I recently had the good fortune of tasting several transcendent Champagnes, which reminded me why Champagne still has the ability to command such high prices. There is something extremely ethereal and even cerebral about true Champagne from the region of Champagne in France, as compared to other examples of sparkling wine from around the world. Perhaps it’s the unmistakable, yeasty scent of freshly baked bread that sets Champagne apart, or maybe it’s the bracing acidity that makes Champagne so singular.
Unfortunately, though, due to the lousy state of the economy, many people won’t be able to afford real Champ this New Year’s Eve. The good news is that the world is teeming with dozens of non-Champagne sparklers that are significantly cheaper than Champagne, yet still manage to hit the spot. If you’re on a tight budget this year, check out this list of standout sparkling wines from around the world that will provide the same festive dose of effervescence as the real thing, but at a fraction of the price.
Cava, which is Spain’s famous sparkling wine, hails from the region of Penedés in the country’s northeastern corner. Cava is traditionally made from three indigenous Spanish grapes: Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo, and is produced using what’s called méthode champenoise, which is the same winemaking process used by the wineries in Champagne. In méthode champenoise, the wine undergoes its second fermentation – the process by which bubbly gets its bubbles – in the actual bottle in which it’s sold, as opposed to in large steel tanks prior to bottling. This method is known to produce the highest quality sparkling wines. Spain also produces the equivalent of rosé Champagne, which is made with another funky native grape called Trepat. You’re lucky if you can find one of Spain’s rare Cava rosés. They’re spectacular and make a great affordable alternative for New Year’s.
Prosecco is both the name of the grape used to make these Italian sparkling wines, as well as the name of the region where they’re grown. Prosecco falls within the larger viticultural area of the Veneto, and is located in the northeast of Italy. Look for wines that list the sub-regions of Valdobbiadene or Conegliano on the label. Prosecco is typically made using the charmat or tank method, wherein the wine undergoes its second fermentation in large tanks prior to being bottled. Prosecco is the perfect entry-level quaffer for those looking for a cheerful, inexpensive bottle of bubbly to sip on its own or to use in a mimosa, bellini, or a faux Champagne cocktail.
Crémant de Loire, Alsace, Limoux, and Bourgogne
Believe it or not, several other regions in France besides Champagne produce stellar sparkling wines. Of particular note are the Loire Valley, which makes admirable sparkling wines from the Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc grapes, the region of Alsace, which turns out fantastic sparklers made mostly from Pinot Blanc (and sometimes from Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay), the region of Limoux, which produces elegant bubbly made from the local grape Mauzac as well as Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and last but not least, Bourgogne, or Burgundy, which makes beautiful sparkling wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The term crémant is used in all of these regions to indicate that the wine is made in the traditional méthode champenoise, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle.
Domestic Sparkling Wine
California is home to a handful of very classy sparkling wines made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, but what most people don’t know is that some of the best American sparkling wines actually come from New Mexico, of all places. Look for wines made by the producer Gruet, which turns out exemplary bubbly at wallet-friendly prices. Who knew!