Published in Home Plus Scotland- March 2005
I’ve never been quite sure why we think we need to be celebrating something when we open a bottle of fizz but, just to be on the safe side, how about raising a glass to the fact that it looks like we just about made it through another winter? Obviously we’re not talking ticker-tape parade stuff here but looking at single-figure sparklers. This pretty much rules out Champagne because you can’t really buy it under a tenner and – take my advice – if you can, don’t. No, what we’re after here is some cheap and cheerful Champenoise to chase the blues away.
Again, not too cheap, though, because although basic Cavas can be had for as little as £4.99 at the big supermarkets, in my experience these tend to be rather acidic and are best avoided at this level. One of those useful, rule-proving exceptions is Cristalino Cava, which is a nicely rounded, spritzy, clean-cut glass of basic bubbles for £5.99 at Majestic.
With a bottle of Brown Brothers Pinot Noir and Chardonnay NV (WaitroseWineDirect: www.johnlewis.com ) on ice you’ll have but a penny left to your name, but you’ll be happy – unless of course you win our competition case and your happiness will be doubled and re-doubled again. It’s got masses of tight little bubbles, a rather elegant, creamy nose and quite restrained, cool-climate citrussy fruit. I can confirm that another upside is that you can drink rather a lot of it without getting that harsh, dyspeptic edge that comes with a lot of New World sparklers.
I’ve also been impressed by the Italian Prosecco dei Colli Trevigiani Frizzante, Nero Spago, De Faveri (Lay & Wheeler: £8.95 – 01473 313233) – and it’s not just the name that’s a bit of a mouthful. It’s all tingly and round and peachy – it’s a very classy glass of wine with some bubbles in it. Prosecco is on a bit of a roll at the moment – and rightly so, for the good stuff. How to identify the good stuff? Try the following rules-of-thumb: 1) as ever, not too cheap – the key price/pleasure point (i.e. you get some of the latter) starts around £8; 2) it should be from Valdobbiadene or Conegliano and say so on the label. (I think I’ve broken my own rule in this second respect with the Spago Nero – but, since I’m making the rules, I think: “why worry?”)
The man who started the whole Cava ball rolling in Catalonia in 1872 was called Don José Raventós i Fatjo and he called his wine Codorníu – you’ll have seen it everywhere. His descendant Josep Mari Raventós i Blanc became disenchanted with the company’s wildly successful pursuit of quantity over quality and jumped ship in 1982 to start his own venture. Cava L’Hereu Brut de Raventós i Blanc (£8.72 – HK Wines: 020 7978 7636/ www.hkwines.com ) is the overtly fruity and nicely creamy result and Mr. Raventos deserves a pat on the back. I’m not a big fan of the mega Cava brands in general myself – no names, no pack drill (but Freixenet is particularly unpleasant and bilious-making.)
I’m developing a theory that there’s some correlation between the weirdness of the Cava producers’ names and the quality of the wines, with the principal being the weirder the better, but this needs further research. (In this respect I really must try Adnam’s Bot Bonaval Brut from Bodegas Inviosa.) Albet i Noya make good stuff under an organic regime and their Can Vendrell Chardonnay/Xarel·lo 2003 (when did the Catalans start putting that silly dot between double “l”s?) is £8.67 at www.everywine.co.uk and it’s light and zesty with a freshness that keeps one coming back to the bottle for a wee bit more.