Festive fizz

Can you tell the good stuff from the cheap stuff?
23 December 2018

Interview with 

Clare Bryant, Cambridge University

Christmas fizz

Christmas fizz


Christmas dinner is done, you’re more than a little full, and perhaps now you fancy a glass of wine. Clare Bryant from Cambridge University took Chris Smith through her recommendations on what to drink at Christmas...

Clare - So I will be drinking a bottle of Cornish fizz, English sparkling wines are wonderful and I think at the moment they outrank any sparkling wine from anywhere else in the world. And then with my goose I will be having a very nice bottle of Burgundy. Burgundy is made from pinot noir. So very very nice red wine. Actually making it to putting wine is a bit of an ordeal for me because by that point I am half asleep, but if I make it a point having a pudding wine I will probably have a sweet German Reisling or possibly a sweet Muskat from France which has a nice citrusy orange flavour and goes very well with Christmas pudding.

Chris - Now when planning a wine for a dish, how should one approach that?

Clare - Well for red meat you would normally have red wine, for white meats, it's debatable sometimes a light red wine. For vegetarian dishes, you can have a choice of anything really so if it's a robust vegetarian dish very cheesy then you probably go for a red wine something from the Rhone Valley would be nice, for a lighter dish you might want to go for a Reisling. There are various rules but rules are there to be broken.

Chris - You’re picking all Old-World stuff though!.

Clare - No not at all. Actually I think some of the South African wines are absolutely fantastic at the moment and really good value for money. Californian wines are really beautiful but some of them are a tad overpriced for my for my liking. I've recently also been to Australia for a couple of weeks and had some of the most fantastic wines there as well so I will drink wine from anywhere as long as it's good. But the best quest of all is trying to find a good value wine for money and that's the biggest challenge actually. South Africa probably ticks the box though at the moment.

Chris - It's really interesting you brought up cost because you can pay a lot for wine but equally you can pay not very much for wine. Now is it a given that if you buy something really expensive you are going to taste the difference or not?

Clare - It depends. First of all the actual cost of wine with respect to buying bottle is there are a variety of very fixed costs, the cost of the bottle, the cork cost,  the VAT and costs of the import duty which is what we pay in the UK. So if you drink a five pound bottle of wine you're probably spending about 50p on the wine inside. Whereas if you buy a 10 pound bottle of wine you're getting considerably more wine for your money so you'll see an escalation in quality accordingly.

Then it's about wine maker reputation so certain wine makers and this is particularly true in France. It's also true in Australia and California as well. It’s sold on the name again and that’s useful because a good wine maker will make a consistently good wine but then a good wine maker will only have a limited amount of wine to sell. So it's supply and demand. So there are a variety of factors involved but basically you need to be paying at least a tenner to get something halfway decent.

Chris - So if I gave you a five pound bottle of wine and a 20 pound bottle of wine are you confident you could probably tell the difference?

Clare - It all depends whether you like it, quality is as you perceive it, at the end of the day. So that's my way of saying if you're going to try that one on me Chris I will accept it if I get caught out!

Chris - Well we did do the test, we asked Eva to go out into Cambridge armed with two different brands of fizzy wine and she had a go at trying this on the general public.


These are the two wines that we took out on the streets. Can you just tell us what they are and what you think of them?

Clare - Well so one is a champagne which will be a dry champagne and I'm just looking to see which grapes were involved. There's a sort of depth and complexity to champagne. They don’t necessarily get with other wines but that's not always true. The other bottle is a cava. It's actually a very well-known cava and it is made in Spain because Spain makes carvas. So in Spain it's obviously hotter than it is in Champagne so you get a different complexity to the wine and that's part of the kind of interesting thing because actually champagne and cava are made in a similar way. They're both fermented in the bottle. I would expect I would prefer the champagne but without actually tasting them I don’t know and both the bottles are empty!

Chris - So what did you pay for those two Katie?

Clare -  I would guess you probably pay to eat three to four pounds maximum for the cava.

Katie -  And just to put this in context, these are 20 centilitre bottles.

Clare - So yeah probably two to three pounds for the cava and probably four or five pounds for the champagne.

Katie - It was three pounds for the cava and a tenner champagne.

Clare - That doesn't surprise me because the price differential not least because champagne has champagne on the label.

Katie - So interestingly nine out of 10 of the people we asked actually preferred the champagne but it seems people thought we were trying to trick them a little bit as they thought they liked the cheaper one actually they preferred the more expensive one.

Clare - Yeah I well I think that's because in wine tests there always something to say if you're going to catch them out. And people like to think that they will like the bargain but it does show the difference you know, champagne is a brand that is generally a good brand and I guess that would support the French view that they make the best sparkling wine in the world.

Chris - The last thing I want to talk about we've got a bottle here of alcohol free wine. We can try this. Do you like it?

Clare - No.

Chris - Why?

Clare - I think actually there is a lot of potential to make good alcohol-free wines but apparently it's very expensive to actually take the alcohol out of the wine. So the way you do it is you either pass through a filter, which then you end up with a low alcohol wine as opposed to alcohol free. Or you do a distilling process and that the problem is I think to actually do that and not affect the flavor of the wine is actually quite challenging. I mean there is something to the alcohol that enhances the taste as well but you know in the long run there's got to be a lot of potential for making the de-alcohol wine. It's just I haven't had one I liked yet.

People are thinking about it a lot especially the small health conscious era and the beer guys have certainly done a really good job. I think it's just a question of time. For example there's a big wine house in Spain or Tores which make actually very halfway reasonable low alcohol wine. And there's also probably mileage because some wines are naturally low and alcohol so German wines from the Moselle region for example are naturally lower in alcohol. So I think it's just a question of time and it's kind of important because some of the big wines from hot countries from Australia for example can come in at anything between 15 and 17 percent alcohol which is almost the same as Sherry  and Port and that’s a serious amount of alcohol.

Chris - That's really crept up in recent years as well hasn't it? Is that a reflection on climate and hotter summers?

Clare -  I suspect it is a reflection on global warming and it is going to cause a problem.


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