Fizz for Less Bucks

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Being a bit old-fashioned, I like a sparkling wine from time to time, but the tax mark-up on imported champagne makes the stuff prohibitive to all but the most affluent. The cheapest bottle will set you back Bt. 2,600. An international brand like Tattinger starts at Bt. 3,500 and if your taste runs to the legendary Krug, you’ll have to fork out over Bt. 11,000 for a bottle.

Apart from the burden of tax, the making of champagne is influenced by the choice of grapes, where they’re grown, the quality of the harvest and the time-consuming, complicated and expensive process known as the “méthode champenoise”. Even if you don’t speak French, that shouldn’t be too tricky to translate.

Now I happen to like champagne very much, but I want something that I can drink without having to sell the dogs. The cheap alternative is aerated wine. This is table wine which has been perked up with a dollop of carbon dioxide. It might not sound especially appetizing, but there are dozens of them around and they make a fun alternative to The Real Thing. If a sparkling wine costs less than Bt. 1,000 it’s probably aerated. For social events, these wines are perfectly acceptable and make excellent champagne substitutes. And let’s face it, how many of your guests can spot a genuine champagne when they taste one?

Mont Clair Sparkling Brut (white), Thailand. (Foodland and others, Bt. 379)

Here’s a pleasant sparkler from the Siam Winery; a very light gold with a plentiful supply of bubbles. It has a lovely fresh fruity aroma of peaches and passion fruit and there’s a dash of citrus and herbs in the background.

24,000-litre stainless steel temperature-controlled and insulated fermentation tanks at Siam Winery. 24,000-litre stainless steel temperature-controlled and insulated fermentation tanks at Siam Winery.

It’s dry and light-bodied, with a lively refreshing mouth-feel; plenty of fruit up-front and a zesty dash of acidity that gives the taste a refreshing bite. It has a long, dry finish with fruity and peppery overtones.

The wine originates in South Africa’s Breede River Valley and blended in Thailand with a small quantity of local fruit wine. But don’t let that put you off, because this light-hearted easy-drinker would be great for any social event. At just 12.5% alcohol, it would make a lively pre-dinner drink too, but please serve it really cold. I know this tends to subdue the aroma but the wine will soon warm up. Of course, you can serve it with food but I think sparklers are invariably better on their own, enjoyed with lively conversation.

The bottle has a sensible plastic stopper, so if you don’t finish the wine, you can bash the stopper back and put the bottle back in the fridge. This way, the wine will keep its fizz for a couple of days. Far be it from me to encourage dishonesty, but if you hide the label, some of your guests might think you’re serving champagne.

Baron d’Arignac Sparkling Brut (white), France. (Villa and others Bt. 396)

This is a soft dry sparkler produced in the south west of France, near Bordeaux. It’s a very pale gold with plenty of bubbles and there’s a very delicate aroma of apples, with a surprising hint of maraschino cherries. The wine has a very fresh and crisp mouth-feel and a good deal of fruit up-front. There are apples and citrus on the taste and a decently long finish but despite being labeled “brut” (very dry) there’s an attractive dash of sweetness. It’s very light bodied and easy to drink with a good touch of acid, giving it a lively refreshing quality.

At only 11% alcohol this would make a fun party wine. It would also make a pleasant pre-dinner drink because the sharpness would perk up the taste buds.  The wine comes with the traditional “champagne cork” which when removed, is impossible to re-insert, so unless you have one of those handy plastic bottle-stoppers, you really need to finish the bottle in one session. It shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.