We often talk about champagne and how it can define a moment, or even create one, but the same applies to most any sparkler. So this month we’re taking a look at the so-called second stringers and also-rans of sparkling wine. And they are not too shabby in their own right.
Special occasions are not the only time to serve a sparkler, but you can make any occasion special when you do. It’s also an inexpensive way to make anyone feel special. After all, they don’t know what you paid for the wine, they just know it is “champagne” — and that alone is cause for celebration.
A sparkling wine has to be from Champagne (France) to call itself champagne, but there are many other regions that will — given a chance — command almost as much attention, and at a more modest price. So, in the middle of the summer, we wanted to give all of the non-champagne contenders a chance to shine.
Most of the wines listed here are produced using the same time-honored method that is used to make champagne, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in the same bottle that you buy the wine in. It is more time consuming, but it has become the standard for sparkling wines. You will typically see the words “method traditionelle” or “methode champenoise” when the wine is made this way.
A few regions will use a large tank for the secondary fermentation instead, and the wine is transferred under pressure to create the bubbles. Prosecco is made this way, and good winemakers can and do create interesting wine using this technique. The winemaker is more important than the process used.
Sparklers are great as starters, but they also pair well with many foods. If you are ever troubled over what to serve with corn chowder or maybe a Cobb salad, you will never be off the mark with a bubbly. Sushi is another great way to enjoy bubbles; try takeout from your favorite sushi bar. These wines have good acidity, which also allows them to stand up to fish, crab cakes, soups and salads, while the rosés are on point with most desserts.
We had a molten lava cake with the Foss Marai Roös rosé and the Rosa Regale Braquetto D’Acqui. Both were memorable. We had the Lucien Albrecht Rosé with smoked salmon as a starter and it was another hit.
Sparklers just make wine pairings easy. Salty is a marker for bubbles — think caviar, oysters, or smoked salmon. For a cheap date, even potato chips work.
Sparklers should be enjoyed year-round, not just during the holidays. You might feel a little pretentious having a sparkling wine mid-week, but you’ll get over it. It might even change your outlook on life.
Non-Champagne Sparkler Review
wine – score – comments – country – price
Domaine Carneros ’11 Brut ★★★★ Best of Tasting – California – $25
Clara, NV Brut, North Coast ★★★★ A Close Second, Best Buy – California – $16
Scharffenberger NV Brut ★★★★ Another Best Buy – California – $15
Mumm Napa Cuve M ★★★★ Another Winner California – $18
Gruet Blanc de Noirs, NV Brut ★★★★ A Classic Wine – New Mexico – $18
Bourgier Vouvray, NV ★★★★ Another Favorite – France – $19
Jaillance Cremant de Bourgogne ★★★★ Big Time Best Buy – France – $10
Bouvet Brut ★★★★ Tasty and A Best Buy – France – $13
Kim Crawford ’09 Small Parcel “Fizz” ★★★★ Nice Mousse Tasty – New Zealand – $22
Saint-Hilaire ’11 Blanquette de Limoux ★★★★ Another Best Buy – France – $11
Chateau St. Michelle Brut ★★★½ Nice Wine, Best Buy – Washington – $10
Segura Viudas Brut, Cava ★★★½ A Solid Best Buy – Spain – $9
Jaume Serra Christalino Brut, Cava ★★★ All-Time Best Buy – Spain – $8
Lucien Albrecht Brut Rose, Cremant ★★★★ Our Top Rosé – Alsace, France – $21
Berlucchi ’61 Rosé, Franciacorta ★★★★ Another Star – Italy – $24
Foss Marai Roös Brut ★★★★ Italian Star – Italy – $18
Banfi Rosa Regale, Braquetto d’Aqui ★★★★ With Chocolate – Italy – $16
Our four-star rating system and how it might compare to the Wine Spectator 100-point scale:
★ Good (80-84), ★★ Very Good (85-87), ★★★ Very Good/Excellent (88-89), ★★★ Excellent (90+).
All ratings are only opinions of our tasters and not meant to detract from your personal favorites.
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