Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Cold and fizzy are always a fine idea when it’s hot and sweaty outside. Now, you could pour yourself a beer, but if it’s wine you’re after, then sparkling is a good way to go. It’s one of the few wines that retain some character when they're chilled down to the icy-cold level.
Champagne - real, capital "C" Champagne from France’s Champagne region - is pricey, but there are plenty of fine, affordable sparkling alternatives, from a surprising variety of wine regions.
One note about both Champagne and sparkling wine: It’s much more likely to spray foam everywhere if it’s too warm (and for the cork to blast out at roughly 40 miles per hour the moment you loosen the wire cage around it). If you’ve just won a football game, that may be what you want, but otherwise keep the stuff cold and you’re less likely to find yourself drenched in it.
Bouvet Signature Brut NV ($13)
Loire Valley sparkling wines - called Cremant de Loire - are made primarily from the Chenin Blanc grape. This light, crisp version comes from a family company that’s been making sparkling wine since 1850. Look for other Loire sparkling producers too, like Langlois Chateau (somewhat pricier) and Domaine des Baumard.
Lini Lambrusco Labrusco NV ($15)
Not many people know that there are quite a few terrific, small-scale Lambrusco producers, nor how good Lambrusco can be - full of bright red-berry fruit, and dry, not sweet. Lambruscos like Lini’s Labrusco bottling make great dinner party pours; other brands to seek out include Medici-Ermete, Ca Montanari (labeled as Opera) and Cleto Chiarli.
Codorniu “Anna” Cava ($15)
Spain’s classic sparkling wine, Cava, comes from the Pènedes region just south of Barcelona; think citrus-apple notes with a touch of earthiness. Codorniu’s luscious Anna bottling is a fine introduction; other brands worth hunting down include Juve y Camps, Raventos i Blanc, Dibon and Segura Viudas.
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