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The great grape comeback . . . why you might be grateful for Gamay

If Gamay isn’t on your radar but you enjoy your Pinot Noir you are missing out – for Pinot is Gamay’s parent and this grape might just be your next big discovery. Both hail from Burgundy and both have a similar light bodied style but unlike Burgundy, good Gamay doesn’t have to cost the earth. Fruitier than Pinot; Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais and, thanks to a huge revival, this once ‘retro’ grape is making a comeback. It’s poised to become a serious contender on the world stage . . .

Gamay's under the spotlights once more
Gamay’s under the spotlights once more

Back into the limelight

Decades ago Gamay found fame with the craze for Beaujolais Nouveau and, like most fads, it was destined to fade away from the spotlight. However, Gamay never quite got to take that final bow and the curtains didn’t drop on its last act. Instead Gamay went on a world tour. Stepping out of the spotlight paid off and the resulting resurgence in interest on developing Gamay’s potential has lead to it finding a new home in the New World wine regions of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA (California and Oregon).

Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines
Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines

In the Old World of Gamay’s native France, it has moved once more into the limelight as passionate producers have pushed the grape to new heights with the best wines coming from the Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais AOCs. Beyond Gamay’s stronghold in Beaujolais the grape has now found a second home in the Loire.

Today Gamay is full of possibilities, it’s repertoire is growing with variations on its style being developed constantly in different sets of countries.

Gamay’s spreading popularity has also lead to it being being blended in an ever evolving set of wines from across the world with Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

Gamay grapes
Gamay grapes

Gamay’s lineage

Gamay’s full name is ‘Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc’ and it’s thought to have originated in the village of Gamay, south of Beaune in Burgundy. The local names for the grape are ‘Bourguignon Noir’ (Black Burgundy) and ‘Petit Bourguignon’ (Little Burgundy). Gamay’s parents are the black Burgundian grape Pinot Noir and the white Gouais Blanc. Given Gamay’s deep rooted connections with Burgundy it seems strange that this grape found its home in Beaujolais. The reason behind this is down to its success. Gamay is easier to grow than Pinot Noir as it ripens 2 weeks earlier and it produces a stronger, fruitier wine. Back in the 1360s villagers in Burgundy preferred to plant Gamay over Pinot which lead the Duke of Burgundy to outlaw it in 1395. The Duke preferred his Pinot and that was that. Fortunately Gamay was adopted by Beaujolais . . . and the rest is history.

The difference in styles between New World and Old World Gamay

New World Gamay

Gamay's signature flavour is of cherry
Gamay’s signature flavour is of cherry

It’s a little early to put a definitive style on cool climate Gamay from Canada and New Zealand as Gamay is still making its first appearance there. There’s much expectation (and excitement) about what wines will find favour.

  • Flavour profile: In general the wines have less of an earthy undertone than those from France. They are characterised by a light body, gentle tannins, vibrant red cherry flavours, fresh acidity and intense perfume.

Gamay can express roasted fennel seed / fenugreek notes
Gamay can express hints of roasted fennel seed / fenugreek

Gamay didn’t make its debut in California until the 1990s as Napa wine makers had been mistakenly growing Valdigue instead, believing it to be Gamay.

  • Flavour profile: Grown at higher altitudes Californian Gamay is typically light bodied, lively and aromatic with bright, sweet and sour morello cherry flavours lifted by roasted warm spices (fenugreek and fennel seed).

Australian Gamay is also new on the block thanks to the warmer climate not suiting Gamay (which prefers cooler temperatures). However antipodean wine makers have persisted and Gamay growing has developed.

  • Flavour profile: These wines are light bodied and tend to have deeper fruit flavours than their New World cousins of black cherry, crushed strawberry and violets with juicy acidity.

Old World Gamay

Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony
Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony

Gamay is Beaujolais’ star and the better wines come from the AOCs Beaujolais Villages and Crus Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Villages AOC tend to vinify their wines in a similar method to neighbouring Burgundy. Wine here are aged briefly in oak barrels which gives an intriguing depth and compexity.

