Perhaps it's the fizz that tickles the nose, but we feel a glass of bubbly adds a bit of excitement and romance to date night, so we asked wine writer Raymond Blake to recommend his favourites for a quality glass.  

The Champagne and sparkling wine market in Ireland is small and, at the upper end, it shrivelled to almost nothing as the recession gripped a decade ago. But those grim days are receding and, if ever a barometer could be used to indicate a strengthening of the market, it is the growing abundance of ‘bubbles’ at every price point.

There is greater variety than ever before, led by a plethora of exciting ‘grower’ champagnes – often produced by family businesses from grapes they once sold to one of the well-known big houses, before deciding to go it alone themselves. Cava is also resurgent and Prosecco continues to charm, but there is also a host of others from across the globe now vying for our attention. Be sure to think of them as wines and not as a separate category, pigeonholed for consideration only on special occasions – but let’s use the special occasion that is Valentine’s to seek out some attractive bubbles – and remove this wine style from its pigeonhole for good.

Take Note

I am frequently asked to recommend wine styles that are lower in alcohol (not low alcohol wines that have had some or all of the alcohol removed) and, once I have sung the joys of Mosel Riesling, I jokingly suggest Champagne. There is serious intent beneath the flippancy, however, as a quick glance at the ABV figures below reveals. Twelve per cent may not appear very low, but remember that a glass of wine weighing in at 15 per cent carries an alcoholic hit 25 per cent greater than one at 12 per cent. Drop down from 15 to 12 and you will reduce your alcohol consumption per glass by 20 per cent.

Doña Paula Sauvage Blanc, 12% Argentina

The terms ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ and ‘sparkling wine’ are seldom uttered in the same sentence, yet this clean and perky sparkler from a country more usually associated with stentorian Malbec gives the lie to any lingering belief that Sauvignon is good only for still wines of tear-jerking intensity. The flavour leans towards tropical fruit with a touch of lemon to keep things in check.

Available from good independents €18.00

André Goichot Rosé Brut, 11.5% France

To the eye, the colour is a pale salmon pink with hints of orange, enlivened by a surging stream of bubbles. Abundant raspberry fruit on the nose carries onto the light and fresh palate. For exuberant celebration rather than contemplative sipping.

SuperValu €10 (reduced from €17.99 until 14th February)

Crémant du Jura, Exquisite Collection 2016, 12% France

Until all too recently only trainspotting wine lovers had heard of the Jura in eastern France, yet it lies no more than an hour’s drive from the Côte d’Or, perhaps the most fabled strip of vineyard in the world. This sparkler is 100 per cent Chardonnay and boasts abundant fruit flavours, with apple in the ascendant.

Aldi €12.49

Barciño Cava Brut, 11.5% Spain

For years now, Cava has laboured in the long shadow cast by Prosecco, as Italy’s famous sparkler gathered followers by the legion. Cava is on the way back, however, and if it has been off your radar until now this good value, citrus-infused little number is a good starting point.

SuperValu €12 (reduced from €25.99 until 14th February)

Giotti Spumante Rosé, 11% Italy

Produced in the Veneto region of north-east Italy by Casa Vinicola Bosco-Malera, who turn out a broad range of sparkling wines in addition to a host of still wines. There’s a floral touch to the aroma and vibrant red fruit on the palate. Best as an aperitif.

Aldi €12.99

Champagne Granzamy Père et Fils Brut 12% France

Three grapes rule the roost in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The first two are considered the aristocrats while the third is barely mentioned. It’s the grape that dare not speak its name yet it is grown in far greater quantity than people realise and when given a chance – as here – it can shine. This wine is lissom and lively and remains clean and fresh right to the finish.

O’Brien’s €24.95 (reduced from €34.95, 5th to 17th February)

Champagne Pierre Darcys Brut 12% France

An impressive rush of bubbles signals an exuberant Champagne with plenty of verve on the palate, courtesy of an insistent citrus tingle that cries out to be paired with smoked salmon – not forgetting that Champagne is the perfect match for fish ‘n’ chips.

SuperValu €20 (reduced from €45.99 until 14th February)

Champagne L Bénard-Pitois Premier Cru Brut Rosé 12% France

Class will out. I have been a fan of the ‘regular’ Bénard-Pitois Brut Réserve Champagne for as long as Whelehans have been importing it. This Rosé adds another dimension to the gorgeous baked apple fruit, in the form of extra tingle and mouthwatering fruit. If ever a wine could be described as lip-smacking this is it.

Whelehan's, Loughlinstown €45

Author: Raymond Blake

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