At every festive social function, from work events to carol concerts to dinner parties, a glass of something sparkling will be thrust into your hand. The question is what, exactly, and whether it is a £5.99 question or a vintage £100-a-pop question.
It says everything about the British attitude to sparkling wine that we have come up with not one but two words, fizz and bubbles to help us to lie about the quality of what’s on offer.
Fizz might have been an informal way for the upper classes to refer to champagne, but over the years this system has been abused and exploited. Today, being offered a glass of "fizz" could mean anything, but usually means something cheap.
On the rare occasion you are being offered champagne, you can be certain your host will make a point of saying so. Often fizz will mean prosecco, tantamount to an insult. A choice of sparkling wine can tell you almost everything you need to know: here's a guide to the code.
Originally a 'quirky' response to the financial crisis, the mass adoption of Prosecco over the past 12 years or so must go down as one of the great misadventures in consumer behaviour. This is sickly sweet trash juice for people with no sense of self. The only mercy is that you are not being asked to drink it as an "Aperol Spritz".
The correct cheap alternative to champagne. The person who serves you this may not have money, but they have taste, and they have not been swayed by the millions of pounds in marketing materials spent on its Italian rival.
Made in exactly the same way as champagne, it’s enjoyed unpretentiously and in large quantities by the people of Catalonia, whose other main interests are football and putting 'x's in words where x does not belong.
Lambrusco was unfairly traduced by the 1970s, where it was flogged as a cheap, sugary export to naive Brits who didn’t know any better. Later it suffered even more abuse, as it was bastardised into the nightmarish Lambrini. But Lambrusco has been mounting a quiet revival in recent years, especially with northern Italian and Spanish drinkers.
The hipster choice of the summer, all the more so because it will still provoke scoffing from less educated drinkers, who can be put in their place.
Pétillant naturel, to give it its full title, makes use of an ancient technique, the methode ancestrale. You can tell because its adherents will tell you. The preferred sparkling wine of the natural wine mob.
On the plus side, people who serve this are likely to be rich, because by definition they have gone for kudos over value, so they may serve a better class of canape. The hipster choice of last summer.
English Sparkling Wine
Yes, the wines are improving. Yes, some of them are competitive with their French equivalents on the taste front. But you are still spending more to get the same thing with an English label. It’s Brexit in a glass. If that’s your thing, knock yourself out.
An inert and rather sexless option, but an old-fashioned alternative that nonetheless has plenty to recommend it. Cremant is often preferred by the kind of man who decided, at the age of 21, that he would only drink wine from France and preferably only from Burgundy, but who cannot afford champagne. Often overlooked by the fashion mob, which means it can be more reliable.
Non-vintage Grand Marque champagne
Bubbly swill for the credulous. I mean, sure, drink it if it is on offer, especially if it is Bollinger, identifiable by the faint whiff of vomit coming off it. But anyone serving large amounts of this stuff is telling you they have more money than judgement.
If you are having a party, you are better off falling back on Aldi’s reliable Veuve Monsigny, which has been the middle-class drinks party fallback for years.
The sophisticated choice. An option that lets the world know you have money, but also taste. You have found a small vineyard in Champagne, after surveying a few. You have either driven down or ordered some in bulk. You may have had to order in French. You have not skimped, nor have you paid over the odds for a label that you saw on a parasol at Ascot. You have taste.
Vintage Grand Marque champagne
If you are invited to a party and they are doling out 1996 Dom P, make sure you behave yourself. These people are fabulously wealthy and stupidly generous. Take them for all they’ve got. Merry Christmas.