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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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!