Tasting Note: Gosset, Grande Réserve Brut Champagne, France champagne-gosset.com

Each year in the run up to the festive season I try, largely successfully, to convince myself that “other sparkling wines” offer good drinking and excellent value. And largely they do (you can read my lowdown on this market in Challenging the 3 Cs of Christmas Part 1 for Falstaff). You can find well-made wines that hit the right balance of value and quality, especially in the shape of artisan Cava, northern Italy’s higher quality sparklers, good Méthode Cap Classique blends from South Africa and the odd passing Crémant. Less well known (and less easy to get your hands on in the UK) are sparkling Rieslings (“Sekt” is the German term to look for) and “Espumoso de Rioja” – traditional method sparklers made in the famous Spanish wine region of the same name. And then there’s home-grown GB fizz, some of which is now very good indeed (with prices to match). Well worth trying, all.

But there are times the sheer weight of tradition and history carried by every tiny bubble mean that only Champagne will do. So synonymous is the wine with festivity, even frivolity, that we are apt to forget just what serious wines these are, however: how much time and effort go into their production and how good they can be with food as well as a celebratory aperitif. These are not everyday wines, at least not for most of us. All the more reason to choose wisely when we do push out the Champagne bateau.

Gosset have been making wine in the Champagne region since the sixteenth century – at that point still wines, most of which were red. But they are known today for their quality sparkling wines of which this, their Grande Réserve, is their signature Cuvée. Drawing grapes from across Champagne’s Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs (including such grand cru villages as Ambonnay and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger) it blends Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in equal quantities together with a good splash of Meunier. The wine is then kept in their cellars for 4 years, considerably longer than the minimum requirements for Champagne.

What emerges is an exceptional wine, beautifully straw coloured in the glass with flashes of beaten gold. The nose is a complex dance of citrus freshness with ripe red and yellow apple, pear and plum warmed by the late summer sun. A lemon-juice acidity is very cleverly woven in amongst ruby fruits – redcurrant and red cherry – as the Chardonnay brightness melds to Pinot Noir’s berried structure. Long lees ageing adds wonderful toasted-brioche and nutty aromas that combine with the fruit to give delicate Mirabelle patisserie but also more homey delights such as fruited biscuits and even a hint of custard cream (probably a little too homey and English to make it into the House’s marketing). There’s a hint of gastronomic, umami bitterness here, too, which seasons the wine beautifully. The mousse is soft and smooth, with long-lasting, incredibly fine bubbles. And the finish is long and then longer still, resolving into a warm biscuity haze.

I paired it with canapés of lightly dressed crab meat on char-grilled brioche and it worked superbly. The simple pleasures of a roast chicken would bring out another side to it altogether.

Tasting Note: Mirabeau, La Folie Rosé Vin de France, France maisonmirabeau.com

Maison Mirabeau was founded in 2010 by a London family who had upped sticks to follow their vinous dreams in Provence. Arriving in the tiny village of Cotignac in the Var with, by their own admission, scarcely a word of French between them they swiftly set about employing the expertise of UK MW Angela Muir in creating their first wine – Mirabeau Classic. The rest is, as they say, history and their portfolio now stretches to a number of delightful rosés such as Pure, Azure, Forever Summer and their higher-end cuvée Etolie. Somehow they have also found the time to investigate alternative formats (their Pret-à-Porter canned range and Belle Année bag-in-box rosé) as well as expanding into the world of boutique gin and even vermouth.

2019 saw the launch of Domaine Mirabeau, their new wine estate, set in the Provençal commune of Golfe de Saint-Tropez, in the Plaine des Maures National Nature Reserve. The estate includes 20 hectares under vine – mostly local favourites Grenache, Cinsault and Rolle (aka Vermentino) – where they are now producing La Reserve cuvée under the new Côtes de Provence DGC (Terroir Designation) Notre-Dame des Anges. Part of the profits from this wine are being ploughed back into the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation that they helped to found.

