A bottle or two of sparkling wine can help to make a summer’s day sing. Christine Austin shares her favourite fizz.
In this recent spell of hot weather I have been drinking a lot more fizz than usual. I’m not just talking about champagne, although I am pleased that a few glasses have come my way, but I have found that a burst of bubbles in the glass has quenched my thirst and lifted my spirits rather more easily than other drinks.
My top favourite in this weather is a good gin and tonic. With a tall glass stacked with ice cubes, a sizable slug of gin – Langtons No 1 is my current favourite (around £32 at Harvey Nichols, Field and Fawcett and Latitude ) topped up with a saccharin-free tonic and a slice of lime or lemon, I am instantly refreshed and my taste buds start to think of food.
But I can’t drink more than one G&T in an afternoon or an evening while I can manage several glasses of sparkling wine and so I tend to stack a few bottles of fizz in the fridge to bring out when the temperatures climb.
When choosing between different sparkling wines a great deal of time is spent explaining how bubbles get into the bottle and the relative merits of each of the methods, but for sunshine drinking I really don’t think that matters. What you are looking for in warm weather is a well-made, balanced fizz to liven up the taste buds and provide refreshment. Here are some of my favourites.
This frothy, fruity fizz has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years. It comes from the north of Italy and is made from a grape that used to be called Prosecco but which has now been given the captivating name of Glera so that the word Prosecco can refer to the place it grows and not to the grape. By doing this complicated legal manoeuvre Italy has now managed to give the highest quality designation the country can bestow, DOCG, to Prosecco from the region of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. This designation does have quality implications and is worth looking for.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore (normally £9.99 but on offer at £7.49 until Tuesday, August 13) comes from this restricted region and has all the right creamy, foamy bubbles with floral aromas and a nice touch of ripe pear and a palate that isn’t sweet but does have the corners rounded off to make it a family-friendly crowd-pleaser. As with all sunshine drinking, half fill glasses and keep the bottle in an ice bucket for top-ups.
Also well worth a try is Marks & Spencer’s Prosecco Zardetto which has rather more fruity notes and a long, stylish finish, currently £11.99 but going down on Monday to £9.99 until September 1.
Not quite Prosecco
Before all the changes in Prosecco legislation Marks & Spencer’s pink Bellante was called Prosecco Raboso because it contained a splash of local red grape Raboso to make it pink. Now it cannot be called that so it has a fantasy name – Bellante – but is still the same product inside the bottle. I find this one of the most cheery, instantly liked pink fizzes around. Currently it is £9.99 but frequently goes on offer so I’ll let you know when it does.
Perfect for Desserts
Much sweeter than Prosecco and bursting with fresh, grapey flavours, Asti is a terrific wine to pour alongside summer desserts such as a raspberry meringue or apricot tart. It comes from the hills of Piedmont and is made from the Muscat grape and is the only wine I know that actually tastes as though you have squeezed a bunch of grapes right into your glass. Don’t try to pass it off as anything but Asti and only serve it with desserts or as a mid-afternoon reviver with cakes but it really does deserve more social outings than it currently gets. Waitrose have their San Leo Asti down from £10.49 down to £6.99 until August 13 so if you haven’t tried Asti for a couple of decades perhaps now is the time to take the plunge.
I forget just how many places around the world fire off a noon-day gun, just to confirm that all is well. On sunny Sunday mornings I like to observe a similar tradition by firing off a noonday champagne cork and I am now working my way through some rather good Taittinger NV which I picked up when Majestic had it down to £25 a bottle a few months ago. I really like to buy champagne several months ahead of drinking it since it seems to fill out its flavours and add another layer of complexity. The current best deal on champagne is Marks & Spencer’s Louis Chaurey mentioned in Off the Shelf on this page but it is worth making a detour to Waitrose to stock up on their truly delicious Blanc de Blancs own-label champagne, down from £24.99 to £19.99 until August 13. If you miss that offer then Tesco will have Taittinger on offer from next Wednesday onwards for the next couple of weeks. I have a much longer list of favourite champagnes but for sunshine drinking simplicity works well.
This summer has proved that England is now the right place to be planting grapes for sparkling wine and it is good to see an ever-increasing selection of English fizz on the shelves.
We poured Camel Valley Brut Rosé (£26.95, mail order www.camelvalley.com) at the family wedding in Canada this summer and everyone was astonished at the rounded red berry fruit and its clean, lively finish.
Majestic has a pale, clean, delicate strawberry-scented Chapel Down English Rosé (down from £21.99 to £17.99 until September 2) which is well worth a try for its crisp, garden-fresh flavours.
Have you noticed how champagne and other sparkling wine bottles are getting fatter? Many of them don’t fit in a standard wine rack any more and so languish in their half-empty boxes, cluttering up the floor and generally getting in the way. The Halifax Wine Company have solved this problem by getting a wine rack made for fatter bottles and they would be delighted to pass on the details. Contact them on 01422 256333.