It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and that’s the champagne occasion of the year. It’s not too late to get to the liquor store and get ready for the big night. First, there is a difference between sparkling wine and Champagne. Wine connoisseurs are all aware that real (capital “C”) Champagne comes only from France, as are most card carrying cocktailians. The French discourage others from using the appellation “champagne” on their sparkling wines, and many of the quality wineries (especially those who wish to sell their wines in France) comply, so many sparkling wines (bubbly for short) will not say “champagne” on the bottle, although some do. Unfortunately there are few (no?) legitimate Champagnes available in the under $20 (for 750ml.) price range. If you would like to learn more about Champagne, including the names of the big Champagne houses, check out the New York Times Champagne navigator page. It’s a little out of date, but some things don’t change very quickly.
For those of us still on recessionary budgets who still want to celebrate with some sparkling wine, the Utah Sate Liquor Store system has obliged us with a selection of American sparkling wines for under $20 with some pretty good ones for around $10. (Those of you who live in bigger markets should be able to buy all of the wines mentioned here for similar prices.) Regular readers are doubtless aware of my love for champagne cocktails like the French 75 and the Kir Royale. When cocktail recipes call for champagne, though, it’s usually more economical to use a good sparkling wine. Drink your high quality Champagne (and high quality domestic bubblies) unsullied so you can appreciate them. For champagne cocktails, there are some very good sparklers under $10 that are ideal for mixing. Prudent readers will always have a bottle or two of better quality champagne around for celebrations and several less expensive bottles for mixing. If you have a spare fridge in the basement, keep it stocked.
This post recommends wines from houses that at some time or another have had some of their sparkling wines score at least 85 or 90 points by some well known rating service like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast. Although quality will vary year to year with the vintage, etc., I usually assume that these winemakers know what they are doing and will turn out a good product. So while individual wines mentioned here may not have been rated (or not rated high enough to brag about), you will be buying a reliable product and not junk wine.
Before we get into the real bargains, let’s look at the bubblies that price out closer to $20. Gloria Ferrer makes some excellent sparkling wines that are among my favorites. Although not on SPA this month (that’s a shame) their Blanc de Noirs ($18) and Brut (both $19) have both been highly rated by multiple rating services. Domaine Chandon is another producer of highly rated bubbly in our price range. Their Brut runs $19 and their Blanc de Noirs is on sale this month for $17. Rated at the same level is Mumm Napa’s Brut, on sale this month for $19.
Around $10 and less
Korbel used to be the best of the budget bubblies, their Extra Dry has been rated respectably in the mid-eighties ($15), and the Brut is on SPA for $11. Now, however, they have some competition in their price range. Domaine Ste Michelle, also scoring in the mid-eighties, is another bargain bubbly on sale for $10 this month. The real bargains in this price range, however, are some of the sparklers from Barefoot Bubbly. Three Bubblies (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Brut, and Chardonnay Extra Dry) are all on sale for $9. Wine Enthusiast gave one of their bubblies an 87 rating and a Top 100 Best Values award several years ago. Barefoot Bubblies are a great value; the first time I tasted one I couldn’t believe the price. Barefoot’s sparklers are very drinkable on their own, and are great in any champagne cocktail you might care to try.
If you have an affinity for some other bubbly (domestic or imported) that is available for under $20, please share the information with others by adding a comment to this post, but don’t dawdle, time is running out. Happy New Year!