  • Flavour profile: Grown on granite Beaujolais Villages trademarks are vivacious fruit driven wines, light bodied, lively and aromatic with notes of morello cherry, violets, strawberry, raspberry, peony and peach. They can possess savoury and earthy undertones with hints of cinnamon, white pepper and smoke.

Collectively known as the Beaujolais Crus – these are the 10 top Beaujolais Villages that produce deliciously structured wines:

  • Fleurie

    Beaujolais, Gamay's stronghold
    Beaujolais, Gamay’s stronghold
  • Brouilly

  • Chenas

  • Morgon

  • Chiroubles

  • Julienas

  • Cote de Brouilly

  • Moulin a Vent

  • Saint Amour

  • Regnie

Beaujolais Nouveau!
Beaujolais Nouveau!

Beaujolais Nouveau is designed to be drunk young – and it can also be drunk chilled – the French drink it as an aperitif before meals. Each year the Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November, and not earlier, by decree of the French Government. Just after midnight on the given day a race begins to ship the wine out all around the world as quickly as possible, generating stunts (balloon, elephant and rickshaw races) and excitable headlines.

Beaujolais Nouveau is not fermented in the usual way – carbonic maceration is used. This means that the grapes are fermented without being crushed. The resulting wine is very fruity and low in tannin and can be ready inside 6 weeks.

  • Gamay makes a surprise entrance!
    Gamay makes a surprise entrance!

    Flavour profile: Beaujolais Nouveau is very light bodied and has exuberant fruit flavours of black cherry, crushed strawberry, lilac and violets with zesty acidity. Thanks to the carbonic maceration it also has subtle hints of pear drops (boiled sweets) and occasionally bananas.

The Loire produces fine Gamay wines, particularly in the area around Touraine (it’s also used in Anjou to produce Roses).

  • Flavour profile: Gamay wines from the Loire exhibit thirst-quenching freshness with a good depth of fruit (black cherry, raspberry and peach), light body and earthy, lightly spiced tones. The wines have a more herby note with floral aromas of lavender and rose.

There are some promising Gamay wines coming out of the Loire Valley which beg further investigation. Keep an eye out for them as we are increasing our range at and hope to bring you some pleasant surprises.

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Saint or Sinner? How to pick a good Shiraz wine

Australia’s signature grape, Shiraz, holds a secret. It’s an old variety from France and it’s the grape behind the famous Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines in the Rhone. Known as Syrah in France, this prized black grape has hundreds of years of history. Capable of producing beautiful blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre; Shiraz also stands proud as a single variety wine in its own right. Here’s how to pick a Shiraz that suits you from the different styles available across the globe . . .

Shiraz Syrah
Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape

The difference between Shiraz and Syrah

Technically there is no difference between Shiraz and Syrah – they are both the same grape which produces deeply flavoured, full bodied, fruity wines. However styles vary from big, bold and brazen on one side of the spectrum to mellow, fine tuned and rich on the other.

Wine makers using this grape have more than a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to expressing its characteristics and you’ll need to know where the wine comes from to be able to tell what style it is. As a rule of thumb if a wine is labelled as Shiraz it hails from the New World – eg Australia, South Africa, California; if it’s labelled Syrah it’s from the Old World – eg France, Italy, Spain.

The difference in styles between New World Shiraz and Old World Syrah in general is that:

  • New World Shiraz is more powerful than Old World Syrah with intense fruit flavours, a higher alcohol content and firmer tannins.

    Shiraz / Syrah grapes
  • Flavour profile: sweet blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, black olives, tar, liquorice, charcoal, dark chocolate, black pepper, cloves. Fruit forward, tannic and intense.

  • Old World Syrah is a slightly lighter style with rich, ripe flavours and softer tannins. Most of these wines age well and are often hailed as being ‘more elegant’ than their New World rivals.

  • Flavour profile: blackberry, dark morello cherry, cassis, smoke, sweet anise, spice, herbs, leather, black pepper, mocha, savoury undertones. Mellow tannins, seductive aromas with a long finish.

If you like big, bold wines with tannin, pick Shiraz. If you like full bodied wines that pack a softer punch, pick Syrah.

