FINE BEAD, AGGRESSIVE MOUSSE:
AN EVENING OF BUBBLES & FIZZ
Organic Wine Tasting
Friday 19th August
£17 before 15th August
42-46 Bethel Street
Norwich NR2 1NR
A bottle of bubbly signifies celebration. Mainly, perhaps, because it cries out to be shared. Effervescence fades, and we don’t want to be left alone with flat fizz. So what better topic for our next sociable organic wine tasting than an evening of sparkling wine?
Champagne holds hegemony over all things bubbly. And though unrivalled in prestige (and price), there is more to sparkling wine than Champagne. Not least on our own soils.
English wine shares some of the flavours of champagne, and some champagne houses have even started investing in English vineyards. The shared limestone chalk soils are a marked similarity – and the northerly climate is ideal for the lean style, crisp fruit character and high acidity of Champagne. You can make good sparkling wines from under-ripe fruit, which makes them a good bet for our marginal climate, at the margins of where grape growing is possible.
But let’s move away from the fine wine end of bubbles, and discuss less formal fizz. After all, by volume, we drink far more Prosecco than Champagne. Indeed, value sales of Prosecco in the UK outstripped Champagne in 2015 for the first time. Part of its attraction is that it offers affordable froth. Why is it so much cheaper? Well, it’s partly prestige and pedigree; but it’s mainly the significantly lower cost of the winemaking method.
All (except the very cheapest) sparkling wines undergo a secondary fermentation. In the traditional (“or Champagne”) method, this happens in each individual bottle. This keeps the wine in close contact with its lees, or dead yeast cells, and increases the complexity of the flavours, adding toasty, nutty notes. These yeast cells have to be removed before the wine is sealed for sale; this involves “riddling”, or turning the wine very gradually (over a 4 to 6 week period) to allow the lees to settle in the neck of the bottle. Even if the process is automated, it incurs extra costs; and making a fine wine involves a long period of storage, keeping the wine in its lees for between one to three years. This storage capacity alone requires great investment.
Most Italian sparkling wines, by contrast, use the “tank method”, where the secondary fermentation takes place in a sealed tank, before the wine is bottled under pressure. Quicker, simpler, cheaper; but the ensuing flavour lacks the complexity of bottle fermented fizz. However, the zesty fruit character of Prosecco, all bright green apple, turns a gathering into an impromptu celebration – and provides a restorative tonic on a warm summer’s day. (The same goes for the Moscato d’Asti, with which we’ll round off our tasting; low in alcohol, with plenty of residual sugar, it will be our dessert course!)
There is a middle way; bottle fermented flavours without the price tag of champagne, or English sparkling wine; we’ll explore those with our Cremant de Limoux. And there is another sparkling wine method enjoying a renaissance – the ancestral method, which produces Pétillant Naturel wines, or Pet Nats. Here, the wine is bottled before completing its primary fermentation; the carbon dioxide released by fermentation combines with the residual sugar to create a second fermentation in the bottle. But without removing the dead yeast cells, the wines are unfiltered, and look a little cloudy. The initial nose can be overtly yeasty, but time in the glass allows a refreshing character to emerge.
Sparkling wines are often drank as aperitifs, but their high acidity makes them food friendly. Included in the price of the evening is a taster plate of organic food designed to complement the wines. Please advise us of any food intolerances when booking, or if (like the wines) you’re vegan.
This will be an interesting evening for wine enthusiasts. And if you’re new to wine tasting – what beautiful undiscovered country lies ahead!
The evening’s wines in full:
1) Prosecco Extra Dry DOC, Era
(Veneto, Italy. Grape variety: Glera. 11% abv., shop price £12.85)
2) Pet Nat, Davenport Vineyards 2015
(Sussex, England. Grape variety: Auxerrois. 8.5%, £25.00)
3) Cremant de Limoux ‘Cuvée Passion Brut’, Bernard Delmas 2011
(Languedoc, France. Grape varieties: Chardonnay, Mauzac, Chenin Blanc & Pinot Noir. 12.5%, £15.75)
4) ‘Limney Estate’ Quality Sparkling Wine, Davenport Vineyards 2010
(Sussex, England. Grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Auxerrois. 12%, £27.50)
5) Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Torelli 2013
(Piedmont, Italy. Grape variety: Moscato (Muscat). 5%, £11.85)
Feedback from recent organic wine tastings:
‘Very relaxing & fun’
‘The wines were delicious’
‘I really enjoy the educational but relaxed / informal style’