You Can’t Celebrate a Wedding Without Champagne… Can You?
Champagne will always be synonymous as the world’s premier celebratory drink and there is no disputing this fact here. However, in recent years there has been a dramatic rise in the popularity of sparkling wines – primarily cava and prosecco – as the bride and groom’s preferred choice of ‘bubbly’.
The facts speak for themselves. In the past 10 years, cava and prosecco exports have increased 50% globally and in 2012 the UK alone consumed 35.9 million bottles of cava – that’s up 12.49% on the previous year!
Whereas Champagne exports to the UK were down 7% in 2012, to 34.4 million bottles. It’s a continuing trend: analysts Mintel estimate that the UK spent just £690m last year compared with a whopping £1bn in 2007.
|Taste of Diamonds, the world’s most expensive bottle of champagne at £1.2 million a bottle! And popularised by boy band One Direction!|
Price is arguably the most fundamental reason why couples choose to serve a cava or a prosecco instead of a Champagne at a wedding. In stores an average bottle of Champagne retails at around £25.00 whereas a decent bottle of sparkling wine will set you back approximately £10.00. And a wedding venue will sell a house Champagne for £50.00-60.00 compared to approximately £30.00 for a house cava or prosecco. So, by opting for a sparkling wine instead of a Champagne, couples either save 50% on their wedding drinks bill or have twice as much bubbly to serve to wedding guests! For many, it’s a no brainer!
However it’s not all about the price since there are an increasing number of sparkling wines costing more than a cheap bottle of Champagne. It is clear that the quality of many proseccos, and cavas in particular, have greatly improved over recent years as producers invest in enhancing their production methods. So much so that it could be said that from a taste perspective, for the average person the differences between the three tipples are becoming somewhat blurred!!
The Difference Between Champagne, Cava & Prosecco
Naturally for the aficionados the fundamental differences in taste and complexity will always be apparent due to the differences in production, geographical locations and grapes used. There is no escaping the fact that they are different drinks after all.
That being said, the methods for producing Champagne and traditional cava are actually the same. The only difference between the two, aside from geographical location (which in itself is a major factor) is that Champagne is produced using 1 or a mix of 3 traditional grapes indigenous to the Champagne region: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Whereas cava is traditionally produced using 1 or a mix of 3 grapes indigenous to Spain: Viura (aka Macabeo), Xarel.lo and Parellada.
The method of making Champagne is the “Méthode Champenoise” whilst the method for making cava is the “Método Tradicional. They are labour-intensive and costly processes whereby the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation for a set period of time – from months to years depending on the producer – inside the bottle, thereby creating the bubbles. During this time, the bottles are sealed with metal caps that withstand the pressure that builds up inside. The bottles are then laid slanted down so the yeast settles in the neck. Then, when ready, the neck of the bottle is submerged in a freezing liquid to freeze the couple of inches of the wine that contains the yeast. The bottle cap is then removed and the plug of ice pops from the bottle. Finally the producer might top up the bottle, either solely with the same wine or with some wine containing sugar to increase fermentation or sweeten.
Prosecco on the other hand is typically made by the Charmat, or ‘tank method’. It is a less expensive, mass-production method for producing bulk quantities of sparkling wine. The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, rather than in a bottle and thereby produces larger, coarser bubbles. The wine is then filtered under pressure and bottled.
Selecting a Champagne or a Sparkling Wine
Firstly, when choosing a bottle or brand don’t just settle for one off the wedding venue’s drinks menu. Consider corkage if the venue offers it – thereby you supply the wine and pay the venue to serve it. Alternatively try asking if the venue can purchase your choice of wine on your behalf.
When sourcing independently, consider looking for an award winning wine. There are a variety of respected organisations that regularly conduct extensive reviews, such as the International Wine Challenge, the International Wine & Spirit Competition or Decanter.
And when you think you have found the one, conduct a taste test to ensure you are personally happy with it.
TOP TIP – It’s All About the Bubbles! How do you tell a good bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine from an average one just by looking?
Check the quantity and size of the bubbles as well as how long they last for. The best bubbly has plenty of long lasting, tiny bubbles.
