The wine buff: The best bubbles to buy this Valentine's weekend
If you're celebrating Valentine's Day with a bottle of Champagne, do not be tempted to open it by sabrage. This is the art of uncorking a bottle of Champagne using a sword or a heavy knife. If you want to see how it's done, order a bottle at the Shelbourne, where sommelier Nisea Doddy has been trained in the art of sabrage and has been inducted into the Confrèrie du Sabre d'Or.
If you want to see how not to do it, Google 'sabrage fail', and you'll get a load of examples of smashing bottles. The most spectacular is the New Year incident in the kitchen of three Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California where the manager is seen trying his technique on a $2,000 Nebuchadnezzar of Champagne. The result? 15 litres of Billecart-Salmon Champagne and shattered glass showered all over him and the floor. No injuries reported, apparently.
While you may not want a Nebuchadnezzar, equivalent to 20 bottles, on Valentine's Day, it is definitely the day for celebrating with a bit of sparkle. If you're a Prosecco lover, make sure to up your spend and get a special bottle; and if you're feeling like being a bit more adventurous, why not try a Spanish cava? Cava is made using the traditional method, which is the method used for Champagne. This means that the second fermentation, which is responsible for creating the bubbles, happens in the bottle (not in a large industrial tank like Italian Prosecco). And it is left to age in the bottle for a minimum of nine months so that it develops a richer, more complex, flavour.
It's worth going to an independent off-licence to look for one of the more unusual cavas. Top-end cava is aged for a number of years, and similar to Rioja wines, there is a classification for the aging system. The youngest cava, classified as traditional, is aged for nine months; reserva is aged for 15 months; and gran reserva is aged for 30 months. There is also a new premium classification, cava de paraje calificado, with 12 cavas being awarded this designation so far.
So as well as a Prosecco, I've a few interesting cavas in today's special Valentine's line-up, there's a sparkling wine from Wales, some delicious rosés, and of course a few bottles of Champagne.
Colutta Brut Spumante Prosecco
€20.75 (from €23.75), 11pc, Wines Direct
A nicely made Prosecco, this has a restrained and elegant nose perfumed with white blossom and notes of pear, apples, and peach. On the palate, it is crisp and refreshing with good acidity and a delightfully frothy mousse.
Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne
€19.99, 12pc, Aldi
Always good and incredibly well-priced, this has a refreshing crunch of juicy apple, flecked with touches of lemon zest and a soft whisper of buttery complexity.
Albet i Noya Petit Albet Brut
€22.70 11.5pc, Organico, Little Green Grocer, Morton's
This is one of the wineries that broke away from the cava Denomination of Origin in 2014 to do their own thing and is the first winery to become organic in Spain. This is a superb sparkling wine with fine flavours of lemon, quince and a touch of marmalade.
Agustí Torelló Mata Reserva Brut 2015
€31, 11.5pc, Sheridan's Cheesemongers
This elegant cava has a purity of flavour with layers of red and green apple, lemon, grapefruit, fennel and dill melding together with a golden touch of toast.
Juvé y Camps Cava Gran Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature 2012
€25.99, 11.5pc, Celtic Whiskey Shop
Made with zero dosage (the addition of a small amount of sugar, which is typical in Champagne), this has notes of lime marmalade and brioche on the nose, and is fresh on the palate with flavours of apple, blanched almonds, dried apricot and a touch of wax on the finish.
Granzamy Brut NV Champagne
€29.95 (from €34.95), 12pc, O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
Vegan-friendly, this 100pc Pinot Meunier Champagne is made by a small, family-run Champagne house in the Marne Valley. Rich and toasty, it has soft flavours of spice, apples and a touch of savoury cherry.
Deutz Cuvée Brut NV
€55, 12pc, Corkscrew, Baggot St Wines, Martin's, O'Donovan's, Malt House, The Wine Centre, Next Door
A really elegant Champagne made from equal proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier this has a floral nose with refreshing flavours of lemon, crunchy apple and a hint of toast and apricot.
Champagne Delacourt Vintage Brut 2008
€47.50, 12.5pc, M&S
Made from 100pc Chardonnay, you immediately notice the complexity on this vintage Blanc de Blanc Champagne, which is deliciously creamy and toasty.
Recaredo Brut Nature Gran Reserva
€40 (from €49.95), 12pc, Terroirs
A biodynamic, zero dosage cava, this is aged for 89 months and is a blend of 58pc Macabeo, 39pc Xarel-lo and 3pc Parellada. With deep tertiary flavours and layers of rich complexity, this still retains some freshness to balance the flavour profile.
Laherte Frères Extra Brut Ultradition Champagne
€48-€50, 12.5pc, Green Man Wines, Fallon & Byrne, Blackrock Cellar, Mitchell & Son, Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Ashes of Annascaul, siyps.ie
A biodynamic grower Champagne with little or no dosage, this blend of Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir has round complex flavours layered with citrus and stone fruit.
Jaume Serra Cava Rosada Brut
€15.99, 12pc, Eurospar, Spar, Mace, Londis
There is a lovely spiciness to the red fruit in this rosé cava with flavours of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry, mixing in with rich toasty notes. From a winery that dates back to 1647 on the hills near Barcelona.
Valhondo Rosé Brut Cava
€14.95 (from €17.95), 11.5pc, O'Briens
A real bargain on special offer, this cava has ripe flavours of crushed strawberries and cherries and a delicious creamy mousse of bubbles. A perfect aperitif and great with a cherry tomato salad.
Maria Casanovas Pinot Noir Rosado
€32, 11.5pc, Green Man Wines, 64 Wines, Red Island Wines, Clontarf Wines
Made from 90pc Pinot Noir and 10pc Chardonnay, this rosé has a generous, creamy texture and is packed with intense flavours of ripe strawberry and cherry with a rich, savoury note on the finish.
Ancre Hill Sparkling Rosé
€59.99, 11pc, 64 Wines, Green Man Wines, Alex Findlater & Co
Yes, they're making sparkling wine using the Champagne method in Wales, and this delicate rosé, from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, has deliciously ripe raspberry fruit with a rich, savoury character adding body.
Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Rosé NV
€64, 12pc, siyps.com
A biodynamic rosé Champagne, produced from 95pc Chardonnay with 5pc Pinot Noir, this is delicately coloured with a touch of red fruits brushing off crisp citrus flavours and a savoury touch of biscuit.