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.
Among the great divides in the world - red states vs. blue states, vegetarians vs. carnivores, the Yankees vs., well, pretty much the world - there is also the great split amongst wine with bubbles. Essentially: There is Champagne, and then there is everything else.
Champagne is the victim of its own success when it comes to names, much like Xerox or Kleenex. You can say, for instance, “I need to blow my nose, please pass me a Kleenex,” and people will no more bat an eye than if you’d asked for a glass of water. Say, “I need to blow my nose, please pass me a nasal tissue,” and they’ll say something like, “Ew!”
Ditto Champagne. Ask for Champagne, and people will happily pass you a glass of whatever kind of wine with bubbles is at hand. Ask for a glass of sparkling wine, and you sound odd. They will say, “Um, perhaps you’d like a nasal tissue to go with that?”
The truth of the matter is that Champagne comes from one place, Champagne, in northern France, and all other sparkling wines are just that, sparkling wine, whether they’re from other parts of France, from the U.S., from Italy, or from Uzbekistan. The other truth of the matter, however, is that there are lots of terrific sparkling wines in the world, some much more affordable than actual Champagne (which will set you back $30+ a bottle, minimum) and some as good as or better than the real stuff.
So, because there are still a few swift days left until New Year’s, here are some recommendations. (Also, a side note: “NV” means “non-vintage,” signifying that the wine is a blend of several different years; it’s standard in sparkling wine and Champagne production. And “brut” means dry, i.e. not sweet).
For Prosecco, the now-ubiquitous Northern Italian sparkler made from the oddly named Glera grape, there are innumerable options. Findability-wise, the NV Mionetto Prosecco Brut ($12) is widely available and appealingly crisp.
For a bit more complexity, track down the NV Adami Garbèl ($15) or, if rosé is your preference, the graceful, gently effervescent 2011 Nino Franco Faìve ($22).
Cava, the classic sparkling wine of Spain, is made in the same manner as Champagne but from grape varieties local to Spain’s northeast coast—Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. It’s typically drier and a little less overtly fruity than Prosecco.
At the inexpensive level, it’s hard to do better than the NV Segura Viudas Aria Brut ($11) or the refreshing NV Covides Casteller Brut ($13). For a Cava that rivals the quality of many Champagnes at about half the price, look for the terrific 2009 Gramona Gran Cuvée ($25).
For U.S. sparkling wines, California, Oregon and Washington all produce quality bottlings, typically made with the same methods as Champagne and with the same grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Gloria Ferrer’s NV Sonoma Brut ($22, often available for less) is almost entirely Pinot Noir (with no skin contact, so the resulting wine is white) yet is appealingly citrusy.
Oregon’s Argyle, in addition to making top-notch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, makes some of the country’s best bubbly; the creamy 2010 Argyle Vintage Brut ($27) is a case in point.
And then there is Champagne. The division in recent years has been between the big houses (all familiar names, like Möet) and what are termed “grower” Champagnes (or “farmer fizz”), which come from a single small estate—often someone who used to sell most of their grapes to big names. It’s not a quality division, as both groups produce great wines, more a philosophical one. And either way, alas, Champagne isn’t cheap.
Regardless, the delicate NV Laurent-Perrier Brut ($35) is a steal for the price. For anyone wanting to check out the grower world, the thrillingly precise NV Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reservé ($50) is a fine place to start. And if you want to make an impression, Ruinart’s NV Blanc de Blancs ($65), in addition to being a beautifully balanced, multi-layered wine, comes in a distinctive bottle based on a design from the 1700s. It’d be an excellent way to ring in the New Year.
More from Food & Wine:
Best New Bars in the U.S.
America's Best Gastropubs
New Year's Sparkling Wine Cocktails
Speakeasy-Style Bars and Lounges
Terrific Holiday Punch Recipes
New Year's Eve bubbles for budgets from billionaire to broke
5@5 – The razzle dazzle of Champagne
How to buy Champagne (or its cheaper, just as cheery cousins)
Bargain bubbly for the holidays
Five "Under The Radar" Sparkling Wines: Gary Vaynerchuk
© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Prosecco is really great! I normally don't drink Champagne. I don't drink to much alcohol at all. Great post thou. It really is an educational
you americans have no taste, you dont see any difference between real champagne and all your cheap crap with bubbles. go have dinner at your mcdonalds!
Alex, learn proper English you Ignorant prick.
Wow, quite the assumption you make there, honey. The fact is that there are many sparkling wines that rival Champagne. Get over it.
Troll alert. "Walk on by"
picked up a bottle of St Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux for about $12. Tastes great to me and not much more than korbel.
Spray them h**s with champagne
What's the word?
What's the price?
I will be spraying champagne all over those tattas in Heaven
I'll be spraying them on the booty cheeks too
Almost any aspect of a meal can be improved more economically than buying better wine. For a few bucks, you can buy the best bread available. The best vegetables available. You can buy whole, unhomogenized, bottled organic milk that tastes divine. With wine? You're luck if an extra $5 buys you anything at all.
And champagne? Pffft. It's even a worse deal than wine. Most people couldn't tell a $20 bottle from a $50 bottle to save their life.
If it isn't made by Boones Farm, it isn't good.
hahaha, Heck Yeah! Boones baby!
How to buy Champagne:
1) Go to the store with champagne
2) Take champagne to the counter and purchase
But why would you bring champagne to the store with you??
What about Schramsburg sparkling wine? There is a reason that it accompanied the Americans to China in 1972! I defy anyone to taste a better "champagne."
I eat a lot of beans, sit in a nice warm bath and make my own bubbles.
Congrats! The resulting stench produced when the bibles burst, must be of biblical proportions
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