1. Five great sparkling wines at under £20

    Champagne is of course the world's best known sparkling wine. A symbol of wealth and status, lauded in the pages of celebrity magazines and synonymous with romance and love - it's a surefire way to impress.

    The problem with Champagne though, are those very reasons. It has become the symbol of decadence and superficiality and, rightly or wrongly, it has an incredibly high reputation. And with that reputation comes a high price.

    Nowadays though, this is not the impediment it once was. The quality of these alternative sparklings has increased dramatically and the costs are much lower than their French cousin. Sales in the sparkling wine category topped €4.6 billion last year, and prosecco sales in the U.K. reached over €600 million, which equates for more than 75% of all European sales and we drink 2.5 times more than drinkers in its native Italy.

    Here, we look at some of the alternatives that we like, and hopefully you will too.

    Bodegas Sumarroca, Cava Brut Nature, Gran Reserva

    Pale yellow colour. Fresh, complex aroma that mixes pastry notes from the cava’s 36-month aging with light hints of fresh fruit from the base wine. Fresh and smooth on the palate, with very fine bubbles that perfectly complement the wine's complexity. An elegant, serious finish, long and dry, bringing out the essential flavour of the cava.

    Vida Organica Sparkling Chardonnay

    An elegant sparkling wine with gently frothy citrus fruit character. Bread and toasted almonds hit the nose. Well rounded with hints of peach and tangy acidity followed by a long, appetizing finish. The perfect balance between ripe and crisp. A delicious alternative to Prosecco or Champagne.

    Prosecco Sylvoz

    Pale straw in colour. The wine shows aromas and flavours of orchard fruit, citrus, almonds and white flowers, with soft bubbles and a beautiful complexity of flavour on the palette. Ideal for celebrations.

    Pianer Prosecco

    Lively pear fruit and white flowers lead the way in this stylish Prosecco. It’s a little drier and more serious than some but has an energy and floral lift that is very appealing.

    Ruca Malen Brut

    Bodega Ruca Malen is a boutique winery in Mendoza set up in 1998 by owners Jean-Pierre Thibauld and Jacques Louis de Montalembert. Together, the friends have lived their dream and founded their own winery where they concentrate on making premium wines largely from Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh and elegant. Full of citric and white flowers notes. Some toasted almonds and fresh bread aromas shows up adding complexity. Creamy and fresh in the mouth with a long and fruity aftertaste.

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  2. Interview with David Macdonald of Spey Valley Brewery

    Started in 2007 as the first commercial “micro” brewery to be located in the heart of Speyside. Then, as now, the focus was on making sure that every recipe was as good as it could be. That’s why it wasn’t until 2011 that the first casks arrived. This dedication to excellence was due in large part to co-founder, Managing Director & Head Brewer, David Macdonald.

    David was kind enough to give us some of his time to answer our questions

    Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your brewery?

    I’ve always had an affinity to the drinks trade, having been a member of CAMRA and being introduced to the joys of whisky as a student. I entered the Scotch Whisky industry in 2001 after graduating in Chemical Engineering and since then I’ve worked at some of the biggest and best loved distilleries for the world’s biggest drinks companies. I completed the Heriot-Watt MSc in Brewing and Distilling and it was during this time that I founded SVB with my business partner. In my spare time (when I can find it) I enjoy mountain biking, cycle touring, and of course a pint and a nip with my friends!

    Spey Valley Brewery was the first commercial microbrewery to be located in the heart of Speyside, creating the finest hand-crafted beers from the same water as Speyside’s world renowned malt whiskies. In early 2016, production moved to a dedicated unit, that has seen Spey Valley Brewery become the largest brewery in the local area.

    What encouraged you to get into brewing?

    I’ve always been a fan of real ales, I spent a lot of time in Northern England mountain biking and visiting great pubs. Since I’d come up with the name Spey Stout, I decided someone had to make it – why not me?

    What do you think attracts people to your beers?

    I think people link the beers with the location, and buy into the whole brand, not just the beer - the beautiful scenery and the whisky connection – the Spey Valley and Scotland exports very well, whether to England or the wide world.

    Do you create for the market, or is it all towards your own taste?

    To begin with, it was all to my own taste – I was a one-man band but I listened to customer feedback (shout out to “Cracking Pint” Colin from Speyside!) and tweaked existing recipes and extended the range. Now we’re operating on a larger scale, the team are happy to be taste testers and have been invaluable in giving me guidance on how to recreate and improve the beers since moving to the new plant. We’re now looking at new recipes and market specific products, that simply weren’t possible on the old equipment.

    What makes you unique to other breweries?

    Our location – we’re on a farm, with an awe-inspiring view of Ben Rinnes. We’re also quite well connected to our neighbours on the Malt Whisky Trail - would be hard not to be with 16 years’ experience in the industry – and our beers pair well with many drams.

    Of your beers, what is your favourite/ what do you think represents you best?

    Spey Stout is my favourite – the beer for which the brewery was built. It was named long before it was ever brewed, and was always the aim for the brewery – as good a Stout as could be found anywhere in the world.

    What is your personal favourite style of beer?

    I tend to drift towards the dark side – Stouts and Porters.

    What are your top 3 favourite beers (any brewery/any timeframe) and why?

    Motueka - 6°N & Cloudwater Brew Co.

    Moose Fang – Beavertown

    Spey Stout – well if I can’t make a beer that’s one of my favourites I’m doing something wrong.

    Which other working breweries do you rate highly?

    There’s so many good breweries now, it’s difficult to handpick favourites. I really love what the guys down at Siren are doing, and Atom have done some really interesting beers as well. We also love our stand neighbours from Craft Beer Revolution, Pilot, who crack us up on Social Media.

    What do you think of the current state of Scottish brewing, and what do you think for its future?

    It’s an exciting time for Scottish brewing. It’s great to see the industry booming. Although it’s not without its challenges – the more great breweries there are, then the more competition there is. The future promises to be quite exciting – to keep ahead of the game, you have to think a little bit outside of the box.

    What has been your biggest challenge and biggest accomplishment since you opened?

    The biggest challenge has been building the new brewery – it’s been bigger, taken longer, and taken more out of me that I had ever imagined it would. And it’s still not over! It’s not far away, though… watch this space!

    Having said all that, it’s also our biggest accomplishment, as we have a beautiful new brewery in a wonderful location that will become a great tourist attraction for Speyside. It also means we produce a lot more beer, meaning many more people can enjoy it up and down the country.

    What is next for the brewery?

    We’re very excited about 2017, and look forward to growing into our new brewery, getting the Spey Valley Brewery name out across Scotland, the UK and the World!

    Where can people contact you?

    Web: www.speyvalleybrewery.co.uk
    Email: enquiries@speyvalleybrewery.co.uk
    Facebook: www.facebook.com/SpeyValleyBrewery/
    Twitter: @speyvalleybeers
    Instagram: @speyvalleybeers

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