Sparkly wine – what’s not to like about it? We drink it on the happiest of occasions: to celebrate a new baby; a new bride and groom; a new degree; a new house; a new job; a new year. The general perception, however, is that the really good stuff is stratospherically expensive and that the likes of the rest of us have to make do with nasty cheap fizz. But “nasty” was the furthest thing from my mind when, shortly before Christmas, I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of the range of supermarket chain Sainsbury’s own-brand sparkling wines, hosted by their winemaker Emma Holland. Yes, you read correctly – Sainsbury’s has a qualified winemaker of their very own – or rather, they have a few, and Emma’s remit is their sparkling lines. Many people’s idea of supermarket own-brand wine goes something like this: the buyers find an estate that makes vaguely drinkable plonk, buy a load of it and just slap their label on it, so that you might be buying the exact same wine from 3 different shops, just under a different label. As we were to find out, this is certainly not how Sainsbury’s operates. Emma explained that she travels to various estates throughout the world and collaborates with the wine makers so that the product that Sainsbury’s buys to bottle under their own label is totally unique and a result of this collaboration between herself and the estate winemaker. So what sort of sparklers can you expect to find under the Sainsbury’s and Taste the Difference labels? Here is the selection we tried:
Taste the Difference 2011 Prosecco magnum (£10.99 for 750ml; £19.99 for 1.5l – 11% alc.). Made from 100% Glera grapes using the charmat (tank-fermentation) method by Gabriele Cescon at Cantine Maschio in Italy. A bright, pale, almost greenish tint to the wine. Appley, fresh nose. A nice fine mousse; flavours of green apples and tropical fruit on the palate. A lovely fresh wine with a short but, clean finish – a million miles from sweetly saccharin examples of prosecco, and a bargain at under £20 for 1.5 litres.
Taste the Difference 2011 Moscato Rosé (£5.99, 5.5% alc.). Made from Muscat de Frontignan using the charmat method by Hermias Hugo of Origin Wine in South Africa (which intrigued me!). South Africa has long been known for its sweet wines, but I had not yet one made in the style of an Italian Moscato with a quaffably low 5.5% alcohol content – nor had I seen a salmon pink moscato! It also distinguished itself by being sealed with a Zork – an innovative resealable closure for sparkling wine. As I said, it had a very pretty deep salmon pink colour and a nose like sweet cherries. On the palate, it wasn’t very fizzy but with a lovely flavour of cherry juice with caramel notes. It had quite a short finish but overall it’s a pleasantly girly and fun drink which some of the attendees even thought reminded them of Babycham!
Sainsbury’s NV Brut Rosé Champagne (£19.99, 12% alc.) Made from 87% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Noir by Sandrine Logette-Jardin at Duval Leroy in France – bottle fermented. With a pale onionskin colour (pictured at the top of this post) and a lovely fine, lively mousse, this was one of my stand-out favourites of the night with a nicely balanced palate of red berry fruits and a superb long finish. Definitely a winner in my book.
Taste the Difference 2009 vintage Cava (£10.49) Made from 55% Chardonnay and 15% each of Xarel.lo, Parellada and Macabeo by Bruno Colomer at Codorniu, Spain – bottle fermented. The wine had a pale lemon colour and an astonishing minerally nose reminiscent of a German Riesling. As you’d expect from a vintage sparkler, the palate was not very fruity but showed minerally and herby notes, reminiscent of oregano. It had a fine mousse and although it is quite an austere wine, it was complex very well balanced while the taste reminded me of a vintage Riesling that has had the benefit of bottle age.
Sainsbury’s NV Blanc de Blanc Champagne (£22.49, 12% alc.). Made from 100% Chardonnay by Sandrine Logette-Jardin at Duval Leroy in France. This wine had a bright and lovely pale yellow colour and a yeasty nose. The mousse was lovely and fine and the palate full of sweet ripe apples and honey with a long, toasty finish – although maybe it needed a little more acid to balance the sweetness.
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noirs Champagne (£20.99, 12% alc.). Made from 60% Pinot Meunier and 40% Pinot Noir by Jerome Bouby at SCA des Producteurs des Grands Terroirs de la Champagne in France. This wine had a pale strawberry colour and a fabulous fine mousse. The nose was incredibly toasty which carried through to the palate and the finish with hints of ripe berry fruit, but the finish was not as long as the Blanc de Blancs.
Taste the Difference Vintage Champagne (£25.99, 12.5% alc.) Made from 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir by Sandrine Logette-Jardin at Duval Leroy. Pale lemon. Lovely caramelly, biscuitty nose, Very fine mousse and a perfect “bell curve” of flavour, starting off with more austere and herby flavours, then swelling to a fruity, mouth filling crescendo before a long finish. A fine bargain for anybody looking to understand the difference between a vintage Champagne and cheap fizz, without having to remortgage their house to pay for it.
Overall, I was surprised and impressed by the breadth of the range of sparkling wines that Sainsbury’s carries – both in terms of price (from £5.99 to 25.99 for 750ml) and styles of wine – from the decidedly un-serious pink Moscato to a vintage Champagne. (there is also an English sparkling wine in their range, although we did not taste that on this occasion). I loved that the Prosecco is available from a single serving 375ml size through a standard bottle to a magnum size, perfect for large family gatherings. I was also impressed by the obvious commitment to quality and the degree to which Sainsbury’s gets involved in the process of producing these wines, and I believe that this is evident in the quality of the wines, which was high throughout. I would bet my bottom dollar that in a blind tasting, the top end Sainsbury’s sparklers would never be picked out as own-brand supermarket wines (oh yes, look – it already has!) – and if that’s not a recommendation I don’t know what is.
DISCLOSURE: I attended this tasting as a guest of Sainsbury’s and received a free magnum of Prosecco to take home, but received no other remuneration for this post and all opinions are my own.