The sound of a Champagne cork popping is synonymous with celebration, and this being a big time of year to celebrate, many of us will stock up on the bubbly. But Champagne — with a capital C, meaning it was produced in France’s Champagne region — can be expensive.
Bottles from Champagne’s best-known producers, like Moet and Chandon, Perrier Jouet and Veuve Clicquot, usually start at around $35 for entry-level, non-vintage productions and in the $150 range for high-end “prestige cuvees” like Dom Perignon, Belle Epoque or Grand Dame.
In many countries, it’s illegal to call a sparkling wine Champagne if it doesn’t come from that region. (In America, such mislabeling doesn’t technically run afoul of the law — but it’s considered to be in poor taste.) But does one particular group of French winemakers really have a monopoly on fine sparkling wines?
Lindsey Geddes, a certified master sommelier in the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers and wine director at Charlie Palmer Steak in the Four Seasons, says plenty of good sparklers are produced in other areas. Moreover, Geddes says, “Champagne regulates the pricing of sparkling wine.” In other words, the least expensive Champagne of a certain quality level will cost as much as the best sparkling wine of the same level.
So where should you be looking for other effervescent vintages? Here are a few of Geddes’ favorite areas, and a few of her top picks for each.
“The new hot sparkling wine of grandeur to hit the Las Vegas market is from Kent, England,” Geddes says. The reason is the same deep, chalk soil you’ll find in Champagne, France.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2011 ($89.99, Valley Wine and Cheese)
Gusborne Brut 2011 ($68.99, Valley Wine and Cheese)
French sparkling wine made using the same methods as in Champagne (the Methode Traditionelle), but in different geographic regions, is often labeled as Crémant (pronounced cray-mont). While all three of Geddes’ recommendations are made that way, only one refers to itself as Crémant.
De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Rosé Brut NV ($14.99, Whole Foods)
Charles Lafitte Vin de Pays des Sables Brut Prestige NV ($18.99, Marche Bacchus)
Patrick Piuze’s Val de Mer Chablis Rosé Brut (Charlie Palmer Steak, $20/glass)
France’s neighbor produces sparkling wine called Cava, made in the traditional method from the Spanish grapes Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo and occasionally the French grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Agusti Torello Mata Brut Reserva Cava NV ($19.99, Valley Cheese &Wine)
Naveran Cava Brut ($12 per glass, Marche Bacchus)
“Franciacorta from Lombardy is dubbed the Champagne of Italy,” Geddes explains, “because it is identified with its region of production rather than by variety.”
Maurizio Zanella’s Ca’del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Brut NV ($35.99/bottle, $15/glass, Marche Bacchus)
Want to buy American this New Year? California is, of course, the go-to state for many people. But, being born and raised in the Las Vegas desert, Geddes is a fan of similar climes. “I am always inspired to try the sparkling wines from the New Mexican desert,” she says, which explains her third choice, Gruet Rosé Brut NV.
Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs Brut 2012 ($31.49, Total Wine &More)
Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($21.99, Total Wine &More)
Gruet Rosé Brut NV ($18.99, Total Wine &More)