With the recent sunshine and warm weather, I’ve found myself, against all the laws of probability, drinking sparkling wine!

Now I remember sparkling wine twenty years ago when it was all highly acidic cheap Cava, unless you could afford a second mortgage to splash out on a bottle of genuine Champagne – and I don’t mean the frankly awful mass produced brands like Moet which is basically a sugar solution with a hint of grape dipped in. These were the days of Cava or Asti, and not much else for the working man, which helps explain why sparkling wine was symbolically purchased for a celebration or present, as nobody had any real interest in actually drinking it!

Producers of quality wines have consistently been baffled as to why their sparkling wines just wouldn’t sell in the UK. Twenty years ago the UK wine consumer was not prepared to pay a premium for such a poor product, and unfortunately that image has stuck. Although we wine merchants know the quality of these wines has improved dramatically, it’s now the reputation of these wines and the perception of the UK wine lover the producers have to work on.

In the last few years there’s been a revolution in quality wine production the world over, due to advancements in technology such as irrigation systems and temperature controlled fermentation. Good wine is now being made everywhere as the producers can now control (to a degree at least) the unpredictable weather and it’s affects on their crops. It’s only the giant corporations mass producing cheap, heavilly chemicalled ‘wines’ that keeps the quality so low in the supermarkets and multiple retailers. Get away from these mass brands and it’s actually getting harder to find bad wines.

So I started my new exploration of sparkling wines with Prosecco which can be fantastic if you get a good one. There are poor quality mass produced ones, high in sulphites, out there, but if you go for one from a reputable producer (and don’t just buy the cheapest) you should be in for a treat. Prosecco is produced in various areas of Northern Italy but Valdobbiadene is the premier DOC making the best wines. They tend to have good fruit flavour, fine mousse and superbly balanced acidity with a dry finish, making them delicious as an aperitif, rather than just as a celebration wine. Now, Iv’e been drinking these sat in the sun in the early evening and I’ve loved it. I never really considered this part of the day for drinking wine – I’d normally have a red with an evening meal, or a white if I was having delicate seafood, but have a red on a hot sunny afternoon? Not for me. So a dry white? Again I want something light and refreshing and this is where Prosecco fits the bill. But I’ve also rediscovered Prosecco ‘Frizzante’ (as opposed to the usual ‘Spumante’). This is semi sparkling and just as lovely and full flavoured, but even lighter for afternoon sipping. These tend to come with a cork top which still needs a corkscrew but goes off with a pop, a sort of half and half sparkling wine. This style of wine is big in Northern Italy but I wondered where it would fit in the UK market as sparkling wines are seen as a celebration drink. The answer is as an afternnon tipple or with a light lunch, or as an aperitif in the evening before moving onto a bigger wine with the meal. I strongly recommend you give it a try.

Now I’m also a huge fan of Morton Estate’s sparkling wines from New Zealand. Morton are one of New Zealand’s very best wine producers and are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir experts, and they also grow the third Champagne grape – Pinot Meunier, as found in their Morton Methode Traditionelle Black Label Vintage 2000, which is quite simply exquisite. I’m now working my way through the best from South Africa and Argentina too.

Forget the image of Sparkling Wine from the 1990’s and give it another try. It really can be a delight and is much better and much cheaper than the popular branded Champagnes!