Good bubbles don't always cost the earth

No wines are more closely associated with the sort of celebration that all of us will enjoy over the next two weeks than those that bubble when they're opened; that tickle the nose and enchant the palate with their freshness; that hint of bread and yeast which mingles with the flavours of the grapes from which they are made.


We are not talking about Champagne, the bubbly stuff that comes from that particular region of France, but wines - many of them made by the same process in New Zealand - which serve the purpose just as well and in most cases cost less, in some cases a just a fraction of the price.

Which is my reason for writing this piece - cost, or, more particularly a column written by one of my contemporaries last weekend suggesting the best bubblies for Christmas, are mostly Champagnes selling for upwards of $70 a bottle.

But the majority of people are not prepared to spend this sort of money, or can't afford to. The smart money, including my own, is on the home-grown stuff, some of which is quite superb (and also relatively costly), most of which is excellent value for money. The rest of it is simple, refreshing, good fun sparkling wine.

In fact, there has been a marked upsurge in the number of these wines produced in New Zealand over the past few years, including many made from grape varieties not usually associated with bubblies as well as different styles of wine.

The best of the wines are all bottle-fermented (the traditional way of making them) and have, or should have a distinctive slightly bready, yeasty character and a continuous stream of tiny bubbles.

Others spend at least part of their young lives fermenting in tanks (Lindauer is a good example), while many from smaller wineries, are simply charged with CO 2, tend to be sweeter and run out of bubbles more quickly.

However, none is perhaps better known than Lindauer, a label established by Montana but now owned by Lion, the brewer, and contract winemaker Indevin. Their Gisborne winery now produces 10 very respectable variations on the bubbly theme, at least one of them selling for less than $10 on promotion.

Some suggestions for Christmas:

* Millton Sparkling Muskats @ Dawn, about $22: For something different, and organic, try this light, sweet, citrusy Gisborne wine, inspired says James Millton, by Italy's Moscato d'Asti.

* Lindauer Classic Rose, about $16: A slightly richer pink bubbly made from chardonnay and pinot noir and muscled-up with a charge of pinotage. Won gold at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

* S-Series Sparkling Wine, $19: One of two new mod crown-capped sparkling wines from Villa Maria. A soft and subtle blend of chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling and viognier. Prosecco style.

* Soljans Fusion Sparkling Muscat, $17: Asti Spumate Kiwi-style. A fresh, sweet, highly perfumed apples and lemons wine, only 8.5 per cent alcohol, which means you can probably risk another glass.

* Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle Brut, $32: A distinctly Champagne taste-alike, non-vintage bubbly from Rudi Bauer who produces a trio of such beauties in Central Otago. An Air NZ gold medal winner.

* Allan Scott Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, $18: This bottle-fermented sauvignon blanc, one of six or seven bubblies made by Scott, is a perfect fit for a Marlborough savvy fan. Try also the riesling methode traditionelle.

* Cuvee No 1, about $35: An affordable example of the exciting range of methode traditionelles produced by Daniel Le Brun, which includes a new and stunning tribute to his wife - Cuvee Adele which sells at $125 a bottle - and another cracker dedicated to their son Remy, which sells at $55.

A merry, bubbly Christmas to you all.

The Southland Times