It doesn't have to be champers to be a festive knees-up. Here are all the best takes on the bubbly stuff without the hefty pricetag
Christmas and the New Year is a time to crack open the fizz, showering the senses in boozy bubbles to get the party started. Traditionally, folk splash out on such occasions, adding to the Christmas spend-a-thon by purchasing the most expensive bottle of Champagne they can afford.
For those seeking all the fun of Champagne, without the financial spurge, Prosecco has been seen as an acceptable alternative in some quarters, but other fizzy offerings tend to get much less of a look in. But there’s plenty more choice out there for those seeking an alternative festive fizz, and here are our top five tips…
If the word “cider” instantly conjures images of ragged, red-nosed imbibers then we need a word in your ear, because cider can offer all the sophistication of any other booze you care to imagine.
If you look carefully for a bottle of “keeved” cider then you’ll be able to enjoy a drink with one of the finest sparkles around. Keeving is an old English art of fermentation, where lower-than-usual temperatures cause a layer of pectin to rise to the surface of the apple juice (known as a “chapeau brun”) before a slow fermentation takes place that locks in some of the fruit’s natural sweetness.
It’s allowed to further ferment in the bottle, usually topped by Champagne-style corks, giving you the natural, bubbly sparkle so desired by Champagne drinkers.
Try this: Martin Berkeley is a keeving expert, producing his range of delicious Pilton ciders that have been fermented for 6 months in Victorian Somerset cellars. You can buy a case of six 75cl Pilton ciders for just £44.99.
If we’re mentioning booze made from apples, then it’s only fair that we also recommend some pear-based fizz.
Perry is the pear equivalent of cider (not to be confused with pear flavoured cider) and fizzy versions of the drink are a versatile festive choice. Pears have sugars that don’t fully ferment, so along with the crisp tannic bite from their skins you’ll always get a natural sweetness that makes it go down a treat with food.
We reckon pear perfectly pairs with turkey and is adaptable enough that you can keep your glass topped up right through to dessert.
Try this: Lambrini Lightly Sparkling Perry
There is a growing trend in the UK for sharing bottles of beer—large bottles that are for enjoying with company, usually around the dinner table, rather than guzzling solo.
More often than not the beers that make it into such large bottles are suitable for pairing with food, from low alcohol table beers that are packed with flavour but hold back on the booze, to farmhouse saisons with all their yeasty spices. But when it comes to a special beer for the Christmas dinner, we usually plump for something Belgian.
These typically strong beers hold their own among the mismatch of turkey trimmings, but rarely overpower, and provide enough fizz to induce that extra level of merriment.
Try this: Pauwek Kwak is a classic strong, dark Belgian ale that you can buy in 750 ml corked bottles (£7.66) allowing you to pop with pleasure. And if you really want to impress, get your guests some of Kwak’s unique glass-and-wooden-stand combos to serve it in.
The past few years have seen a boom in drinks that have managed to ditch the booze without sacrificing flavour.
With the possible exception of beer, those drinks that try to closely resemble their boozier counterparts tend to be less successful—so a true Champagne substitute will be hard to find. But those producers who provide more creative alternatives, be they alcohol-free cocktails or more sophisticated, grown-up versions of soft drinks, have found much greater success, giving us all a good excuse to cut back on the booze over Christmas.
Try this: One of our favourite fizzes is The Bees Knees Alcohol Free Sparkling drink (£3.99). It’s a combination of fermented grape juice that has been blended with green tea, so while it shares a few flavour characteristics of wine it is very much its own thing, and tastes all the better for it.
English sparkling wine
If you or your guests are going to insist on a sparkling wine for festive fun, then why not opt for an English bottle instead?
These days there are plenty of English sparkling wines that are every bit as good as their French counterparts (and with the awards to prove it) thanks to an increasingly grape-friendly climate and improved grape growing and wine making knowledge throughout the country.
Whereas an affordable bottle of English fizz was once as hard to find as Champagne, these days supermarkets are sourcing quality products at much more reasonable prices. So, join the increasingly growing number of English wine converts with some home grown sparkle.
Try this: Budget supermarket chain Aldi has got in on the English wine act, adding two sparkling wines to its range. Lyme Block Sparkling Brut Reserve (£16.99) is the perfect booze to introduce the Christmas dinner, while Masterstroke Angel + Four English Sparkling Wine is a bargain for under a tenner, with a crisp, clean fizz that’s perfect for a celebratory toast or three.
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