The Wine Curmudgeon loves sparkling wine. In a perfect wine world, we would drink it regularly, and not just on special occasions like New Year's and anniversaries. Bubbly is versatile and surprisingly food friendly, with the ability to fill in the gaps that other wines can't. One example: Recently had a big-time restaurant brunch where the entrees were filet mignon, a tuna-like fish called opah, and Eggs Benedict. The sommelier and I chatted briefly, and we decided on a sparkler from Alsace, Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé ($40 on the list, about $18 retail, purchased). It was a terrific match, with great bubbles and mouthwatering strawberry fruit. The non-wine drinker in the group wanted to rush out and buy a bottle.
Sadly, though, the world is not perfect. Bubbly, and specifically Champagne (produced in the French region of the same name and the only sparklers that are allowed to be called Champagne), is still seen as something so odd that you can only drink it once or twice a year.
In addition, the sparkling wine business is in tatters. Sales, thanks to the recession, are down, and it's so bad in Champagne that producers are drastically cutting production in an attempt to keep prices up. Throw in the weak dollar, which has raised the cost of imported wine as much as 20 percent over the last year, and it's difficult to find a bargain even among those sparkling wines that have always been a bargain. And it's even more difficult to find interesting sparkling wines that are a bargain.
Nevertheless, there are still some out there -- check them out after the jump:
First, a few words about sparkling wine terms. Bubbly is made in two styles. If the label says methode champenoise or méthode traditionelle, the wine was made in the Champagne style. The other production technique, called charmat, which usually doesn't appear on the label, mostly produces less bubbly, sweeter wines.
Next, vintage isn't especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage – that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from several years instead of just one. It’s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality. Finally, most bubbly sold in the U.S. says either brut or extra-dry. Brut means the wine is dry, while extra-dry means it’s sweeter than brut.
The best values in the world come from Spain, and Spanish sparklers are called cava. That includes the legendary $8 Cristalino. I've reviewed a variety of cavas this year; also worth noting is Fleuraison Blanc de Blancs Brut NV ($13, purchased), made with Spanish grapes but sold by a French producer. It has lots of apple fruit, decent bubbles, and not as much creaminess as traditional Champagne. In this, it's midway between cava and Champagne.
The next level of value comes from France in regions other than Champagne, like the Albrecht. Jean-Francois Merieau Bulles Touraine NV ($25, purchased) is from the Loire and made mostly of chenin blanc. It's dry and not quite as apple-y as some sparklers. This is one of the most interesting sparkling wines I tasted this year.
Domestic bubbly can be a value -- the Wine Curmudgeon always recommends New Mexico's Gruet, and several California and Pacific Northwest producers also make wine that is worth more than it costs. Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Reserve NV ($27, sample) had a touch of caramel, good, dark pinot fruit and lively acid. I was a little surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.
The worst values are in Champagne, where $50 buys a very ordinary bottle of wine these days. Again this year, I didn't buy a bottle of Ruinart, my favorite Champagne, because it costs too much money.
The photo is from Mark Mordecai of the United Kingdom, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license.sparkling wine, cava, Champagne, holiday wine, wine reviews