France – do think Champagne
The French have done a marvelous job of keeping the name of Champagne sacrosanct. After all, true Champagne originates from the solidly chalky subsoil found only in the French province of Champagne in the Marne River Valley, a 90-minute drive northeast of Paris. Though the scent, mousse and taste of true French Champagne remains unique in its delicacy, flavor and elegance, most non-vintage Champagnes remain bargain priced at only $40-$50 per bottle.
That being said, there are many decent quality wines at even more reasonable price points produced all over France and all over the world.
France – think Cremant
Cremants from Burgundy, Alsace, Limoux and the Loire - to name but a few - all made in the same method (and often the same grapes) as Champagne, but from different soils, are widely available in America and priced from only $10-$20 per bottle. Some are made as sparkling rosés. Then, dozens of supermarket priced sparklers known as Vin Mousseux are made all over France by the Charmat (bulk fermentation) method,
Italy – think Prosecco
Wow! There has been an explosion in the sales of Italian Proseccos! Popular sparklers are priced from as little as $9 to a high of $25. The best Proseccos come from Valdobbiadene but all Proseccos are suited for mimosas and economical large group entertaining. Italy is also the original and only source for Asti Spumante, a sweet sparkler perfect for that after dinner dessert toast! And then, there are the high quality Italian sparklers with names like Berlucchi and Ferrari that come quite close in quality to the complexity, finesse and esoteric of true French Champagne.
Spain – think Cava
Cavas are Spain’s version of sparkling wine made from local grapes in local soils, so their flavors are individual. But those that are well-made, like Cordonieu and Freixenet, drink attractively and are eminently affordable at $10 and under per bottle. Rosé Cavas are delicious as well.
America – think great California sparklers
There are many French Champagne and one or two Spanish Cava companies that had the foresight to plant extensive chardonnay and pinot noir vineyards in the Napa and Anderson Valleys and in Carneros, and then build handsome sparkling wine production facilities. Starting with Chandon Napa Valley Brut, followed by Mumm Napa Valley Brut, Roederer Anderson Valley Brut, Taittinger’s Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer Carneros Brut and others, but all “topped off” by such great California sparkling wine producers as Schramsberg in Napa and Iron Horse in Sonoma’s Green Valley and “J” sparkling wine. Plus there are the excellent sparklers made by Gruet in New Mexico. Expect to pay from $16.50 to $50 for America’s best sparklers (with Roederer’s L’Ermitage Brut at about $75). Note: if you’re on a tight budget, don’t fret, as all of the inexpensive “old reliable” sparklers await you: Andre and Gallo, Korbel Brut and more recently, from Washington state, Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Australia – think sparkling Shiraz
Many decades ago there were poorly made red sparklers from France called Chauvenet Sparkling Burgundy. Today, the Australians offer some terrific tasting red sparkling Shiraz, my favorite being: Uncle Dick’s Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz from Langhorne Creek. At under $20, it’s a top tasty toast ‘mate!
Every story about sparkling wines must begin and end with French Champagne. After all perfection of delicious sparkling wine has been achieved solely in Champagne! From the excellent non-vintage Grand Marques Champagnes such as Bollinger, Roederer, Deutz, Krug, Taittinger, Moet & Chandon, Mumms, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Charles Heidseick, Piper Heidseick and the smaller grower Champagnes such as Paul Goerg, to the “step up” Vintage Cuvées to the non plus ultras of Champagne, “the expensive rare vintage Prestige Cuvées” of Dom Perignon, Cristal and Clos Menil. As a footnote, both French Rosé Champagnes and Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) each deliver a touch of the angels’ stardust on one’s New Year’s Eve palate as well.