Five minute guide to Champagne, Prosecco and Cava

By Matt Walls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sparkling wines Chardonnay

Champagne: do you stock?
Champagne: do you stock?
It may, in the past, have been associated with indulgence and special occasions, but all that is changing. Sparkling wine is now the fastest growing drinks category in the country, and as Matt Walls points out, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Not so long ago, the unmistakable sound of a Champagne cork popping would have heads turning to see who was splashing the cash. But with the increasing popularity of relatively inexpensive sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Cava, the sound is becoming more common.

Damian Clarke, managing director of leading Cava producer Freixenet has the figures: “With 44% of adults drinking sparkling wine, the category is now growing at 65% [year-on-year] and is worth £521m.

It is also the fastest growing BWS category in the on and off-trade, and the only category in double-digit growth.” Sparkling wine has long been associated with special occasions in the UK, but it seems the range of things that we deem worthy of celebration has greatly expanded of late.

Karen Hardwick, head of on-trade at drinks supplier PLB says: “Because of the rise of more affordable and accessible sparkling wines, we are definitely seeing a trend for sparkling being enjoyed outside of occasions and more as an everyday drink... the sparkling wine trend is still very much driven by Prosecco.”

Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from the Glera grape in Friuli and Veneto in the north of Italy. Unlike Cava and Champagne, it’s made in large tanks then bottled under pressure which makes it comparatively fruity in flavour. It can be anything from very dry to mildly sweet, so taste before you buy to select the right style for your customers. Production is booming. Gianluca Bisol, managing director of Bisol Prosecco predicts that by 2035, global demand for Prosecco will exceed one billion bottles.

British stockists

The White Hart in Lydgate, near Manchester, stocks a number of sparkling wines, including Prosecco. “Groups of ladies will always start with Prosecco — Champagne is more popular with couples. We don’t sell as much around the bar” says operations manager Ian Howard.

It’s not just about the way it tastes, he says, but “it’s about looking good, it’s an image thing”. Cava has long been popular in the UK; we are the second biggest export market after Germany. It is made in Catalonia, northern Spain, usually from the local grape varieties Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo.

Cava producers use the same labourintensive process as Champagne; that’s to say fermentation takes place in each individual bottle. This gives the wines a richer, toastier flavour than Prosecco, and the vast majority is dry. Other inexpensive options are the French regional sparkling wines known as Crémants: Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Limoux, etc. These tend to use the same process as Champagne albeit using local grape varieties and can offer good value for money.

The White Hart in Lydgate stocks a Crémant de Jura, of which Howard says is very good. “It’s a little bit more expensive than the Cavas, but very good quality”. Another interesting option can be sweet, peachy, low alcohol Moscato from Italy or the US.

If only the best will do, there’s always Champagne. The Champagne region is situated in the north of France, and most are made of a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The cool climate and particular soils gives the wines a finesse rarely found elsewhere. It’s the birthplace of bottle-fermented sparkling wines. The process keeps the wine in contact with the dead yeast cells that are spent during fermentation, which gives the wine a particular toasty, yeasty flavour that Champagne lovers crave.

Bubbly and ale

Sara Bird is the manager of the Harp in Charing Cross, London, which she describes as very much “a real ale pub”.

Nonetheless, the pub stocks a small selection of Champagnes.

Although a slow seller, “it’s always handy to have a couple in the fridge, you never know when you’ll sell some... it’s very much a special occasion drink here”.

And there are some occasions when only the best will do.

Champagne: worth the extra?

Andrew Hawes is the managing director of Mentzendorff, distributor of Champagne Bollinger, and he comments: “‘Champagne’ is the most powerful, generic ‘brand’ in the world of wine. The word itself conveys a powerful emotional message of excitement, reward and luxury."

He adds that “Champagne remains at the pinnacle of the world’s many sparkling wines”, a comment that few wine lovers would disagree with. Poor quality Champagne does exist however, so choosing a big brand can offer reassurance, even though you do sometimes pay a premium for the name.

Even Tim McLaughlin-Green, director of Sommeliers Choice, which imports Nino Franco premium Prosecco, wouldn’t disagree, saying: “it is absolutely worth every penny to drink great vintage Champagne” but adds “Prosecco can be drunk on a daily basis, it does not need to wait for a special occasion”.

A sentiment, it would seem, that more and more people in the UK agree with.

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