La Folie is their sparkling rosé. It’s made from majority local grape Negrette with Colombard, Syrah and Grenache adding their flavours to the blend. It is produced using the Charmat method, known to the Italians as the Marinotti Method and almost universally by the slightly less glamourous-sounding term “tank method”. The same method that’s used in Prosecco and many other sparkling wines (although not, of course Champagne et al), it shouldn’t always be thought of as a second-tier option. If you are aiming for a wine profile that foregrounds immediacy and fresh varietal character (rather than the array of intricate flavour compounds that arise during extended bottle ageing on less) then it can be ideal. The tank method does not always preclude shorter periods of lees contact either – it can be written into the process – and I understand it that it exactly what has happened in this case.

In the glass, La Folie is an attractive salmon pink, a colour that Mirabeau’s marketing folk call “pale lychee” which is quite poetic and sort of true. Pale ballet slipper is I think more accurate, if a little less aromatically appealing. The nose is relatively restrained, with aromas of red fruits and peach riding a citrus freshness that is orangey rather than the more familiar lemon or grapefruit. There’s a very light honeyed quality to it, too. The palate has a similar profile, with slightly tarter red berries outlined by citrus and a tang of juicy yellow peach, perhaps nectarine. The acidity is brisk enough to balance the ghost of sweetness detectable on the palate – it has 10 g/l of residual sugar which puts it towards the higher end of Brut and ensures that it has an accessible and easy-going likeability. It’s quite an effervescent number and the mousse perhaps a tad hard for my taste but it has a refreshing and perky quality that calls out for summer sun. I have to admit to not having tasted widely amongst the new wave of rosé Proseccos but it would be interesting to see how the two compare.

Tasting Note: Cleto Chiarli, Vigneto Cialdini, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Italy chiarli.it/en

Lambrusco is one of a handful of well-known Italian wines that are still, unjustly for the most part, tainted by the memory of historical missteps. The exported Soaves, Frascatis, Valpolicellas and even Chiantis of the ‘70s and ’80s, although ubiquitous, were often badly made with frighteningly high yields draining the vineyards to their last bitter drop. The Lambruscos of yore might have left a bad taste in the mouth – figuratively and literally – but today the area around Modena in Emilia-Romagna offers dry sparkling reds of real character. Quality producers are careful to keep yields in check (some of the DOCs still have absurdly high maximums) to ensure wines are fresh and exciting with sufficient clarity of fruit and varietal character.

The name Lambrusco, rather unusually, refers not to an area but to a grape variety, or rather an extensive family of varieties. Lambrusco Salamino is the most often encountered but deeper, more concentrated and, to my mind, more interesting wines are made from Lambrusco di Grasparossa. There’s more tannic structure to them and they drink more like “serious” reds rather than the effervescent fruit juices of the past. 

Cleto Chiarli is one of the area’s standout producers. They make several Lambrusco cuvées (and other sparkling/still wines) under this label and the Chiarli Modena name. Their Vigneto Cialdini is from the heartlands of the Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC and is full to the brim with bright, well-drawn red fruit. There is depth here and some complexity, but nothing to detract from the immediate charms of its Tyrian-stained fizz. Vivid purple in colour and with a pleasant, lively mousse there is structure enough to grip the palate and the imagination as well as provide a good foil for food.

“Passionate” the producers call it, and I can just about believe them. It is, in any case, a delightful wine just made for summer lounging and more serious dining as well. Serve lightly chilled, con brio and some of the wonderful salumi of the area like mortadella and of course the incomparable Prosciutto di Parma. Hunks of local Parmigiano Reggiano wouldn’t go amiss either. If you can’t decide then simply order Rosa di Parma, a classic dish of the area which combines beef fillet with parmigiano and prosciutto in a Lambrusco, and sometimes Marsala, sauce. See Parmacityofgastronomy for a simple, delicious recipe.