Nothing says celebration like a glass of champagne, and what can we say – we Hong Kongers like our champagne. According to notes from the recent Taste Champagne event hosted by world-renowned champagne and wine expert Tyson Stelzer, Hong Kong brings in three times more vintage champagne as a proportion of its champagne imports than any other country and is second only to the USA on average spend per bottle. In other words, we like and know our go-to bubbles, but when’s the last time you tried something new?
With Valentine’s Day here, knowing your way around sparkling wine at the local wine shop or on that frighteningly extensive wine list during dinner may just be the next best thing when it comes to making a romantic celebration even more special. Whether you’re deciding on which bottle to pop open for that celebratory toast during a dinner or looking for an excuse to venture beyond the familiar and into lesser-known but equally delicious producers to impress a date with your wine knowledge, here’s a quick round-up of reasonably priced sparkling wines and champagnes to give some extra sparkle to your date.
Sometimes affectionately dubbed as Bollinger’s “little sister”, AYALA is its lesser-known sister house, but it doesn’t make it a lesser champagne. Its subtle, clean and precise aromas are a nod to its formidable chef de cave, the recently appointed Caroline Latrive, who is one of only two chefs de cave of major champagne houses around the world.
Don’t let the “nature” label fool you into thinking that this one’s going to be bland. While there is some upfront acidity, we love its delicate balance of fruit and toast yet powerful aromas, dry palate and all-around cleansing mouthful. What’s surprising is that it’s zero dosage, meaning no sugar is added at the final production stage, so you can save your sweet tooth for dessert.
Available through Jebsen Fine Wines; average retail price HK$335
This sparkling ode to joy from New Zealand’s Quartz Reef is made in the traditional champagne method and is a deliciously refreshing and dry brut that has scored above 90 points with wine reviewers. You won’t need the professionals to tell you that this wine from arguably New Zealand’s best sparkling producer is something special. Focused, clean, crisp and aromatic, you’ll get whiffs of red apple, brioche and stone fruits, along with a refreshingly dry, lemony finish and balanced acidity. Drink by the mouthful and remember not to inhale too quickly. Perfect as a pre-dinner aperitif to get the night going or with seafood, but it’s an enjoyable wine any time.
Available at Watson’s Wine; average retail price HK$198
This surprise bargain sparkler from the USA is not something that comes along every day, but if you come across this vintage sparkling wine from the Pinot Noir– dominant Willamette Valley, make sure to snag a few bottles. Well balanced with a clean, refreshing nose followed by citrus, honeysuckle and toast aromas and notes of earthiness, toast, butter and a long finish reminiscent of a far more expensive champagne.
Available at Watson’s Wine; average retail price HK$238
One of the oldest champagne houses in France, Gosset is not exactly a household name yet it’s somewhat of an industry go-to for non-vintage champagne. Because its champagne does not undergo the regular malolactic fermentation process, you get heightened acidity and a citrusy fragrance in this bright, refreshing bubbly, with lemon, pear and melon flavours layered with brioche notes and a bit of minerality. With its lively, refreshingly crisp acidity and layered mouthfuls, it’s good value compared to similar non-vintage champagnes with similar appeals (e.g., Veuve Cliquot NV, Vilmart & Cie).
Available at Watson’s Wine; average retail price HK$290
If you like your champagne on the toasty side, this one’s for you. A lesser-known brand in brand-conscious Hong Kong, this reasonably priced label (if you can find it) brings a lot of bang for the buck with the appearance of a much pricier champagne displaying a nice, steady stream of bubbles. With citrus, apple and pear aromas and rich underlying notes of toast and brioche, this champagne is a consistent crowd-pleaser for sparkling wine novices and professionals alike and pairs well with food including seafood and chicken dishes. Give it a try if you’re lucky to spy it on a restaurant menu or at a wine shop.
Available at Watson’s Wine; average retail price HK$485
An easy-drinking champagne that is lush on the palate, this bubbly is something akin to a three-course appetiser, main and dessert all in one. With creamy notes hinting of floral and generous ripe fruit and bread, it gives off an almost tropical fruit taste, with a high-acidity finish leaving you wanting more. Buy this one if you’re not certain what will be served for dinner or if you want something that will go with just about any food.
Available through Kedington Wines; average retail price HK$$478
Shuzuo Dassai “50” Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo
Sparkling doesn’t have to be limited to wine; for those who associate champagne with hangovers, sparkling sake can be a wonderful alternative (and perfect pairing for that romantic sushi dinner). A gem like the Dassai “50” Sparkling Junmai Daigingo is a relative bargain considering it goes through a second fermentation process in the bottle similar to its Western champagne counterpart. Mild and refreshing, the sparkling Dassai gives off delicate aromas of fruit with a structured, full-bodied finish and uniquely salty flavours. This makes it ideal for pairing not only with sushi and seafood but also with oilier foods like grilled meat and teriyaki, offering mild yet refreshing fruity flavours.
Available at city‘super or where saké is sold; average retail price HK$220
Most people have heard of sparkling wines from Italy in the form of Prosecco, but what’s also worth getting to know is its lesser-known sibling Asti, a sweet, fruity, light-bodied sparkling wine made in the Piedmont region from the Muscat grape. Known for its intensely floral and fruity aromas (think melon and pear), Moscato d’Asti wines are known for a lighter sparkle that’s generally lower in alcohol than their champagne counterparts (usually around 5.5%), but they are higher in sugar. The Cerreto Moscato d’Asti is a fun, floral bouquet and fruit salad in one, with a clean finish and delicious aromas of lychee and even sultana. Consider it a gateway to champagne but not any less delicious.
Available at Watson’s Wine; average retail price HK$218
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