Languedoc Roussillon - Shiraz's second home
Languedoc Roussillon – Shiraz’s second home

That’s all well and good when your bottle of wine has either Shiraz or Syrah printed on the front label but France has the added complication of labelling its wines by region rather than grape variety. The wine regions in France that produce both 100% Syrah and Syrah blends are in the south east of the country: the Languedoc Roussillon and the Rhone.

The Languedoc Roussillon – Syrah’s second home

  • Syrah has found its second home in the Languedoc Roussillon with the grape thriving in the well drained, rocky soils. Single grape variety wines are produced throughout the region with some lovely 100% Syrahs coming from the vineyards along the Herault river, the Gard and l’Aude.

The Rhone - Syrha's birthplace
The Rhone – Syrha’s birthplace

The Rhone – Syrah’s birthplace

Syrah’s birthplace is in the northern Rhone and Hermitage is famous for it. So much so that Hermitage’s Syrah was added to Bordeaux Clarets in the 18th – 19th centuries to improve the Bordelaise blends. It was done in times when there was a particularly poor vintage (this was also common practice in Burgundy).

  • Hermitage – Primarily 100% Syrah. Officially wines can also made with the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne added to a Syrah based blend. This is no longer common practice and most red Hermitage wines are pure Syrah.

  • Cote Rotie – Many wines are made with 100% Syrah but up to 20% of the white grape Viognier can be added a blended Syrah based wine. This style has a beautiful fragrance.

  • Cornas – 100% Syrah.

Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine’s flagship Domaine de Thalabert in the northern Rhone.
Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine’s flagship Domaine de Thalabert in the northern Rhone.

Syrah blends

We are increasingly seeing New World Syrah blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo and Sangiovese but its been used in blends in France for centuries. It’s traditionally blended with Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault in France – as well as the white grapes Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane in the Rhone.

Rhone blends using Syrah

  • Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph – Syrah is the dominant grape here with blends being allowed to contain up to 75%. The remainder is made up with 15% of the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne.

  • Chateauneuf du Pape – Grenache & Syrah blends (with lesser amounts of Mourvedre, Vaccarese, Counoise, Cinsault, Piquepoul Noir, Muscardin and Terret Noir. Small amounts of white grapes can also be added to the red wine blend.)

    Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine Roger Perrin in the southern Rhone.
    Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine Roger Perrin in the southern Rhone.
  • Gigondas – Grenache & Syrah blends (with a minimum of 15% Syrah in the blend).

  • Cotes du Rhone – Most blends here are based on Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Carnignan, Vaccarese, Counoise, Cinsault, Piquepoul Noir, Muscardin and Terret Noir.

Languedoc Roussillon blends using Syrah

Like the southern Rhone, the Languedoc Roussillon uses Syrah in its blends. Light bodied Grenache is king here but Syrah is next in line, lending power, structure and a hit of front loaded flavour to Grenache based blends.

Fitou – Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Syrah blends.

Corbieres – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan blends.

Minervois – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (60% of the blend) and Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Bourboulenc.

Faugeres – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

Saint Chinian – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

Costières de Nîmes – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

la poulardiere red small r
La Poulardiere, Cotes de Rhone

Syrah’s lineage

Syrah’s parents are the rare French grapes Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Dureza is a black grape and comes from the Rhone Alpes region. It had practically disappeared but thanks to the discovery that it was the parent of Syrah pioneers in the Rhone have reintroduced it in the Saint Joseph AOC. Mondeuse Blanche is a long forgotten white grape and is also the ancestor of Viognier. It comes from the Savoie region, north of the Rhone.

Syrah or Shiraz – the legend of its name

There are two legends as to how Syrah/Shiraz acquired its names; both tell that the grape hailed from foreign climes, perhaps, thanks to Syrah’s seemingly exotic flavours (one of the local Italian nicknames for the grape is ‘Balsamina’ . . . perhaps a reference to Balsamic vinegar given ithe condiment’s sweet/sour, fruity smoke infused taste?).

