People say that sparkling wines are among the most versatile wines. They pair perfectly with basically any food, from delicate and gossamer smoked salmon slices to rich and saucy BBQ. I'll take any excuse to drink sparkling wine, but my favorite way to enjoy it is on its own. In fact, I feel more civilized when I have a glass of good Champagne before dinner.
But I can't afford to drink Champagne every time I want it. Sometimes I want to spend only a coupla bucks, but I want to drink good bubbly. Can that be done? Claro que si, bien sur, konyeshna, and of course. Good bargain bubbly is the subject of much writing, such as this recent piece by the good Dr. Vino.
So where should you look for good inexpensive sparkling wine? I like the French stuff. Yes, Champagne can be an expensive habit, but Champagne is not the only game in France. Many Loire Valley producers make excellent sparkling wine. One of my favorites is Chateau de Hureau's Saumur Brut, a delicious $10 bottle. Cremant de Bourgogne, the sparkling wine of Burgundy, is almost always a good bet, and you don't have to spend more than $10-15 a bottle. And if those don't work for you, how about an effervescent and crisp Vinho Verde from Portugal?
Here are a few more inexpensive sparkling wines I've been enjoying lately:
NV Charles de Fere Blanc de Blanc Reserve, $8 (Astor Wine and Spirits). Made from a blend of Chardonnay (some of the grapes actually do come from vineyards in Champagne, but not all) and Chenin Blanc, this is medium to light bodied and citrusy - refreshing stuff. It has a little more sweetness than I would ideally like, but certainly not too much. It goes great with food and it's less than 10 bucks!
2006 Espiral Vinho Verde, $4 (Trader Joes). That's right, $4!!! This Portuguese wine is more effervescent than sparkling. It's light and crisp and it goes great with seafood or summer salads. And yes, it's perfectly good on its own.
What if you're willing to spend more than $10, but not that much more?
2005 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede Brut, $15 (Chambers Street Wines).
Yup, this is the same wine that Dr. Vino wrote about. Here is the Wine Doctor's producer profile that among other things, explains that this wine is actually 85% Prosecco and there is Pinot Bianco and Verdiso in there too. Maybe its the Verdiso that makes it soooo good.
And what if you feel like splurging for a bottle of the real stuff - Champagne? Are you ready to put down almost 40 clams for a wonderful bottle of bubbly? If you are, but you don't want the typical Veuve Cliquot/Perrier-Jouet/Taittinger/Duval-Leroy, how about grower Champagne? I like to stick with the smaller houses, myself. I cannot offer the level of detail that Monsieur McDuff did in this grower Champagne post, but here are two wines that I love along with some tasting notes:
NV Jean Lallement Champagne Brut Grand Cru, $36 (Chambers Street Wines).
This non vintage (NV) Champagne is made mostly from Pinot Noir. It is a medium bodied and fleshy style with clean ripe berry-like Pinot fruit and some yeast on the nose, flowers later on. There is a vivid palate of green apple and citrus with nice toast and a pleasant yeastiness, and a chalky minerality to the finish. This is just excellent wine, and worth the $$.
NV Margaine Champagne Demi sec Traditionelle, $34 (Chambers Street Wines).
I know - who buys demi sec Champagne? Most of us stick with Brut, a dry style, not the driest, but dry. Demi sec - isn't that kind of sweet? Yes, but if well made, the sweetness blends harmoniously with the other elements of the wine, and only adds complexity. This wine has bright aromas of citrus and yeast, some white chocolate comes though with air time. Well balanced with vanilla sweetness and floral flavors, all hanging on a backbone of tense acidity. Well done in that the wine is sweet but not at all cloying, in fact the sweet thing is almost in the background. This is a great aperitif wine (probably why I like it so much) but you could serve it with dessert and people will think you're some sort of wine God.