Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Wedding Toast Wines: Better Value Alternatives to Champagne

Photo: Juan Antonio Capo (CCL)
As part of the planning for your special day, one of the most enjoyable aspects is deciding on the food and drink that is going to be served. This inevitably leads to some very pleasing tastings with caterers who are, understandably, keen for you to spend a small fortune on their wares. There are a lot of decisions to make here and one of them is, "What wine should be used for the toasts?" 

Now, there is an obvious answer. Champagne. It is classically used for toasts and formal situations and is considered a rather safe bet. However, there are all sorts of reasons that may lead to one considering alternatives to good old champers.

For instance, Champagne does come with a price tag - are there better wines for the same, or less, money? How about supporting local businesses/industry? I thought that it would be useful to provide you with some alternatives to think about and test your caterers!

English Sparkling Wines

The English sparkling wine industry is in the midst of a real boom at the moment. In blind wine tastings undertaken, some experts are saying that the quality of English sparkling wines is often comparable to that of Champagnes.

Why is this? Well, for a start the same chalk soil that is found under the Champagne area continues under the Channel and into the South East of England.

Added to that, you have the effects of climate change, which is meaning that the summers in France are getting progressively warmer, making it more difficult to get the delicate balance of ripeness and acidity that is needed in Champagnes.  

There are definite benefits of buying English wines: firstly they don't (as yet) have the names or prestige of Champagnes which means that you tend to get much better value for money; furthermore you are supporting local businesses that employ people in the UK - very patriotic!

Here are some wines that I've tried and can certainly recommend to add some glamour to your toast:

2009 Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé (the 2010 is available from Wine Pantry for £39). This is a traditional mixture of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, which comes as a Rosé.

The nose was subtle; I detected slight fragrances of herbs and spices and the taste was exquisite – bags of big, juicy raspberries. What was also pleasing was the length of the finish – a good minute had gone past after swallowing and I could still taste the wine in my mouth.

I can also recommend taking a tour of the vineyard, they are very welcoming - I did this last year and you can read my review here.

Another fantastic producer is Nyetimber in West Sussex/Hampshire. They state that their ambition is to produce the very best wines and to challenge Champagne's preeminence in the sparkling wine industry.

I have tried two of their wines, firstly their 2009 Classic Cuvee (available from Jeroboams for £28.25) which is their traditional Brut Champagne blend, Chardonnay-driven with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in too. It is a very stylish wine with a slight mousse to it and slight toasty hints.

I also recently tried their 2007 Prestige Cuvee Blanc de Blancs (available from Jereboams for £35), which is a very special wine. Made from 100% Chardonnay, it's bursting with fine bubbles and has a nose which is zesty, fresh and lemony. On the palate it has a slightly creamy and moussey feel with a bright and acidic finish. This is utterly elegant and will impress even the most discerning wedding guest!

You can also currently get the 2009 for £23.98 if you're buying two bottles or more from Majestic - absolute bargain!


So, where else could you look? The relative attractions of Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy are fairly well known, but there are other sparkling wines from France that could be looked at.

These wines are known as Crémant and are often made in precisely the same way as Champagne - they just don't come from those hallowed soils. Crémant was featured recently as part of the Twitter #NWTW selection and I chose to try a NV Crémant du Jura Brut, Domaine de Montbourgeau (available from The Wine Society for £12.50). 

Made from 100% Chardonnay, this was green-yellow to look at with intensely effervescent bubbles. On the nose it was sharp and fruity with aromas of crisp, green apples and a slightly yeasty note. To taste it had a slightly creamy texture which was followed by an acidic, fruity after burst and a medium finish. This is a pleasingly, simple wine at a very good price.

Other Crémants can come from Alsace, Burgundy and Loire - ask your local wine merchant for their selection, and they're creeping into the supermarkets too. There's even an award-winning Cremant de Jura from Aldi for £6.99!

I do hope that these suggestions provide you with some alternative as you seek to find the perfect sparkler to toast your wedding with...


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