Editor’s note: It’s #WINEWEDNESDAY and this time Marissa is back with an amazing collection of recommendations for all of your New Year’s and holiday celebrations. We all love a good champagne, but did you know there are equally as tasty options to give you the joy of bubbles without the high price tag? Today’s Wine Wednesday is dedicated to: Bubbles Without Bucks.
Personally, I think there is never a bad time to drink champagne. It’s like your perfect black dress: it goes with EVERYTHING. The problem here is that your credit card can start to wince a bit at the cost, especially at this time of year when you’re already splurging on gifts, nights out, trips, etc. That, my friends, is where I come in. Repeat after me: you CAN drink bubbles without spending big bucks. You just need to know the alternatives to champagne, and you’re on your way to “tasting the stars” on a budget.
PHOTO: Julie Leah
Ah yes, you likely already know and love it. Prosecco is Italian sparkling wine, made from the Glera grape. I think of Prosecco as the sparkling wine work-horse. Having a huge party? Prosecco. Weeknight bubble fix? Prosecco. Making mimosas? Prosecco. (Don’t use good champagne for mimosas, it’s a sin.) Impromptu cocktail needed? Put some ice in a glass, toss in some frozen blueberries, fill up with prosecco. DONE. I could go on and on.
What makes Prosecco more affordable is the way it’s made. Unlike time-consuming aged champagne, Prosecco is typically made with the tank method, which basically means that the second fermentation (read: the part that makes the bubbles!) happens in a big stainless-steel tank, sealed so all the glorious little bubbles stay inside. Less time and effort in making it means that a $10-13 bottle is very typical.
Easy choice: Mionetto Brut Prosecco.
Why: It tastes great, like little green apples and honeysuckle dancing on your tongue, you can find it almost everywhere, and it has a festive bottle.
Somm pick: Ca’ dei Zago “Col Fondo” Prosecco.
Why: For less than $20 you get an organic and biodynamic wine with a lot of character. I met the winemaker, Christian Zago, at the Raw Wine Fair in NYC this November. He follows his grandfather’s technique of leaving the sediment in wine and allowing the second fermentation in the bottle. This makes for a Prosecco with unique, terroir-driven flavor. Ca’ dei Zago is my new go-to when I want to impress for less $$.
PHOTO: That Kind of Woman
I’ll never forget the first time I learned about Cremant. I was looking for prosecco in one of my favorite local Brooklyn wine shops, Red White and Bubbly, and a woman working there steered me towards cremant. She explained that Cremant is French sparkling wine made in the traditional champagne method, but since it’s not actually FROM the Champagne region, it isn’t allowed to be labeled as such. That sold me. I bought a bottle, fell in love with the delicate, non-aggressive bubbles, and haven’t looked back.
I’ve learned so much more about Cremant in my wine studies. There are 8 different types of Cremant, each one named from the region where it’s made. They use the grapes allowed by their appellation, so you can get some interesting sparkling chenin blanc, for example, instead of the three grapes allowed in champagne production: pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier. In your wine shop, you’ll typically find the most common: Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant d’Loire, Cremant d’Bourgogne, and Cremant d’Limoux. If you want to be a little funky, look for a Cremant d’Jura. Jura is a tiny, relatively overlooked appellation because the wines are a bit more rustic and eccentric, with some bruised apple, oxidized flavors, but somms and wine lovers are helping it gain prominence in the US of late.
Easy choice: Lucien Albrecht NV Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace.
Why: This is inexpensive, easy to find, and yummy. Did I mention it’s pink? Because, yes, rosé is ALWAYS in season.
Somm pick: Racine Cremant d’Limoux.
Why: I picked up this bottle over the weekend because, gotta be honest, the price is amazing. And, it’s refreshing, dry, and full of those toasty, crisp apple and white flower aromas you crave in a sparkler.
Cava is Spain’s answer to champagne. It’s made in the same way, aged and bottle fermented, but they use totally different grapes: macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo. Most cava is made in Catalonia, and while it is super popular in that area (anyone who’s ever visited Barcelona will understand), Spaniards all over the country consume it for all occasions. You should follow their example and treat yourself to a bottle any night of the week (or afternoon, preferably with a plate of jamon…I digress). Because cava uses different grapes from a very different climate, it has a slightly different flavor profile than champagne. A bit more lemon and citrus on the palate, aromas and flavors of apples and almonds, but that same brioche, toasty note you get from champagne.
Easy Choice: Cristalino Cava Brut. Why: Ok, it’s LESS THAN $10. And, it’s actually great quality, fresh, toasty and quenching.
Somm pick: Pares Balta Brut or Brut Nature.
Why: I’m partial to this winery because I visited there a few years back and had the most amazing private tour of the vineyards and estate. If you can find it (or any wine by Pares Balta), buy it. Its organic, high-quality, and tastes like lovely apples, pears, almonds, and brioche. The Brut Nature has no added sugar, which means it is a bit drier and toastier than the Brut.
Sparkling Wine from the USA
Sparkling wine is made all over the world. So, of course we have some excellent bubbles right here in the US! Look for “methode champenoise” or “traditional method” on the label if you want to get a bottle that’s closest in style and flavor to champagne.
My number one, go-to bottle for sparkling wine from the US is any bottle from Gruet winery located in…wait for it… New Mexico. I know, quite unexpected! (Fun fact: all 50 states have wineries.) But seriously, this is great bubbly! And usually around $15 or $16 a bottle. Gruet makes their wine from pinot noir and chardonnay, just like champagne, and I think it’s one of the best substitutes around.
Another recommendation is Schramsberg sparkling wine from the Napa Valley. Their entry-level blanc de blancs is typically around $32-35, which is the highest end of my recommendations here, but well worth it. Schramsberg is one of the top sparkling wine producers in the US and you’ll often see this wine substituted for champagne at weddings because it’s such an excellent value. (Label Note: “blanc de blancs” means sparkling white wine from entirely white grapes. “Blanc de noir” is white sparkling wine from entirely red grapes, like pinot noir).
PHOTO: Fashion Enzyme
Bonus Sparkler- A South African stunner
South African wine is often overlooked, but I strongly recommend that you explore a little. What better way than with bubbles?! Sparkling wine from South Africa that’s made in the champagne method is labeled “methode cap classique.” Graham Beck is an excellent producer with vineyards in both Stellenbosch and Robertson, part of the Cape Winelands district not too far from Cape Town. I adore their sparkling brut and sparkling rose and love to gift it to colleagues and dinner party hosts.