Christmas is just around the corner so we gathered together 17 sparkling wine fans to taste a variety of fizz from different countries and across a spectrum of price points to see what made the grade. The wines were tasted blind, and only revealed once their comments were gathered.
Wine One -Winemaker's Selection Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, Lidl, £9.99
We started off with an unusual selection - a New Zealand sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Unlike most sparkling wines that have a second fermentation in a tank or bottle, this is made using the aeration method, where bubbles are simply "injected" into the base wine. The tasters were confused as to what it could be, but complimentary about the wine. Their comments were:
"It's nice and crisp"
"The wine has quite a powerful after taste"
"It's floral and very sharp"
"The taste stays with me long after I've swallowed it"
"A great sparkling wine for the summer"
At the end of the night, this was the favourite wine of 18% of the attendees.
Wine Two - Freixenet Cava, Asda / Morrisons £11
Our next bottle was of Cava, made from the primary grapes of Cava Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo. From the Pededes area of Cataluña, Freixenet are a large brand, making cava by the traditional method (like Champagne). However, without the prestige of the Champagne name, and the bulk production, this sparkling wine is a lot cheaper than Champagne.
However, the tasters generally weren't overwhelmed by the wine. Their comments included:
"This is drier than the previous wine. It feels more like a celebration wine than the last one"
"This has more bubbles and aroma than the previous wine, but not necessarily in a good way"
"It tastes better than it smells"
"The bubbles start off quite brash but go finer after a while"
"I found it lacking in flavour"
"It smells a bit musty"
At the end of the night, this was nobody's favourite wine.
Wine Three - Ridgeview English Sparkling wine. Waitrose, £28.99
From the chalky soils of Sussex-based Ridgeview, this English sparkling wine is a double silver medal winner - both at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. and the Decanter World awards.
Ridgeview has been operating for around 20 years and is still very much a family business, as it was when it started. This wine is served at Buckingham Palace state dinners and at 10 Downing Street, so our tasters were in good company.
The colour of wine when poured, and the finesse of bubbles brought compliments from the tasters immediately.
"Oooh, this is better than the last one. It's very pleasant"
"Yes, I prefer this to the previous two"
"It's very drinkable. The bubbles are going up in a straight line too"
"It has fine delicate bubbles, and is very dry"
"It tasted expensive on the first sip but I've just had some goats cheese and that seems to have ruined the taste of the wine"
It's heavy and has a strong taste - I think it's champagne"
"It's got that distinctive taste of a quality sparkling wine"
At the end of the night, this was the favourite wine of 47% of the attendees, making it the winning sparkling wine.
Wine Four - Lanson Black Label Champagne, Majestic Wine / Waitrose £35.99, Sainsburys £32.00
Lanson know what they are doing, having started champagne production in 1760 in Reims, the heartland of Champagne.
The most expensive wine of the night, made by the traditional method (of course!) and with the holy trinity of pinot noir (50%), chardonnay (35%) and pinot Meunier (15%).
Lanson remains a purveyor to the Royal Family and has a coat of arms on the bottle.
This means nothing when tasting blind however, and the tasters were disappointed after the previous hit. Their comments included;
"It's the sort of wine I'd use for Bucks Fizz"
"It doesn't wow me at all"
"It's very fizzy and heavier than the previous wine"
"It's Ok (shrugs) but the glass does keep calling me back for another sip"
"It's not good enough to be drunk on its own; I'd make this into a cocktail"
"I don't think this is an expensive wine, it doesn't have a wow factor"
"It's more yeasty than anything we've tried so far"
At the end of the night, this was nobody's favourite wine.
Wine Five - Prosecco Spumante Conegliano, Lidl £7.99
Many of our tasters suspected this was a prosecco as it was being poured. The wine comes from a decent prosecco region, Conegliano, in the foothills of North East Veneto.
Made by the tank method for speedy bulk production, from local Glera grapes, this is the more expensive of Lidl's two prosecco offerings, but still the cheapest of our 6 wines this evening.
Our tasters generally enjoyed the prosecco, with comments including:
"It's a jolly wine"
"It seems very sweet compared to the others"
"It's got very big bubbles"
"It's not the best this evening but not the worst"
"It's very drinkable; a good wine to just knock back"
"It's easy drinking. Nothing complex but not offensive"
At the end of the night, this was the favourite wine of 12% of the attendees.
Wine Six - Graham Beck sparkling rosé, Majestic Wine £15.99 (single bottle) or £11.99 (mix six)
Our final wine of the night was a sparkling rosé from South Africa. Graham Beck is a respected producer from the Breede River Valley area north of Cape Town where the limestone soils and natural acidity are perfect for the chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.
Made by the traditional method (called MCC in South Africa), this is a mid price sparkling wine, with good quality production. Master of Wine Tim Atkin awarded the wine a whopping 93 points.
The tasters were complimentary;
"I like this - it's very fresh and fruity"
"A very drinkable wine."
"This is lovely, it's a bit sweeter*"
"Lovely and pleasant"
*The wine isn't sweet - it is a Brut - but the strawberry and raspberry fruitiness is more pronounced, giving the impression of sweetness.
At the end of the night, this was the favourite wine of 23% of the attendees.
The proceeds of the night amount to £50.02 and the group voted on the Wiltshire Air Ambulance as the charity to receive the funds.