And so, finally, here are my Top 10 Fizzes of 2016!
10. Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 Pinot Noir
If you have an interest in fizz then you might know that Pinot Noir is an important grape in the production of sparkling wine, even for those with no colour, but Hush Heath Estate have taken things even further with their “Noir de Noir” (if such a term exists!) A recent addition to the range of this Kent estate, it’s made in a clean, fresh and fruity style – worth trying as something different, but stands up on its own in terms of quality.
9. Cirotto Prosecco Superiore Asolo Extra Brut 2015
Vintage Prosecco is not that common, though most consumers probably don’t pay much attention. This Prosecco isn’t for most consumers, however (though they would probably like it) – it’s sights are aimed higher at those who value more than just something with bubbles in. This beauty from Cirotto is an Extra Brut which tells us a couple of important things:
- with less residual sugar (only 3g/L) it might appeal more to those who find average Proseccos too sweet, and
- without the mask of as much sugar the wine beneath is laid bare, so it had better be good!
Wine geeks will also be interested in the fact it is made in the small DOCG region of Asolo and that 10% of the blend is made up of local varieties Perera and Bianchetta. This is the best aperitif style Prosecco I have ever tasted!
8. Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV
The quality of Charles Heidsieck’s standard non vintage is due to the silver lining of a very dark cloud. The marque’s UK sales fell off a cliff at some point a few decades ago, leaving it with lots of long term grape buying contracts that it didn’t really need, so rather than produce lots of finished Champagne that would just create a glut on the market, or terminating contracts that would be very difficult to re-establish in better times, they honoured those contracts and built up their stocks of reserve wines.
Hence the Brut Réserve consists of over 40% reserve wines with an average age of 10 years – giving it far greater depth and complexity than nearly all other NVs around.
7. Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz NV
Sparkling Shiraz does appear on the supermarket shelves in Ireland but usually just in the guise of a single, entry level brand (I’m being kind and not naming names here). But those who don’t like Banrock Station (oops!!) might find that moving up market a little brings a lot in terms of quality and balance. Jip Jip Rocks shows why the category is much more popular down under – it manages to be the best of both red and sparkling worlds, without breaking the bank!
6. Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007
One of the truisms about Champagne is that value is most often found at a cooperative, but Champenois coops can also be the source of top quality wines, such as this Blanc de Blancs from Beaumont des Crayères. I’m a fan of the regular Brut NV but Fleur Blanche is on another plane entirely – lots of citrus and bready flavours, think lemon curds on toasted brioche!
5. Henriot Brut Souverain NV
The Henriot family put down roots in Reims in the 16th century, eventually becoming cloth merchants in the city’s biggest trade of the time (Mercier means haberdasher!) and then (thankfully for us) Champagne producers in 1808. This is a traditional blend with a slight bias towards Chardonnay (much of it from Grand Cru villages) for elegance and floral notes. Ageing on the lees for three years adds some lovely biscuit tones.
4. Albert Beerens Carte Or NV
The Carte Or is the standard bearer for the Albert Beerens range. With an astonishing 46% reserve wines in the blend it is also an ambassador for the southerly reaches of the Champagne region – the Côte des Bar. This family-owner grower-producer farms just seven hectares around Bar-sur-Aube, and their obsessive focus on quality and innovation shine through in the wine.
3. Christian Bourmault Cuvée Hermance Brut NV
Based in the Grand Cru village of Avize on the Côte des Blancs, Christian Bourmault follows in the footsteps of his forebears including the founders Ernest and Hermance, after who this cuvée was named. It’s unusual for Avize in that it has a significant majority of black grapes – the blend is 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. The use of old oak barrels for ageing and plenty of lees work adds lots of character – this is a Champagne worth seeking out.
2. Sugrue Pierre “The Trouble With Dreams” 2011
Not content with “just” being the creator of delicious English sparkling at Wiston Estate, Dermot Sugrue has a personal side project making a traditional Champagne blend from a tiny single vineyard. Made from 55% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2010 was delightful but the 2011 was sensational! There’s plenty of lemon, lime and stone fruit, but also an intriguing chalkiness – a direct result of the vineyard’s chalk soils? This was the best English sparkling wine I tasted in 2016!
1. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée des Millénaires 1995
This cuvée was released a few years ago but keeps getting better every time I taste it. 1995 is still considered one of the top few vintages of the last 25 years, so with 17 years ageing before disgorgement this is an outstanding expression of the year. It’s a luxury, yes, but if you get to taste it you might just see it as a necessity – one of the most complex and seductive Champagnes I’ve ever tasted!