Rocca Maura ‘Cuvee 1737’ Cotes du Rhone
Rocca Maura ‘Cuvee 1737’ Cotes du Rhone

The name ‘Syrah’ is supposed to be derived from ancient Syracuse in Sciliy. Syracuse was a powerful city during the ancient Greek rule in 400 BC and the grape was thought to have been brought to France either by the ancient Greeks or by the legions of the Roman Emperor Probus some time after AD 280.

The name ‘Shiraz’ comes from the old city of Shiraz in Iran where the legend has the grape originating from. The ancient city produced a well known Shirazi wine and tradition has it that the grape was brought from Shiraz to France by a wandering hermit.

Syrah is the perfect Winter red
Syrah is the perfect Winter red

Warming Wines

With Winter’s cold snap tightening its grip on the UK you’ll see sales of Syrah/Shiraz shoot up – this is a warming wine. It’s big flavours and hearty body are perfect for raising the spirits on cold frosty evenings and for enjoying with rich winter dinners. We have been exploring Syrah’s potential and have some new discoveries coming onboard soon so keep watching for our new arrivals!

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The Many Shades of Grey – Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio: How to spot a marvel from a monster

Pinot Grigio; aka ‘the Grey Pinot,’ has many faces. Curiously coloured with a myriad of shades, this little French grape adopted by Italy holds surprising potential. Originally a mutation, it has its beginnings in myth for this grape is both a Chimaera and a Chameleon capable of producing a variety of different styles of wine. Discovering the Pinot you prefer can be a minefield – here’s how to spot a marvel from a monster . . .

The Chimaera, a creature of many parts
The Chimaera, a creature of many parts

The Chimaera

Pinot Grigio is the same grape as the French grape Pinot Gris. It’s thought to have originated in Burgundy and it is a naturally occurring chimaera; a genetic mutation of the red grape Pinot Noir that occurred centuries ago. (The genetic term is derived from the Chimaera of Greek mythology, a fire breathing monster that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon.)

Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour
Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour

Pinot Gris must have come as quite a shock to those ancient wine makers. The leaves of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are so similar that you can’t tell the difference between the two grape vines . . . until the bunches of grapes begin to ripen and take on colour. Unlike the dark purple of Pinot Noir, the grapes of Pinot Gris are bathed in grey.

The Chameleon

Although Pinot Gris takes the name ‘Gris’ thanks to the soft grey tone of its grapes; like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour variations. It’s gentle grey tones can range from dusty violet hues to soft bronzed tones of pink.

Dusky violet Pinot Gris
Dusky violet Pinot Gris

It also has a bewildering variety of regional names in France. It was known as Pinot Beurot in the Middle Ages; a reference to the grape’s colour being similar to that of the homespun habits worn by the Cistercian monks. You’ll also find this grape called Gris Cordelier after the Franciscan monks known as Cordeliers. The monks were responsible for pioneering the spread of Pinot Gris beyond the borders of France in the 1300s.

Outside France it’s known as Pinot Grigio (Grey Pinot) in Italy, Grauburgunder (Gray Burgundy) in Germany and Szurkebarat (Grey Monk) in Hungary.

Marvel or Monster?

Bronzed pink Pinot Gris
Bronzed pink Pinot Gris

It’s not surprising that Pinot Gris is known both as a marvel and a monster. It’s Italian namesake, Pinot Grigio, has enjoyed meteoric success; sales have rocketed and over half of the UK’s wine drinkers are said to quaff it. The problem with new found fame is that a lot of Italian Pinot Grigio has become mass produced and is lacking the delicate, mild, citrus crispness that endeared it to British wine lovers in the first place.

Bad Pinot Grigio can be insipid and bland.

However this grape’s true merit is the different styles of wine that it is capable of producing.

Wine made from Pinot Gris
Wine made from Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is not only multifaceted but in the right hands its its multidimensional. It can produce a whole array of white wines from bone dry and light bodied right through to full bodied and deliriously sweet.

Low in acidity and high in sugars, Pinot Gris flourishes in cool climates. Germany and Alsace (northern France) produce both semi sweet (Moelleux) and sweet, late harvest (Vendages Tardives) Pinot Gris with spicy, nectar-like, intense flavours.

