There’s a new style of bargain bubbly on the shelves this Christmas: pink prosecco. Earlier this year, producers in Italy got the green light to go ahead with a rosé version of their popular fizz as long as certain rules were observed: the prosecco grape glera must be blended with 10-15 per cent pinot noir (pinot nero) for colour; it must go through a second fermentation in tank of at least 60 days for finesse; and it must be a vintage (single year) release with at least 85 per cent fruit coming from that year.
Having tasted a few of these new high street releases, though, I’m disappointed. They’re not bad exactly, but, in general, they lack complexity and character. The best supermarket version I’ve tried is Marks & Spencer’s Prosecco Rosé Brut 2019, Italy (11%, £10). It’s crisp and relatively dry with a fresh strawberry tone.
There are, however, plenty of other sparklers under £15 that really do appeal this Christmas.
Staying with M&S, I’d happily swap even their pink prosecco for the decidedly upmarket, lightly creamy, champagne-like M&S Classics No. 12 Crémant de Bourgogne NV, France (12%, £10). French crémants are made in the same way as champagne (méthode traditionnelle), with extended bottle-ageing on the yeast lees, but outside the Champagne region, and they often deliver great value for money.
Other seasonal steals include Lidl’s Crémant de Loire Brut NV (12%, £8.49), softer and peachier than some, and Aldi’s steelier, green-appley Specially Selected Crémant du Jura 2018 (11.5%, £8.49), a wake-me-up aperitif, as well as the one below.
It’s not a crémant, but the classy Antech Blanquette di Limoux Réserve Brut 2017 (12%, The Wine Society, £10.95) definitely deserves a mention among the French wines for its white blossom aroma and honeyed drizzle but dry finish.
Outside Europe, look to South Africa, where the champagne method is known as méthode cap classique. This year, I especially like Laborie Blanc de Blancs 2014, Western Cape (12%, Majestic) which is 100 per cent chardonnay and comes in just under £15 if bought as one of any mixed six wines (£17.99/£14.99 single bottle/mixed six). This more mature blanc de blancs, richly creamy, with soft citrus and biscuit notes, will be a fine match for seafood starters.
Let’s return to the Veneto and prosecco, though, and the original white version. Sainsbury’s consistently superior, lively and oh-so-fresh Taste The Difference Conegliano Prosecco 2019 (just 10.5%, £10, or £6 for a half bottle) still gets my vote as a standout low-priced sparkler.
Bouvet Ladubay Crémant de Loire Blanc de Blancs Brut 2018
France (12.5%, Majestic, £17.99 or £14.99 in a mixed six)
A very smart wine, from its restrained label to its balanced and sophisticated flavours of lemon, pear and yellow apple. It’s lightly toasty, finishing clean and dry, and would make a fine Christmas aperitif with delicate canapés.
Les Pionniers Champagne Brut NV
France (12%, Co-op, £19, down to £15 from Dec 9 to Jan 1 for Co-op Group members only; one bottle per transaction only)
I can’t help including this, even though it isn’t strictly under £15, even on its offer. It’s a fine non-vintage champagne, poised and citrusy with richer yeasty depths, and quite a bargain even at full price. Find that extra penny…
Waitrose Cava Brut Castillo Perelada 2018
Spain (11.5%, £9.99 down to £7.49 from Dec 2 to Jan 3)
Spain’s classic sparkler, cava, must be mentioned – it is also made via the champagne method and can be keenly priced. This one certainly is, and has green apples and pears in a tangy, lively, dry style which finishes a little softer and more gently than some cavas.