Nimble fingers are needed to tweak the tiny tag to tear a clean rip in the foil sheathing the head and neck of a chilled bottle of sparkling wine. Then, lift up the twisted wire loop and slowly and carefully untwist until the muzzle can be released off the cork’s mushroom-shaped head.
Now comes the real challenge to ensure the frothy spume does not escape prematurely: control the resisting cork by firmly pressing down on it while untwisting the bottle and not the cork for greater control. Then, the trickiest bit, tilt the emerging cork slightly to release a gentle sigh of the gas before full withdrawal. Now the sparkling genie is out of the bottle to work its magic.
The pressure in the specially toughened glass bottles for Traditional Method sparkling wines is six atmospheres – the equivalent of the tyre pressure in a double decker bus. Liberating sparkling wine from its bottle involves some technique, made necessary more for health and safety reasons than table theatre.
However, how the bubble gets into the bottle in the first place has several interesting journeys and some are featured in the selection of white, rosé and red sparkling wines below, whose tastes range from dry and off-dry to natural grapey sweet.
Crémant is the term used in France for a sparkling wine from other classic wine regions outside the Champagne region that uses the same complicated and costly Traditional Method. On the label, Crémant will be followed by the name of its region where local grape varieties are used (e.g. Alsace, Bordeaux and Bourgogne). Because they don’t have the same fame or cachet as Champagne, they offer excellent value.
Lambrusco is an Italian black grape native to the fertile Po River valley, whose cities Bologna and Parma give their names to the rich bolognese meat sauce and Parma ham and Parmesan cheese. These intense and salty flavours have the perfect antidote in a frothy light-bodied red in sparkling Lambrusco DOC, stoppered with a mushroom shaped cork and around 11% alcohol. Not to be confused with partially fermented white, pink or red sweet grape juice with a screw cap at 2%-4% ABV.
Moscato (Muscat) is a grape that has versions in green, yellow and black skins. A highly aromatic and floral varietal, usually made in a sweet style to complement its pretty fragrance. The Tank Method is often used where the grapes’ juice is partially fermented then stopped to preserve the natural sugars and CO2 gas, then bottled at its low alcohol levels around 7%. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are the most famous versions.
Crémant de Bourgogne Brut, Burgundy, France
€17.50 – Available at Marks & Spencer nationwide
A family reunion of the Burgundy region’s famous and less famous members: black grapes Pinot Noir and Gamay, matched by the two green grape varietals Chardonnay and Aligoté.
Stimulating yeasty scents of toast’s crusts. Mirrored on the palate with biscuit and toasty richness contrasted by crunchy green apple freshness lingering long.
Food friend: pair with a platter of shell fish or a paté of smoked salmon.
Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Tête de Cuvée Brut, Loire, France
€29.99 – Available at Wineonline.ie
Made in the Traditional Method with Chenin Blanc. Luminous golden in colour. Exotic aromas of quince and yellow stone fruits.
While dry, the rich marzipan and honey’s bees wax gives the illusion of sweetness. Crisp acidity and yellow fruits linger satisfyingly on the long finish. Lip-smacking delicious.
Food friend: tasty enough to savour solo or share the love with a caramelised onion tart topped with goats’ cheese and grilled.
Villa Cialdini Lambrusco Grasparossa DOC 2016, Vino Frizzante Secco, Italy
€25.99 in Dublin at Red Island Wine Co., Skerries and The Corkscrew, Chatham Street. Egan’s Food & Wine, Portlaoise; World Wide Wines, Waterford and Wineonline.ie
A fizz from a parallel universe, a cloak of deep ruby red disguises the bubbles in the glass, save for the brief crown of purple foam after pouring. Dry with pronounced blackberry fruity flavours. The Lambrusco’s low tannin allows the wine to be chilled without inviting any astringency.
Food friend: keep the dish rich and local: parma ham with melon followed by spaghetti bolognese and finish with nuggets of Parmesan cheese.
Innocent Bystander Moscato, Victoria, Australia
€13.99 in Dublin at Morton’s; Clontarf Wines; Drink Store; Redmond’s; Martin’s; McHugh’s; Mitchell & Son and Red Island Wine Co., Skerries. O’Donovan’s, Cork; Red Nose Wine, Clonmel and Wineonline.ie
Made from a blend of two Muscats – Gordo Muscat and Black Muscat. Vibrant pink in colour. The natural sweetness is kept in check; more energy-drink Lucazade-like than candy floss, finishing with a little grapey fruitiness.
Lighter in alcohol than its more famous and pale white coloured Italian expression, Moscato d’Asti. Feminine, pretty and fun.
Food friend: bring to a party and match with salty nibbles.
Ayni by Chakana Nature Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé, Traditional Method, Paraje Altamira appellation, Argentina
€29.99 at Cappagh Stores, Knocknacarra, Galway; No. 21 Off Licence group. In Dublin: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue.
Deep rose gold colour with an even blizzard of tiny bubbles. Aromas of baked red berries and orange peel. Dry with invigorating acidity underpinning the blood orange fruity flavours and red currant juiciness. Vigorous mouth-filling mousse. Exceptionally refined and well-balanced.
Food friend: partner with an earthy and rich game terrine or pork paté.
Chateau Derezla Tokaji Frizzante 2011, Hungary
€16.50 at all Mitchell & Son outlets, CHQ, IFSC, Glasthule and Avoca Handweavers Stores in Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne
Made from a blend of Yellow Muscat and Hárslevelü. A honeyed perfume of lychees and grape juice. Subtly sparkling with occasional bubbles.
Off-dry palate and delicious with honey comb, ripe melon and lychee fruity flavours. A favourite when shown with a range of different sparkling wines at a hen party recently.
Food friend: perfect as a party primer.
Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige, Franciacorta, Italy
€39.95 at Little Italy, King Street North, Dublin.
Made from a blend of mostly Chardonnay with a little Pinot Nero (Noir) and Pinot Blanco (Blanc) in a supporting role to add a little richness and delicacy.
Zesty lemony aromas. Bone dry palate with pithy kumquat and grapefruit zesty character. Attractively austere and restrained elegance from Franciacorta, Italy’s finest Traditional Method sparkling wine regions.
Food friend: perfect as an aperitif or with a plate of briny oysters.
One Estate Sauvignon Brut, Marlborough, New Zealand
€22.95 at O’Brien’s off-licences nationwide
Subdued aromas for a New Zealand expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Some green pea and passion fruity scents. Crisp and dry with classic crisp acidity and green apple and lime fruit flavours. A simple and straightforward sparkling wine aerated by the Injection Method.
Food friend: a good match for a creamy vegetarian risotto with raw asparagus, spinach and cooked petits pois added in the last few minutes of cooking.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.