Just before Christmas and New Year, I wrote about the best cheap champers on the market.
This came with the caveat that if you decided to snooze you would lose. You see the budget champers market is notoriously prone to selling out, especially right before a big calendar event, like for example, Valentine's Day.
So on the eve of 'the most romantic day of the year', I'd like to offer a further caveat; if you snoozed this time round, you can still get, erm, boozed. There are loads of good alternatives to champagne, so if you choose to (yet again) ritualistically prove your love for the other half this Friday, at least it needn't cost the world!
Quality fizz is generally much easier to come by than it used to be, and comes in a mind-boggling variety of forms, many of which are quite akin to the vinous royalty that is Champagne, but often considerably cheaper. I have written previously (look it up) about the wonders of Cava and Prosecco, the oft-scorned European cousins of Champers. These Spanish and Italian fizzes can still show all the same quality and class, yet at a fraction of the price.
If you don't fancy Cava or Prosecco, and want something which is effectively a 'Champagne clone', you could go for French fizzes from other regions (although these can deviate stylistically a wee bit). Beyond this, Australian and American winemakers do a good line in Champagne mimicry. In fact, many major Champagne houses (Bollinger, Möet, Roederer) have bought land in Oz and the US, and have started lending their own names and expertise to new-world fizz.
So to get your corks popping this Valentine's, here are a few top recommendations of the moment. To start, some Prosecco. Everybody seems to drink Prosecco these days. It's a slightly less acidic (and therefore seemingly less dry) sparkling wine than most, so it's easy going and party-friendly. Prosecco is the nation's 'giggle juice' du jour.
Unfortunately, there is a wealth of frankly rubbish Prosecco out there. Skip the drivel and go for either Prosecco Ca'Rosa (£10, Oddbins), or Taste the Difference Prosecco Conegliano 2012 (£7.49, down from £9.99, Sanisbury's). Both are far drier than the usual fare (but still pleasantly candied) and have enough complexity to please the cynic, as well as enough 'tee-hee' to please everyone else.
Next up, a great alternative to Champagne (and its geographic and horticultural cousin): Cremant de Bourgogne - literally fizzy burgundy. It's a great substitute for Champers: the region is not a million miles away; the grapes are the same (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir); production method is identical; and the quality is usually equal. Yet oddly enough, the price is usually far lower… It's as if we were regularly overpaying for Champagne or something... Ahem!
You will never go wrong with a bottle of Cave de Lugny Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs NV(£12, Oddbins). An old favourite of mine, and genuinely better than many of the Champagnes I have tatsed in my time. I would dare any aficionado to spot this as an impostor in a blind Champagne tasting! 'Nuff said.
Finally, the 'weird' cousin of Champagne that no-one wants to discuss. Regional fizz. Rarely seen outside its home territory, there are dozens of examples of local fizz in France. I just discussed Cremant de Bourgogne, but you can also find regionals like Cremant de Loire and Cremant d'Alsace - if you look hard enough. However, it should be noted that these are never quite 'sub-ins' for Champagne in the same way, as they have a diverse assortment of grapes and styles.
Despite the fact that I usually find their wine range the least inspiring of all the supermarkets, Tesco are currently stocking the distinctly unique 1531 Blanquette de Limoux 2010 (£7.99, Tesco). Made from the international superstar grape, Mauzac (yeah, me neither), this is a beautifully rustic wine that tastes genuinely handmade. Citrusy and aromatic, a bit like a fizzy Riesling, but it has a really interesting duality between dryness and off-dryness. Oh yeah, that's right - you could have this bad boy before or after your Valentine's dinner. Crazy.
See? You can put a (small) price on love!
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