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.
Sometimes it’s worthwhile taking the classic approach. If you’re a cowboy, skip saddling up an emu—just ride a dang horse. If you are a lion, do not attempt to browse the tender shoots of the mokukutu bush—just chomp the neck of a zebra and have done with it.
Similarly, when Valentine’s Day comes along, why try to wow your honey with some oddball concoction when bubbly works so well?
The choices are vast but the basic equation is simple: If you want actual Champagne, from the Champagne region in northern France, prepare to pay more. Champagne runs from $30 or more a bottle, on up to a couple of hundred dollars a bottle for top wines.
For more affordable wines in a similar mode (i.e., made the same way, and with the same basic grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) look to California sparkling wines. There are many good, affordable choices in the $20 to $25 zone.
And if bargains are what you’re after, both Prosecco (from Italy) and cava (from Spain) produce terrific sparkling wines in the under-$20 price range—possibly not the price point to pop the question with, but good value if your evening is going to involve drowning the sorrows of a gang of embittered single friends.
Here, some excellent possibilities:
NV Loosen Brothers Dr. L Sparkling Riesling ($16)
This crisp, appley sekt—the German term for sparkling wine—comes from the famed Mosel winemaker Ernst Loosen. It’s definitely a touch sweet, but the lively acidity keeps it from being cloying.
NV Cava Reserva 1312 ($19)
The Mestres family has been trading in wine since 1312, and growing its own grapes since the 1600s—plenty of time, apparently, to learn how to make impressive cava. This bottling has appealing lemony flavors with a touch of dusty earthiness.
2011 Adami Col Credas Brut Prosecco ($22)
A touch pricey for Prosecco, but that more than pays off in terms of quality—the scent suggests tart green apples, and the wine itself is bone-dry and elegant, with a lingering savory note.
NV Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut ($25)
One of California’s oldest wineries, Schramsberg was founded in 1862, and has been making sparkling wine since the 1960s. Mirabelle, its most affordable cuvée, shows appealing notes of ripe peach and toasted bread.
NV Champagne Lanson Black Label Brut ($49)
Lanson, founded in 1760, has always been better known outside the US—mysteriously, too, since the house produces steely, precise Champagnes that can age effortless in a cellar. For a bigger splurge, consider the superb NV Lanson Extra Age, a creamy, complex blend of older vintages—currently 2000, 2002 and 2004—that runs about $129.
More from Food & Wine:
Sparkling Wine Cocktails
Incredible Valentine’s Day Recipes
World’s Most Romantic Cities
Fantastic Valentine’s Day Gifts
Dark, light, sweet, creamy: 12 chocolates to know
Gifts for the chocolate lover in your life
Eat This List: 5 meals for single people – Jean Grae
Aphrodisiac food and wine pairings
More about Valentine's Day
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Lots of great V-Day ideas here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/788684017/e-love-a-modern-love-story-told-in-a-digital-age
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