Ask a Sommelier: What's Your Favorite Sparkling Wine?
Real Champagne is one of our favorite wines on the planet. But sometimes you want bubbles on a budget, and Champagne's just not an option. We spoke to sommeliers from across the country and asked them what sparkling wines they recommend beyond Champagne. Here's what they had to say...
"Around the holidays I love Didier Champalou Vouvray Brut. It's 100% Chenin Blanc and is great with everything from savory appetizers to dessert. At a fraction of the price of Champagne, it's the type of wine you can get a couple of cases of so that should a spontaneous party happen, you'll be prepared!" —Shannon Tucker (Foreign Cinema)
"My favorite is Franciacorta from the Lombardy region. It uses the same wine-making method as in Champagne and consists of Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, and Chardonnay grapes. It is refreshingly clean tasting with a less yeasty flavor than you would find in most Champagne. (My favorite producer is Ca' del Bosco)." —Bank Atcharawan (Chada Thai & Wine)
"In terms of value, the best sparkling wine comes from the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. Larry Mawby makes a dozen sparkling wines, method Champenoise, that are fabulous. The grape flavors truly shine in his sparklers, but the best past is the concentration of bubbles. The Mawby sparkling wines have tiny, intense bubbles that add depth to the wine and make drinking them more fun. My favorite is the brut rose, which has a warm, yeasty note and a long, smooth finish. You get the bubble experience but it's far less expensive." —Angela Roman Aspito (The Signature Room at the 95th)
"Cremant is where it's at! The word refers to sparkling wines made in France that come from specific regions; specifically NOT from Champagne. Cremants are a great way to start to learn the rules of which grapes grow in which regions: Cremant d'Alsace (Pinot Blanc), Cremant de Bourgogne (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Cremant de Loire (Chenin Blanc), Cremant de Limoux (Mauzac!), and on and on and on. Oftentimes, you're getting similar quality and on-par deliciousness without the scary price tags that come with Champagne." —Theresa Paopao (Ribelle)
"I tend to purchase bubbles that are made method Champenoise, or traditional method. They are usually more interesting, and Champagne-like. The Berdie Cava, the only grower's Cava I know of is a favorite." —Sarah Egeland (Smallwares)
"No matter what I am drinking, I always enjoy wines that immediately take me to a specific place, at a specific time, and with a specific hand. Armchair travel, if you will. A non-Champagne sparkler that does that for me is the Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne. It is a blanc de blanc (all chardonnay in this case) from Chablis, made by Patrick Piuze. Whenever I drink this wine, I immediately am transported straight to Chablis. I can also sense Piuze's hand and his fantastic digital, almost pixelated style. To me that is terroir." —Joe Camper (DB Bistro Moderne)
"I recommend the 2012 Villa Amalia by Domaine Tselepos. This is a Greek sparkling wine, made from the Greek indigenous grape called Moschofilero, and created using the classic method where the secondary fermentation (which produces a sparkling wine's bubbles), occurs in the bottle. A wine from this variety is very unique, and the price won't break the bank. It has fresh toasty notes, beautiful citrus, green apple and mineral flavors, and offers a supple, lively mouth-feel. The clean, crisp finish makes it the ultimate celebratory wine, whatever the occasion." —Kamal Kouiri (Molyvos)
"For around $20 retail, François Chidaine's non-vintage Montlouis Brut is amazing. It is made biodynamically from chenin blanc grapes in the Loire Valley, and I love the slightly buxom texture of the bubbles, the earthy mushroom character, and the high-toned and refreshing acidity." —Emily Larkins (Craigie on Main)
"I love sparkling Vouvray, and right now I am obsessed with Domaine Huet's Vouvray Pétillant 2009. Pétillant is a style which is painstaking to produce and rarely seen, and it comes as no surprise that Huet is the best example to be found. It is bottled with a pressure of 2.5 Bar (measure of atmospheric pressure) while most Champagne comes in at about 5 bar. This gives the wine a soft and drinkable mouthfeel with the lift and texture of a fine, delicate but persistent pearlage. Dry, but with all of the beautiful Chenin fruit you would expect, this is a fantastic and affordable Champagne alternative." —Chris Baggetta (Quince)
"The problem with affordable sparkling wine is it tends to be boring and one-dimensional. I look towards the Jura for unique and delicious sparkling wines that sell for a fraction of the price of Champagne. I've also had a few fascinating sparkling wines from Sicily, particularly Murgo Sparkling Brut Rose. Vinified using grapes that were grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, in cooler years it's a dead ringer for a Rosé Champagne (for half the price!)" —Brent Braun (Levant)
"I love, love, love the wines from the Oltrepo Pavese in northwest Italy, or Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna. The wines are more "frizzante" with a natural sparkle instead of a full-throttled "mousse". And there's something so great about drinking cold red wine that really fires me up. Perfect accompaniments to antipasti and snack-a-thons." —Dan Beekley (Remedy Wine Bar)
"I love the sparkling wines of Austria. The cool climate mimics the conditions of Champagne, and wineries like Brundlmayer and Szigeti craft beautiful sparkling wines from both indigenous and international varietals that carry some of the complexity of Champagne, as well as a uniquely Austrian brightness." —Steve Bowman (Fairsted Kitchen)
"The Lavernette Blanc de Blanc Brut Nature comes to mind. It's made from 100% Gamay from Beaujolais and is bone dry. For something fruitier, I've always been a huge fan of thing like Szigeti Sparkling Gruner Veltliner or Hansen Lauer Riesling Sekt. These are a great value because they aren't from Champagne, even though they are made in the same method." —Brent Kroll (Neighborhood Restaurant Group)
"I personally love the Crémant d'Alsace from Dirler-Cadé for its slightly more fruit-forward personality; on the other hand, if you really want classic, the Blanc de Noirs Crémant de Bourgogne from Moissenet-Bonnard is 100% Pinot Noir: crisp, weighty, and delicious. If you're in the mood for something more exotic, floral, and sassy, I recommend some Sekt, the sparkling wine of Germany and Austria. Steininger makes an all-Pinot Blanc Sekt that is beautifully balanced between racy white florals and fresh, ripe white melon and peach." —Mia Van de Water (North End Grill)
"Three of my favorites are Argyle in Oregon's Willamette Valley, Franciacorta from the Lombardy region of Italy, and Brut Nature Cava from Spain which has no dosage and is bone dry. Most of these wines are produced using the traditional method, which is used in Champagne. These wines are expressive, balanced, structured, and offer incredible value." —Joshua Pauley (Black Salt)
Will you be breaking out the bubbles at a party this New Year's Eve? Share your favorite non-Champagne sparklers in the comments section below.