Gerard Liger-Belair – physicist at the University of Reims in France’s Champagne region – is prominent scientist who specialises in Champagne and his studies on the behaviour of the bubbly — including high-speed photography of popping bubbles and infrared imaging of carbon dioxide flow – have demonstrated several enlightening facts. For example, that the bubbles form not on the glass itself but are ‘born’ out of tiny particles or debris stuck on the glass wall.
|Gerard Liger-Belair analysing a glass of Champagne in his lab|
One is that there are chemical receptors hidden in the tongue’s taste buds that respond to carbonated drinks such as Champagne and sparkling wine. And that the bubbles – formed during the release of large amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide gas — help transfer the taste and aroma of Champagne or sparkling wine.
|As sparkling wine is poured, bubbles escape from the glass, launching flavour compounds into the air|
So when serving Champagne or sparkling wine at a wedding he advises an adherence to the following steps:
- When serving to your guests, request that the bottles are opened by twisting the cork slowly and securely ensuring a quiet ‘pop’ as opposed to a loud, exploding cork. This helps to reduce the amount of gas that is lost when opening. A large escape of gas ultimately means fewer bubbles in your drink.
- To help preserve the bubbles, ensure the Champagne, cava or prosecco is serve chilled – ideally, 39 degrees Fahrenheit – since cooler temperatures also help reduce carbon dioxide loss.
- Opt for long-stemmed flutes as these are designed to focus and enhance the flow of bubbles and allow the full aroma to concentrate near the surface. The vintage style saucer Champagne glasses are in fact specifically designed dispel the bubbles quicker.
- And ensure that care is taken when pouring the ‘bubbly’ by tilting the glass to enable the wine to trickle gently down the side of the glass. This helps maintain up to 50% more bubbles!
- Finally, because of strict ageing requirements, Champagnes are ready to drink when they are released to the market. Classic non-vintage Champagnes are generally aged in cellars for 2 to 3 years, and vintage Champagnes for 4 to 5 years.
Top 10 Champagnes
Below is a list of the top 10 Champagnes for 2013 by FINE Champagne magazine – the world’s one and only specialist champagne magazine. Together with prices for your convenience!
- Charles Heidsieck Vintage 2000 – £65.00
- Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV – £36.00
- Krug Vintage 2000 – £170.00
- Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millesimé 1999 – £66.00
- Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 1993 – £110.00
- Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs 2006 – £31.00
- Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002 – £125.00
- Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV – £24.00
- Henriot Rosé NV – £50.00
- Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2002 – £120.00
|Multi award winning Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV|
Award Winning Champagnes
Alongside the outstanding, award winning and competitively priced Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV (£36.00) & Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV (£24.00), we have picked out some excellent, low cost alternative champagnes worth considering serving at your wedding, in no particular order:
- Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004 France – IWC gold medal – £26.00 (Co-op, unbranded bottle)
- Louis Bernard Premier Cru Champagne, NV – IWC gold medal – £20.00 (Asda, branded label)
- Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Vintage Champagne – IWC gold medal – £20.00 (branded label)
- Sainsbury’s Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut NV – IWC gold medal – £17.00 (branded label)
- Monsigny No 3 – IWC bronze medal – £13.00 (Aldi, unbranded bottle)
|Monsigny No 3 NV from Aldi|
Award Winning Cavas
And here are our recommendations for a decent wedding cava, again in no particular order:
- Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Cava Brut – IWSC Silver medal 2013 – £13.00
- Freixenet Excelencia Vintage Cava Brut – IWSC Silver medal – £13.00
- Marques de Monistrol Vintage Brut – IWC silver & bronze medals 2010-2013 – £12.00 (often £6.00 half price deals around)
- Freixenet Cordon Rosado Cava Brut – IWSC Silver medal 2013 – £13.00
|Marques de Monistrol Vintage Brut|
Award Winning Proseccos
Finally, some decent proseccos to consider serving to your wedding guests, again in no particular order:
- Valdobbiadene Prosecco Spumante DOCG – IWSC bronze 2013 & IWC silver medals 2013 – £8.00
- Prosecco La Marca Cuvée NV – IWSC silver medal 2013 – £12.00
- Fontessa Prosecco Brut NV – IWSC bronze medal 2013 – £10.00
- Italia ‘Collezione’ Prosecco Brut – IWSC bronze medal 2010-2013 – £12.00
|Valdobbiadene Prosecco Spumante DOCG|