonefruit and citrus flavours and no bitter/earthy aftertaste that some Cavas suffer from.
New World Sparkling
These two wines offer a taste of the Champagne flavours, for a fraction of their price for two reasons. They are both New World offerings, which can come from areas not confined by boundaries. Secondly, they use a clever ‘cheat’ in their production methods. Whilst they still undergo a secondary fermentation period in bottle to get those rich yeasty flavours, these are then discharged in bulk into a tank.
This is known in the business as the ‘Transfer Method.’ In Champagne, this is normally done one bottle at a time- and though now mechanized, it is still quite time and labour intensive. Industrious New World wine makers have found that they can speed things up, thus saving considerable amounts of money, whilst still gaining the character from a second fermentation in bottle.
Both make use of fruit specifically grown for sparkling wines, and use Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Lindaur is a bit richer in style compared to the Hardy’s, as the wine has spent longer in contact with the yeast before it is discharged into the tank and rebottled. Blind tasting this, it would be hard for most to distinguish from a mid-range Champagne However, this means that there is a bit more freshness of fruit and making it a little cheaper with a quicker turnaround.
Incredibly fashionable at the moment, not least because it is a lot more affordable than Champagne. It is also very fruity, and much softer in acidity because north east Italy is a lot warmer than the far north of France.
Prosecco is made from an aromatic Italian variety- Glera. It is meant to be enjoyed young and fresh and fruity. Traditional method practices would totally destroy these characters. Hence, it is produced in a tank which just so happens to also save substantial costs! The grape used to also be known as Prosecco too. However, the crafty Italians took similar steps to Champagne to protect their famous wine from impostors and imitators.
Well-made examples have an enticing nose of ripe peach, apple, citrus and pear. Asda’s own Extra Special brand has bags of flavour, for a great price. It has been a Which? Magazine best buy in the past, and won numerous awards from International Wine and Spirits Competition and Decanter. When it’s on offer, it is so highly prized, it quickly flies of the shelf.
Buying the ‘cheap’ Champagne can be, quite frankly, a bit of a false economy. Often significant compromises have to be made. Lower quality grapes are used, and/or the producer has done the bare legal minimum compliance to be allowed to get the name on the label. Often these lack character, and can be especially acidic as they have had such a quick turnaround and have not had a chance to soften.
However, the discounters started the trend of Champagnes that were around £10 or below, leading to many of the big 4 retailers following suit. Of the ones I have tried, this one from Aldi is truly a cut above.
Made by reputable family firm Champagne Philizot Pere et Fils, it has been aged several months beyond the minimum in the cellar. They have allowed the harsh acidity to soften somewhat, and let some of those characterful ‘baked pastry’ yeast flavours develop. This is what many other cheap Champagnes lack.
Love Sparkling Wine and Would Like to Know More? Have a Friend or Loved one Who Appreciates a Glass of Fizz?
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