Generally French Pinot Gris tends to be more complex and more full bodied than Italian Pinot Grigio. Flavours tend to be deeper too – typically of pear, stone fruit and sweet spices.

In the Loire, Pinot Gris is used to produce Malvoisie Coteaux d’Ancenis, a subtly sweet fruity and floral style. There is one exception in the region – Christophe Rethore makes a dry Pinot Gris with only 2.5 grams of residual sugar. The result is a startlingly good dry Pinot Gris that I highly recommend.

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire 2014 £6.99

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire
Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire

Domaine Rethore Davy’s Pinot Gris is grown on steep south facing slopes (10% gradient) which are divided between quartz and schist. These soils were specifically chosen to bring out the best characteristics of this expressive grape variety. Here, on the Mauges plateau, crossed by the valleys of the River Evre, the Pinot Gris makes a striking wine. Le Chapitre combines all the refreshing qualities of Pinot Gris in perfect harmony. The grapes are harvested in September when the grapes are nearly over ripe but before Noble Rot sets in. At this pivotal point, Domaine Rethore Davy captures the lush flavour of Pinot Gris with its twinkling acidity to produce its award winning wine.

Tasting Notes:

Soft, smoky Pinot Gris from the Loire Valley. Crisp, fresh and mouth watering. Gently spiced flavours of ripe pear, white peach and lychee with a touch of lemon and ginger. Pleasantly intense aromas and very nicely balanced with floral overtones. Generous with a lingering freshness.

100% Pinot Gris. 12.5% abv. 75cl.

Mists on the Mauges
Mists on the Mauges

Food & Wine Pairing:

Pinot Gris is the perfect wine to sit and relax with on its own but Le Chapitre also pairs well with food. It’s lovely with seafood such as crab spring rolls or chilli prawns, smoked salmon or gravlax, squid or grilled fish – try it with stuffed sardines. Le Chapitre is good with chicken or turkey, pulled pork, salamis, ham and pates, salads, soups and lightly spiced Asian cuisine.


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Shortcuts to Super Sparkling Wines – Don’t Pass Over Regional Specialities

It’s about time that sparkling wines broke out of the box; all too often we miss out on wonderful regional specialities as they don’t get to reach our shores. Champagne, glorious though it may be, is only one region in France that produces sparkling wine. There are over 20 others that we simply just don’t get to hear about and one in particular is a pretty well kept secret . . .

Bordeaux's speciality: Cremant de Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s speciality: Cremant de Bordeaux

If you are looking for a shortcut to a source of super sparklers that won’t break the bank you’ll be surprised that Bordeaux has more than a few under wraps. We all know that Bordeaux is a premium source of high quality wine and has top class and talented wine makers at every turn. But what is not common knowledge is that Bordeaux has a long tradition of making its own sparkling wine.

Bordeaux’s sparkling wine is made by wine makers equally as talented as those who produce their excellent reds. It’s made exactly the same way as Champagne and it has its own niche following inside France – it’s exclusively used at official functions by decree of the Mayor in preference to Champagne.

To be honest you don’t get to see much of it in the UK as it’s consumed by French wine lovers before we get much of a look in.

saint emilion cremant
Cremant from Saint Emilion

Bordeaux’s speciality is the sparkling wine Cremant de Bordeaux. There are only 7 French Cremant AOCs that are permitted to make this style of sparkler, namely Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Jura, Limoux and Loire. Cremants (named for the French word meaning ‘creamy’ which refers to the frothy mousse of bubbles) are an excellent alternative to Champagne and each region has its own style. Each style is dictated by the region’s native grapes, terroir and wine making techniques. Cremant de Bordeaux is softer and more gentle than crisp, zesty Cremant d’Alsace.

The French adore their fizz, but they are leaving Champagne in favor of other sparkling wines – Cremants now account for half of sparkling wine sales in France.

