The clock is chiming midnight, the strains of Auld Lang Syne are echoing around the room and glasses of Champagne are being raised to toast the New Year. Sounds familiar? But how many glasses of Champagne are likely to be raised to welcome in 2012 when so many people are cash-strapped and the financial forecasts for the forthcoming year are full of doom and gloom?
Bearing in mind that a half decent bottle of Champagne is likely to set you back by at least £25, are there any budget alternatives for an austerity New Year celebration? The good news is that you can still buy a passable bottle of bubbly for less than £10. It might not say Champagne on the label but it will still have plenty of fizz and pop to help the party go with a bang.
Champagne is not the only sparkling white wine available. There are plenty of other sparkling white wines produced, some using the same methode champenoise, but they are not allowed to call themselves Champagne as they are not produced within the Champagne region. If you want to buy a bubby which is almost indistinguishable from Champagne look out for “methode champenoise” on the label. Its appearance and taste will be similar to Champagne but it will cost a fraction of the price.
French sparkling white wine made outside of the Champagne region but using the methode champenoise is known as “Cremant“. This class of French sparkling white wine was created in the 1980s so that the non-Champagne production was still regulated to ensure its quality. Some other grape varieties are allowed other than the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier used in Champagne but generally the results are similar to Champagne but at a much lower price.
Cremant de Bourgogne tends to be made using the Champagne grapes and is full of aroma and flavours of fruit and red berries. Cremant d’Alsace is leaner than Champagne with a fresh and tangy taste. Cremant de Limoux is creamy and refreshing whilst Cremant de Loire is crisp and lemony. All of these would make excellent budget New Year bubblies.
Cava is Spain’s sparkling white wine. There are always a few bottles of Cava on the supermarket and off licence shelves and it makes a great value for money alternative to Champagne. It is not as exciting as glamorous Champagne but it is always reliable with a fresh, dry taste. Cava is produced in the Penedes region of Spain using the same method as Champagne. However, local Spanish grapes Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada are used instead of the Champagne grapes although some producers add Chardonnay to make the sparkling white wine fruitier and more rounded.
Another lower priced alternative to Champagne is Prosecco, a sparkling white wine made from grapes grown in north east Italy, near Treviso in the Veneto region. Prosecco is dry and crisp with a fresh flavour with hints of sherbet. It is produced both as a full blown bubbly and “frizzante” which means a slightly gentler fizz with more froth. Another Italian sparkling white wine is Asti. Whilst this sweeter fizzy is generally drunk as a dessert wine it would make an interesting alternative to Champagne at midnight, particularly if you are finishing off a large meal.
New World wine producing nations such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are coming up with some good quality sparkling white wine these days. They are certainly worth investigating as the better sparkling white wines are made using the methode champenoise and the Champagne grape varieties. Several of the Champagne houses have interests in these countries so it should be no surprise that New World bubblies are gaining a good reputation.
Look out for Australian sparkling white wines from cool climate regions such as Tasmania, Adelaide Hills in South Australia and Victoria’s Yarra Valley. These are the regions whose climate is closest to that of Champagne so the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes do well. New Zealand’s Marlborough region on South Island has similar conditions and produces some good value crisp and fruity sparkling wines.
South African sparkling white wine producers who use the methode champenoise refer to it as Methode Cap Classique or MCC on the labels. Some of the Cape sparkling wines are excellent. High quality methode champenoise sparkling white wines are being produced in the cooler regions of California such as Anderson Valley and Carneros.
If you really want to have a glass of Champagne in your hand with which to toast the New Year, don’t dismiss the supermarket own labels. Many of them come from reputable Champagne houses and offer an excellent value for money alternative to one of the big names.
Image of Crémant bottle and glass by Tomas er.