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Champagne vs the World – Does the Queen of Sparkling Wines Remain on Top?

Few things are more glamourised than Champagne… We can hardly concieve James Bond seducing with a bottle of English sparkling wine, picture socialite Holly Golightly having a glass of Prosecco before breakfast at Tiffany’s or imagine a modern-day Gatsby swapping France’s queen of fizz for a top-rated Californian Blanc de Blancs.

In fact, as the new roaring twenties approach, we can login to Netflix to watch this century’s cinematic remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, and see Leonardo DiCaprio keep the Moët & Chandon flowing in a way so prominent Forbes called it a “marketing coup.”

But appart from the allure from pop culture icons who wouldn’t be caught dead with alternative bubbles, the truth is, most of us will agree Champagne is not the only option when it comes to choosing an amazing bottle of sparkling wine for your celebration.

But, is it the best one?

The quality of sparkling wine coming from other parts of the world has increased drastically. Producers from champagne itself have invested and shared their savoir-faire with wineries outside of their appellation, for example: Chandon Argentina was the first Moët & Chandon company outside France back in the fifties, and Taittinger has been a partner at Domain Carneros in California since 1987 and at England’s Saint Evremond since 2015.

A year later, a pivotal moment occurred in Paris when British fizz competed against Champagne at a blind tasting where veterans from the French restaurant and wine trade compared both, with the visitors succeeding in two out of three categories and drawing on a third.

Of course, the above alone doesn’t mean Champagne’s days as the one and only benchmark are gone, but it suggests that perhaps they are counted.

Sparking the conversation

Is Champagne no longer the fairest of them all? We brought the conversation to a few of Dublin’s renowned wine professionals to get their thoughts and recommendations. We asked them one question: Do you think Champagne is the ultimate sparkling wine or can others be as good if not better?

For Albert Baginski from Solera Wine Merchants, Champagne’s quality “is just in a different class.” For a very special occasion, he suggests to make it a vintage Champagne, noting that “you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good bottle of vintage Champagne and the experience you gain in return well exceeds the price.”

Regarding a vintage to keep an eye out for, he has high praise for 2008: “the quality is outstanding and the best I have tasted in my lifetime.” For more affordable options, non-vintage Champagne is the way to go, and he recommends the always-reliable Pol Roger or Gosset, the oldest wine producer in the region.

While I enjoy a good glass of Cava or Prosecco at an event or with friends, for me, there is simply no equal to Champagne.”

Celtic Whiskey Shop’s Marketing Manager, Julie Christie, also considers that “Champagne is without a doubt the world leader when it comes to sparkling wine” but she also points out there are “some fantastic other alternatives out there too.”

Her colleague and wine specialist Tim Dunleavy recommends the St Remy Cremant d’Alsace Brut Cuvee Prestige as “a superb quality sparkling wine that is very reasonable in price” (€25.95 at CWS), and for those on team Champagne, he suggests Billecart Salmon Rosé, “a wonderful Champagne from a well established producer” (€76.99 at CWS).

Sean Gargano, sommelier and buyer at Elaine Murphy and Brian Montague’s restaurants (which include The Legal EagleThe Winding StairThe Woollen Mills) makes a very pocket-conscious argument: “The problem with Champagne is the price. If I could afford it I’d drink Champagne every day, sadly that is not the case.”

He also points out that “not all Champagne is worth the money, so care in buying is essential. Poor or mediocre Champagne can be bested by other sparkling wine but I firmly believe that very good or great Champagne is unassailable in its position as the best in the world.”

He goes on to highlight producers from regions like Franciacorta which “are doing their best to knock Champagne off its perch”, however, given the similarity in the price tag, Champagne’s prestige is often the tie-breaker.

If you’re looking to have a relaxed fun evening with friends and wine isn’t top of the agenda options abound for fun, easy-going bubbles.”

For those occasions in which you don’t need to pull out the “big guns” (meaning vintage Champagne from a Grande marque or grower), he suggests some of the styles he loves: Pet Nat such as Uivo PT Nat  Rosé, Folias de Baco from Douro, Portugal; a Lambrusco like Lambrusco Ponente 270, Podere Cipolla di Denny Bini from Reggio Emilia, Italy; or a Cremant, for example, Crémant de Bourgogne, Domaine Manciat Poncet from Burgundy, France.

Jérémy Delannoy, who runs the online wine retailer siyps.com, recognises that while he personally thinks “terroir, techniques, experience and, money and marketing for the big houses, makes it very complicated for other sparkling wines to shine.” He adds that sometimes, “one can be disappointed with Champagne” in the cases of “entry level Champagnes from very large Champagne houses”, but when it come to high-end cuvées or grower Champagne from producers such as Selosse or Egly-Ouriet, then quality and consistency shines through.

Charles Derain, co-founder at Nomad Wine Importers is also well aware of Champagne’s charm. For him, “Champagne has a X factor when you are opening it for a party”, and while he mentions that this is not necessarily a statement about a wine’s quality, the name’s prestige has a meaning.

For him, the answer to the question depends on which tier you’re looking to purchase. “If you have no limit on your budget, I don’t think there is better than Champagne”, he says, listing outstanding examples such as the whole DP Collection, Bollinger RD, Jacques Selosse and Krug.

But if you are looking for a bottle that offers a more favorable quality-price ratio, you’re likely to find it in other regions. “Of course there are other options which can be as good as Champagne, even better”, and among these, he highlights some Cava and outstanding Cremant (such as Cremant du Jura from Tissot) which he finds ten times better than some Champagnes.

The best is relative

The general consensus is that while nothing beats great Champagne, the best sparkling wines from other regions can beat mediocre or average Champagnes.

So, if money is not an issue and you’re looking to splurge, Champagne from top houses such as Krug, Bollinger and Charles Heidsieck continues to be the best money can buy; but if you’re aiming at a more budget-friendly purchase, you can get yourself a top Cava, Franciacorta or New World sparkling wine at a similar cost of an entry-level Champagne.

THREE TO TRY

Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne

12% ABV

€220 – Available at Martin’s Off Licence, drinkstore.ie, Celtic Whsikey Shop

This Champagne’s history traces back to 1876, after Tsar Alexander II requested producer Louis Roederer something unique for his personal consumption.

It is a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, made with fruit from the best selection from the 7 finest vineyards of the estate.

Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige

12.5%

€39.95 at Little Italy

Chardonnay (75%), Pinot Nero (15%) and Pinot Bianco (10%) grapes from 134 vineyards combine in this elegant Franciacorta.

With 25 months of refinement on its lees, it becomes round and rich, with bustling bubbles and a lovely mix of fresh fruit and pastry-like aromas.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2014

12.5% ABV

€40 – Available at O’Briens Wine

This Chardonnay-only sparling wine from California’s North Coast gains complexity thanks to small lots of malolactic and barrel-fermented wines in the blend, as well as from two years of ageing on its lees.

On the palate, it combines the freshness of green apple and citrus zest with a lovely floral character and almond croissant notes.”

ARTICLE BY GABY GUEDEZ

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