In the world of sparkling wine, Champagne stands alone. A glass of good Champagne offers a unique experience, based on terroir-driven complexity and refinement that is unmatched and instantly recognizable. But let’s also remember that Champagne comes at a relatively steep price. So here’s a suggestion: If you’re planning to serve bubbly at a New Year’s Eve party or beyond, why not start off with a bottle of Champagne followed by any number of very good sparkling wines that are half or even a third the price of a decent Champagne? You could even skip the Champagne altogether and go straight to the sparkling wines.
Before we get to some standouts from California, Italy, France, Spain and New York, let’s review a few bubbly basics: Champagne is made only in the region of the same name in Northern France. In the U.S and most countries, it’s now illegal for wineries to use the name, and the Champagne appellation spends millions policing the wine world and educating consumers about the distinction. By now, a fair number of consumers understand this, so if you want to sound in the know, ask your wine store or waiter about “sparkling wines” for non-Champagne offerings.
As for the wines, many are produced from various combinations of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two main grapes of Champagne, but as you’ll see below there are lots of variations. And most sparkling wines are made using the Champagne, or traditional, method in which a secondary fermentation in the bottle produces the bubbles. While I enjoy all kinds of sparkling wines, I have to say that I’m partial to rosés, which are made mostly from Pinot Noir, and Blanc de Blancs, which usually connotes an all-Chardonnay wine.
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Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura Brut, Jura, France. $23
This lovely all-Chardonnay sparkler from the tiny Jura region of Eastern France has a cool-climate freshness with tastes of green apple, lemon-lime, subtle toast and minerals.
Tenuta Giol 2013 Prosecco Frizzante, Treviso, Italy. $15
With the world awash in Prosecco, this one will change your thinking about the wine. Made with organic Glera grapes, this lightly sparkling wine (frizzante) has no sulfites added and after drinking a fair amount of it, I didn’t feel even a touch of a headache. Notes of green apple skin, lemon, a hint of grapefruit and white flowers supported by lively acidity.
Les Champs de L’Abbaye 2011 Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé, Burgundy, France. $17
From a small producer in the Côte Chalonnaise, this classy sparkling rosé of Pinot Noir is fermented with native yeasts and has notes of strawberry, sweet cherry, citrus and cream punctuated by an underlying minerality.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, Sonoma County, California. $22
Delightful and elegant with green apple, orange and lemon notes, and brioche and touches of cinnamon and nutmeg on the finish.
Paul Mas “Côté Mas” Crémant de Limoux Brut Rosé, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. $14
A light and refreshing blend of 70 percent Chardonnay, 20 percent Chenin Blanc and just 10 percent Pinot Noir, so although this is a rosé, it shows more stone fruit and lemon-orange than red fruit tastes, with floral and herb accents.
Chateau Frank “Célèbre” Riesling Crémant, Finger Lakes, New York. $21
An unusual Riesling sparkler from a region famous for the grape, with wet stone aromas, white peach and citrus tastes and a creamy finish; slightly off dry and easy to drink.
Paul Cheneau Cava Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserva, Catalonia, Spain. $13
Made from Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay and Parellada grapes, this Cava is light and subtle with apple and citrus notes, toast and an herbal touch on the finish.
Domaine Riefle Crémant d’Alsace “Bonheur Festif” Brut, Alsace, France. $20
Delicate and refined with a flinty minerality on the nose and lovely fruit tastes, including white peach, a good deal of lemon and a soft, creamy finish.