I am an emphatic champagne enthusiast, sometimes to a fault, but this season it makes sense to consider some alternative sparkling wines, both for the value and the expanding of horizons.
Firstly, the most common alternatives to true Champagne are Spanish Cava and American “Champagne”, often produced by the same Champagne houses that have had success in France itself, such as Mumm, Roederer, and Moet Chandon. Of these two, the American (almost always from California, although Washington and New Mexico do produce a very few, very nice ones that don’t cost too much) sparklers are my recommendation, as they are more like the French Champagnes, and are available both as Brut white sparkling and rose blush, just like their old world counterparts. I find them to be more delicious and refreshing than the Spanish Cava.
The flavor profile of Cava is typically green apple and pronounced minerality, and the most common example is Freixenet (aka Black Bottle Bubbly). Virtually everyone has has this “champagne” at some time in their life (it is usually what is passed “complimentary” at weddings, new years parties at restaurants or clubs, etc.) and to my knowledge no one has ever been blown away by it. It is quite dry, much less effervescent than champagne, and is as far from sweet as can be. At its best it is creamy, and has subtle fruit notes.
Another classic alternative to Champagne is Italian Prosecco, and this is typically creamier, slightly sweeter, and, in my opinion, more refreshing and delicious that cava. However, in addition to some nice donated champagne (the Beau Joie Rose – I’m excited!) this year, my Italian sparkling is going to be of a different flavor; namely, Muscato d’ Asti. I have been trying many different Muscatos lately, and they are all subtely different, and yet all very similar. It seems that you can’t go wrong with this sweet white sparkling wine from Barolo. Our favorite is the most known, the Nivole by Michele Chiarlo, but for half the price there are some great runners-up. Most of them taste of peach soda, and are sweet, creamy, and are low in alcohol and acid. Perfect to enjoy on their own, or paired with fruits, cheeses, and desserts, Muscato could be a great alternative to Champagne this year!
If you choose to “buy American”, my top recommendations are Gruet Blanc de Noir from New Mexico and Chandon Rose from California.
And finally, for the traditionalists, let’s talk Champagne for a minute. Real champagne, from Champagne, Burgundy, France, made by blending the white juice of Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier (both black grapes) and Chardonnay, and allowing the wine to undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, resulting in bubbles – millions of them per bottle. That Champagne. The wine we have been conceptually cheating on so far, but which merits discussion, and possibly spending up to ten times as much for.
In my order of favorite to least favorite, regardless of price, are Billecart-Salmon, Cristal, Ruinart, Beau-Joie, Piper-Heidseick, Krug, Henriot, Dom Perignon, Laurent-Perrier, Mumm, Moet y Chandon, Veuve-Cliquot, Taittinger, Duval-Leroy, Bollinger, and Roederer. Several interesting notes are: Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house in the world, and their classic non-vintage brut is darker in color than most champagnes and is much nuttier and toastier than most others (a good alternative to Krug at a quarter the price) and retails for an average of $60; Bollinger has lemon and limestone notes, and is unique in this way (people either love or hate this particular champagne); Piper-Heidseick is a sweeter, warmer style, with notes of apple, peach, and vanilla; Henriot is light and crisp, and perhaps the best value for decent champagne at roughly $30 a bottle); Roederer brut is very dry, and lacking in sweetness and finess.
In summation, for those of us who enjoy a touch of sugary sweetness in our celebratory libations, I am a big fan of Italian Moscato d'Asti. Nivole by Michele Chiarlo is a great Moscato for a reasonable price. The other Italian sparkler, Prosecco, is a creamy, refreshing alternative that is less sweet than Moscato, and also quite delicious. Il is a nice, affordable Prosecco by Mionetto. For those of you who favor the dry style of sparkling wine, Cava is a great alternative to Brut Champagne, as are Brut sparklers from California. For the tradionalists, however, true Champagne is the standard wine for New Years and any other celebration, and the styles are as different and unique as can be. Virtually every style is available at every price point, so knowing your favorite style is quite important.
Lastly, this Tuesday is Election Day - make sure that you vote to help bring about the future you desire. Perhaps cue a chilled bottle of sparkling wine to pop if the outcome is that which you hope for. Or to drink if the result is in opposition to your vision. Either way, my best advice is to take life seriously, but not too seriously, and to celebrate as often as possible! Happiness is paramount to good health, and anything that reduces stress is very good for you! Until next time, be well, and well, be. Be happy. Be healthy. Be kind. Be adventurous. Be cool. And I'll be here, writing about (and sampling) wine, and wishing you all the best in life!! Cheers!
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