Clos des Cordeliers has been producing Cremant since 1892
Clos des Cordeliers has been producing Cremant since 1892

The production of sparkling wines in Bordeaux is far from prolific but Cremant de Bordeaux has its roots in the 19th century. Saint Emilion has been making Cremants in the ancient cloisters, Clos des Cordeliers, since 1892 and Sauternes & Barsac were experimenting with sparkling wines as far back as the 1870s. The AOC Cremant de Bordeaux was created in 1990 and today you’ll find specialist small producers making Cremants as well as a few prestigious names – Jean Luc Thunevin of Premier Cru Chateau Valandraud is a Cremant producer.

Prices are very reasonable, partly thanks to Cremant being eclipsed by Bordeaux’s world famous reds and partly thanks to Cremant de Bordeaux being undiscovered outside France.

Highly Recommended

Cremant de Bordeaux – Jean Baptiste Audy £8.99


This is a recent discovery and it is produced by the most renowned producer of Cremants de Bordeaux for Jean Baptiste Audy (we can’t tell you who, as it’s a secret).


The producers are located in the heart of the Entre Deux Mers, near Langoiran, on the banks of the Garonne river. The Cremant is made in underground caves deep in the natural limestone galleries along the Garonne which are ideally suited for the process thanks to their high humidity.

Langoiran is a small town that spirals up a crag over the River Garonne, opposite Graves AOC. High on the crag sits the 13th century fortress Chateau de Langorian. In its heyday Langorian’s ancient dock catered for important river traffic and locally built barges used to carry stone quarried from the hillside and barrels of wine up the river.

Langorian by the river
Langorian by the river

This Cremant is made in exactly the same way as Champagne (using the Methode Champenoise); grapes are hand picked into small baskets and fermented in stainless steel vats, the second fermentation is done the following year in bottle, riddling is also done by hand as is disgorgement and the final product is then aged for several months more. The grapes used are the same grapes that go into classic Bordeaux white wines: Semillon and Muscadelle and are from vineyards on chalky limestone soils. This grape combination characterises this Cremant de Bordeaux with the hallmarks of subtle complexity married with a fine fragrance and lovely body.

Cremant de Bordeaux Brut - Jean Baptiste Audy
Cremant de Bordeaux Brut – Jean Baptiste Audy

Tasting Notes:

Deliciously fresh and frothy with a delicate mousse of bubbles. A Bordelaise speciality made the same exacting way as Champagne with flavours of lime, pear and quince underpinned by subtle hints of white cherry blossom, crushed walnuts and caramel. Very aromatic and well balanced. A nice long frothy finish.

70% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle, 12% abv. 75Cl

Food Pairing:

The ideal temperature to enjoy it is chilled between 5 – 7°C. Perfect for enjoying as an aperitif, Cremant de Bordeaux is also great with desserts (raspberry trifle in particular!), appetizers, smoked salmon, prawns, chicken and turkey.


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More Mousseux Please – Searching for Sparkling Wines?

The British have always loved their bubbly. We’ve been entranced by Champagne since the 19th century and we’ve spread the love to encompass Prosecco. But we are missing out on a vast swathe of fantastic fizz. There’s a world of Mousseux out there begging to be discovered.

Strings of bubbles in sparkling wine are created by CO2

There’s no prospect of the British love affair with bubbly dimming. Sales are booming as we broaden our quest to discover quality fizz that fits the bill. Our first love may be Champagne but thanks to a growing demand for reasonably priced bubbly there is a wider choice of sparkling wines available today than ever before.

Traditionally France has always lead the way but in the past decade Cava (Spain) and more recently Prosecco (Italy) have made huge inroads to the market. Alarm bells sounded this year with a threatened Prosecco shortage caused by a poor harvest in 2014. This was followed by warnings of Prosecco price rises, partly down to the impending shortage, market manipulation and producers wishing to craft premium ‘top dollar’ Prosecco. It’s not surprising that Italian wine makers wish to up their game – in 2014 Prosecco sales outstripped those of Champagne for the first time. Only time will tell if Prosecco starts to become more expensive.

Touraine mousseux
Mouuseux from Touraine in the Loire

France has by no means been left behind. In the 2015 Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards on Sept 2nd France was the most successful country with 19 more gold medals (46 in all) than second placed Italy. It remains a fabulous source of sparkling wine.

