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Sparkling wine guide - Champagne & Cava

Sparkling wine comes in so many styles these days. To help you get your head around all the things sparkling, here's our guide. This week we start with the more complex of the two methods which makes Champagne and Cava.

Any sparkling wine is carbonated by yeast fermenting in an airtight container. There are two most common methods to get the desired sparkling result - the "traditional method" also known as the Classic method and the "tank method" which we will cover in our next blog post. During the traditional method the wine goes through two rounds of fermentation. The first is usually done in tanks to get the base still wine and the second fermentation (to produce the bubbles) in the bottle in which it's sold.

The breadiness, brioche and freshly baked aromas we so associate with Champagne come from the "lees". During the second fermentation stage sugar & yeast are added to the bottle to kick start the process. When that's finished the dead yeast cells are left floating in the bottle, the wine is left rested on its lees (dead cells) for anything from 9 months to several years. During this time the proteins, amino acids and other compounds in the dead yeast cells are released. This process is called autolysis and adds complexity to the wines as well as those baked flavours.

And if you thought we were done with making champagne, there's yet another stage in the process, because no one wants to drink cloudy Champagne so the lees needs to be removed or "disgorged". The bottles get riddled daily to slowly move the sediment to the neck of the bottle. Traditionally done by hand nowadays sometimes automated for efficiency. Once all the sediment is collected in the neck it is then frozen and the frozen ball left to shot out of the bottle. Which is then quickly topped up with mixture of wine & sugar (dosage) and closed with Champagne cork, wire muzzle and foil and prepared for release. Though the wines usually rest and additional six or more months so that the dosage is fully integrated before being sold.

Champagne is exclusively made in France's most northerly wine region Champagne (hence the name). It is now home to 15,000 growers and 290 ‘houses’. A blend of grape varieties is usually required: white Chardonnay to add fruit and elegance, and two reds – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – to provide body and backbone. You will mainly come across NV (Non-Vintage) Champagne comprising of blends from multiple vintages only during the best years Vintage Champagnes are released, made exclusively from grapes grown in a single year. We have recently doubled the size of our Champagne offering so there's something for everybody.

Huré Frères was established in 1970s by Raoul Huré and his two brothers who are now retired and his son François is back in harness. After working in New Zealand for some time he returned back to France with a clear determination to clean up their act in the vineyard (Champagne's vineyards are notorious). They claim to have been fully sustainable since 2000 and stopped using herbicides and started to cultivate their soil.
Their L'Invitation is the classic blend of 3 grape varieties, it's a perfect choice for aperitif. It's light but intense and long.

Founded in 1894, Agrapart & Fils has become one of the finest grower estates in the Côte des Blancs. The 10ha estate lies largely in the grand cru villages of Avize, Cramant, Oiry and Oger, and while the wines are not labelled organic or biodynamic, they work according to natural rhythms and sensibilities, without any chemical pesticides or herbicides. Agrapart & Fils champagne is fruity with good minerality making it so delicious and drinkable. Goes great with variety of cheeses.

And finally, Lamiable Champagne Grand Cru is a family run estate in the Grand Cru village Tours sur Marne, Lamiable produces majority Pinot Noir blends. This one is made with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, it's concentrated and rich, with a spicy earthiness and lively structure. Such a great value for money.

There's another sparkling wine made with the same method as Champagne - it's Cava - made in Spain using the "Traditional method". It's considered to be the most Champagne-like sparkling wine outside of France that uses different grape varieties than Champagne. There are three primary grapes that are used to make Cava - Macabeo and Parellada (for flavour) and Xarello (for acidity). Our Dominio De Tharsys Cava Brut Nature has zero added dosage making a perfect aperitif drink. It's got fine bubbles and clean floral with crunchy finish.

Hope we managed to help you navigate through the complex process of the Champagne making process, it can be painstakingly long but once you have got your glass full of the tinny bubbles you will really appreciate all the hard work and care that goes into every bottle.

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