Jonathan Ray reveals no less than 100 recommendations of his favourite fizz from around the world in his new book, Drink More Fizz! He shares an extract and a couple sparkling selections from his book:
‘Being something of a lush, I have a number of favourite drinks that I turn to regularly when I need a bit of a lift. Pour me an ice-cold manzanilla or fino sherry, say, a gin and tonic, a bone-dry Martini, a caipirinha, a Negroni, a creamy draught Guinness, a buttery white Burgundy, a supple New Zealand Pinot Noir or – ooh, yes please! – a luscious Alsace Gewurztraminer vendange tardive and I will guzzle it and come back crawling on my knees begging for more. It’s a sad, stark truth, though, that none of these delicious beverages, excellent though they all are, will raise my spirits quite the way that a cold glass of top-quality champagne or even tiptop sparkling wine will. There’s just something indefinably spot-on and uplifting about fine fizz.
As that great hunting man, John Jorrocks, so memorably put it in R. S. Surtees’s Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities, ‘Champagne gives one werry gentlemanly ideas.’ No celebration, no triumph, no defeat, no birthday, no rite of passage, no seduction, no wedding, no anniversary, no kiss and make up, no gathering and no solitary moment of introspection should pass by without a bottle of fizz, bubbles, bubbly, pop, poo, champers – call it what you will – being broached.
Champagne, of course, is the acme of such fizzes and, even though the finest sparkling wines are fabulous, they just don’t quite have that something, that élan, that dash, that glamour, that je ne sais quoi that first-rate champagne possesses. And that’s largely because they don’t boast that magical name. After all, would you rather go to a champagne bar or a sparkling wine bar? Live a champagne lifestyle or a sparkling wine lifestyle? Have a champagne breakfast or a sparkling wine breakfast? Be a champagne Charlie or a sparkling wine Charlie? And, well, while being a champagne socialist is one thing (and I should know: my father was an out-and-proud one), is there any point in being a sparkling wine socialist?
That being said, we shouldn’t be snobs. There’s no question that it’s better to drink fine sparkling wine than poor champagne.
There are thousands of wonderful examples around the world such as Prosecco (of course), Asti Spumante, South African Cap Classique, Cava (if you must), Californian, Australian and New Zealand sparklers, English fizz and Franciacorta (although the last two are often as pricey as equivalent-quality champagne these days). There are even bubbles from Argentina, Chile and Brazil.’
Three sparkling picks from Drink More Fizz!
BELLAVISTA FRANCIACORTA NECTAR NV Franciacorta, Italy
Bellavista was the first Franciacorta I ever tried, and it was a complete revelation. It quite took me aback, for I had no idea that sparkling wines outside Champagne – especially sparkling wines from Italy, best known for said Prosecco and Asti – could be so stylish, so sophisticated, so elegant and so – well, damn tasty.
I’ve returned to the winery twice now to taste the entire range, and on closer acquaintance Bellavista continues to impress. Made from 100 per cent Chardonnay, produced in the traditional method, this example is its rarest offering, being deliberately sweet with a dosage of 38 grams of sugar per litre, highlighting rather than masking the wine’s exquisite character and making it the perfect partner to rich starters, cheeses and desserts.
PETER LEHMANN BLACK QUEEN SPARKLING SHIRAZ 2011 Barossa valley, Australia
I’ve always been a bit wary of sparkling red wines (or should that be red sparkling wines?). Sweet Lambrusco of sainted ’70s memory is one thing (see page 52) – but a dry sparkling Shiraz from Australia? It just doesn’t seem right. Or rather it didn’t seem right because, of course, I’ve since seen the light…
Made from 100 per cent Shiraz (what Europeans call Syrah) from the Barossa Valley, it’s based on a style of Aussie wine that was first produced in the late nineteenth century and was known as ‘sparkling burgundy’. It’s fermented on its skins, aged for a year in old oak hogsheads, then bottle-fermented and aged on the lees for two years before release. It’s dry but richly flavoured, with mulberries, loganberries, cherries, vanilla and liquorice all in the mix before it ends with a long, savoury finish. It’s different, all right, and really rather wonderful.
BRUNO PAILLARD NEC PLUS ULTRA 2002 Champagne, France
Bruno Paillard is one of the new kids on the champagne block, the house that bears his name having only been founded as recently as 1981 and – the 27-year-old Bruno not having a dime to his name at the time – funded by the sale of his precious vintage Jaguar car. BP didn’t own any vineyards until 1994, but he now has 32 hectares and buys in the rest of the fruit he needs from the small growers he has used since the very beginning…
A half-and-half blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it’s a big, bold wine yet also commendably accessible. It’s complex all right, but the fresh, ripe fruit and deeper honey-and-nut flavours shine through and throw their arms around you in a glorious fizzy embrace.