Beyond Champagne France’s equivalent to Prosecco are the Vins Mousseux. ‘Mousseux’ comes from ‘mousse’ and refers to the foam of bubbles that froths to the top of the glass. Vins Mousseux are made the length and breadth of France and flagship grapes from each different wine region give each sparkling wine its personality and character. Better known regions span from the Loire, Rhone, Savoie, Languedoc Roussillon and Gaillac.

Gaillac mousseux
Mousseux from Gaillac

If you enjoy sparkling wine, French Vins Mousseux have a wide variety of styles to suit every taste. Vins Mousseux tend to be fruitier and more lively than Cremants and Champagnes. They are typically drunk young so that you get all the benefits of the aromas and flavours whilst they are still vibrant. Cremants and Champagnes (made by the Method Champenoise) lose their fruitiness as the wine develops and take on flavours of brioche, toast, caramel and nuts. Vins Mousseux have a mousse of bubbles that last till the last sip from the glass but the bubbles tend to be bigger and more zippy than Cremants or Champagnes.

Mousseux – the origins of effervescence

Saumur mousseux
Mousseux from Saumur, in the Loire

Contrary to myth the French didn’t invent sparkling wine (though they certainly developed it into what we know today). Wine becomes effervescent when it undergoes secondary fermentation. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred since the beginning of wine making itself – the oldest known document mentioning it is an Egyptian papyrus dated 522 AD. However, it was often looked on as a fault and as something to be avoided.

Taming the bubble

As wine making improved down the ages people began to enjoy its natural ability to twinkle. But wine makers didn’t understand what made it occur. What they didn’t know was that the bubbles were created when the wine underwent a second fermentation, producing an excess of carbon dioxide which gave the wine a fizzy quality.

The wire casing on sparkling wine bottle corks is called a ‘muselet’

A grand collaboration between the British and French, driven by a thirst for sparkling wine . . .

Dom Perignon, the fabled French monk who the Champagne Dom Perignon is named for, wasn’t the first to laud the fizzing qualities of sparkling wine – it was being remarked on in 13th century France and its tongue tickling sensations were hailed as extraordinary. By the 17th century major developments were underway as producers sought to perfect the secondary fermentation. It was an Englishman who perfected the technique. Christopher Meret (born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire) delivered a paper to the Royal Society in 1662 setting out a recipe for sparkling wine. He recommended adding sugar to a finished wine which would start off a secondary fermentation and produce the bubbles we love so well.

Different methods were developed as time went on. They boil down to two basic techniques:

Anjou mousseux
Mousseux from Anjou in the Loire
  • Methode Charmat or Methode de la Cuve Close – used by most Vins Mousseux (and also by Prosecco, Asti etc!). Invented by Jean Eugene Charmat in 1907 (whose son was the creator of the sparkling wine Veuve de Vernay). The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized vat.

  • Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle – used by Champagne and Cremant producers. With this method the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.

The first mention of ‘Sparkling Champagne’ was in English, not French, in 1676. Bottles strong enough to withstand the explosive powers of fizz were developed by the English using coal-fired glass, corks were reintroduced to the French by British bottlers . . . and corks with wire muselets (which translates as ‘muzzle’) were invented by the French in 1844.

Discover the Duc

Duc de Berieu Mousseux Brut
Duc de Berieu Brut

Popular in France, and exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered in the UK, Duc de Berieu Brut and Duc de Berieu Demi Sec are made by along established negociant, with several prestigious chateaux to their name, who specialize in the production of sparkling wines.

Both these Vins Mousseux are made with Ugni Blanc, which is the French name for Trebbiano. The name Ugni Blanc holds the key to this grape, it’s derived from the old French name ‘Unia’ which comes from the Latin ‘Eugenia, meaning ‘noble’ and the grape is an unsung hero when it comes to sparkling wines.

Duc de Berieu Mousseux demi sec
Duc de Berieu Demi Sec

Having taken both these wines to various shows up and down the country they have been favourably received especially when they are directly compared with Processco. The consensus of opinion is that they are clean and fresher than their Italian rival. So why not try yourself? At £6.99 a bottle you have nothing to lose!