Raise a glass of something fizzy

Raise a glass of something fizzy to celebrate a wedding, but it doesn’t have to be champagne

Thu, Feb 20, 2014, 16:41

As we swing into the wedding season, some of you will be wondering what wines to serve on the big day. This week we take a look at the various options for sparkling wine, at a range of prices.

If you have already booked a hotel, your choice of fizz may be limited. People in the wine trade tell me that despite, or maybe because of the recession, many hotels have actually increased the margins on their wines.

I know they have to make money to stay in business, but some are now buying the cheapest possible wine and then looking to make a return of over 70 per cent. I don’t mind paying a premium to eat out, but I hate being forced to pay large sums for barely drinkable wine.

Most hotels are less keen on you bringing your own too, charging very high corkage rates. However, if you are in the happy position of being able to choose your own sparkling wine, there are plenty of options out there.

The first question is usually “must I buy Champagne?” The answer is a resounding no; in my experience it is nearly always better to buy either a decent sparkling wine, or a very good (and therefore expensive) Champagne. This is a general rule, not just for weddings.

We have been led to believe that only Champagne will do for a celebration, and some producers are quite happy to turn out poor, acidic Champagnes.

The next question is; will the guests notice what you serve? If you are serving your sparkling wine after a big dinner, alongside a sweet cake, the answer is probably no. If that is the case then it might be better to go for a Prosecco.

Prosecco has become incredibly popular over the past few years, and for large weddings and celebrations, it is an affordable and crowd-pleasing choice. It has the added advantage of generally being sweeter than other sparkling wines and therefore more likely to stand up to wedding cake.

If you are serving a sparkling wine to your guests on arrival, they are far more likely to notice the quality. People are thirsty and palates are fresh, so either try to choose something good or instead offer a cocktail; adding fruit juice or other ingredients will mask many deficiencies.

Buck’s Fizz and Bellini are the best-known cocktails and there are plenty of other options available. But a glass of good Champagne or quality sparkling wine is one of the great aperitifs and a lovely way to greet your guests.

I am not the world’s biggest Cava fan, but I did come across a very enjoyable fresh, crisp rosé version at a recent Marks & Spencer tasting; it would be great at a summer wedding (see below).

I have argued the merits of the Jacobs Creek sparkling wines here before; at less than €15 a bottle they offer outstanding value given that the duty and VAT on sparkling wine is now almost €7 a bottle. Australia, South Africa and Chile all make some decent, slightly fruitier sparkling wines, as does the Loire Valley, Limoux, Alsace and Burgundy in France.

As for Champagne, I know many of you are just waiting for retailers to offer Taittinger at a special price once more. However, if you can find them, small grower Champagnes can offer the best value of all. These are wines made by small farmers in the Champagne region who traditionally sold their grapes to the large, well-known producers. In recent years, many have become more ambitious and now sell their own wine, sometimes at very reasonable prices.

If you are trying to gauge quantity, remember that your guests will only be drinking sparkling wine for a short period, either on arrival, or to toast the happy couple. You will probably need to allow for one, possibly two glasses per head, bearing in mind that not everybody likes sparkling wine.

Lastly, remember that many of your guests may be driving home, or may not drink alcohol. We have all had the experience of being offered sparkling water or sweet fizzy drinks. Instead, why not offer something more adult, such as a mocktail, non-alcoholic ginger beer or even better, a kombucha.

I have been buying the excellent Dublin Kombucha for some time now. Brilliantly packaged and made in Stoneybatter, it is a delicious, complex, thirst-quenching adult drink; almost as good as an alcoholic drink. Almost.


jwilson@irishtimes.com

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