We've talked a fair amount about what makes Champagne different from other sparkling wines (read the Serious Eats Guide to Sparkling Wine for more details). I've always learned there are two major differences between Champagne and other sparklers: the grapes are actually grown in the Champagne region of France and the wine is produced with the traditional méthode champenoise, where the wine gets its sparkle from another fermentation in the very same bottle from which it is served. If it's not both of these, it ain't Champagne.
So I was surprised to see 5 out of 6 bottles of Barefoot bubbly say "Champagne" on the label—this stuff is made in California, and the bubbles arise via the charmat method—that is, in a large tank.
Labeling aside, though, we wondered if there were any good values to be found among the 7 dollar array of sparklers that Barefoot has to offer. We've tried their whites as well as the reds, so we completed the Barefoot journey with a toast (and six bottles of bubbly.) How'd they fare? Read on.
The Winner: Extra Dry Champagne
This sparkling white from California had a sweet scent that reminded us of peach candy, and the flavor echoed that scent. At first, there's a ton of tart green apple flavor, but it blends into sweeter kiwi notes as you swallow. This bubbly was smoother than the other options and had a clean, short finish. We found this affordable wine balanced enough to drink without food, but it would also taste great with a chicken dinner or just a snack of salty cheese and crackers.
How did this compare to other budget bubblies we've tried? If you're up for spending a little more (or drinking a little less), we'd go with any of our top picks in Cava, Prosecco, or Cremant. We'd probably also choose the slightly-more-interesting Yellow Tail white bubbly over this one.
Runner-Up: Pinot Grigio Champagne
True Champagne is made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but this California "Champagne" is made from Pinot Grigio. At first this bubbly struck us as a little astringent, but the scent still had a fruity undertone, with light fruit flavors of white grape and sweet vanilla on the finish. The fizz fills your mouth in the same way that, say, a lemon meringue pie would. The sweetness here might make this bottle a decent match for spicy take out (or delivery, if you're like me).
If you're going with Barefoot, we'd recommend that you stick with the two choices above. here's how the others did. A few of them were just too sweet for us; your mileage may vary.
- Brut Cuvee Champagne (California): a tart and relatively dry option with fruity hints of citrus, nectarine, and apple; but a harsh edge kept us from liking this one as much as the Extra Dry. Try with goat cheese.
- Pink Moscato Champagne (California): smelled like dried cherry and tasted like Cherry 7-Up. It was a little lighter than the others at 9.5% ABV, but the honey/candy-like character of this wine made us crave something savory.
- Rose Cuvee Champagne (California): this stuff was like carbonated sangria mixed with a bit of cranberry cocktail; this was definitely a sweet option that came off as a little fake tasting.
- Moscato Spumante (Australia): reminded us of sparkling white grape juice, but had a chemical-like tinge we just couldn't get past. All the tasters agreed that this sweet wine was better than Barefoot's still Moscato, but we won't be picking up another bottle.
Do you buy Barefoot bubbly? Got a favorite bottle? Any other affordable sparkling wine to recommend instead? Let us know in the comments section!