Budget-Friendly Bubbles for the Frugal Imbiber

Budget-Friendly Bubbly

One of my best girlfriends is 3,000 miles away right now, but she just called and proposed that we drink our first glass of bubbly on the last day of 2010 together over the phone. It’s only fitting, since just after midnight last January 1st, she and I were at a bar in my neighborhood toasting the start of 2010 with our first bubbles of the year.

Have you purchased your New Year’s Eve bubbles yet?

I’ll be dropping by my local wine shop soon to replenish (I only had one bottle of bubbly in my fridge), but even though champagne is my favorite beverage of all, I probably won’t be buying it for tonight. Unless my wine shop has a REALLY good deal on champagne, I’ll be seeking alternative budget-friendly bubbles.

The bottle I just opened with my friend was a Crémant d’Alsace. While the grapes aren’t as “noble” as those cultivated in the chalky soiled Chamapagne region of France, the method used to create this sparkling wine is the classic one — the methode Champenoise, also known as the “traditional method,” which is comprised of a double fermentation — the second one occurring in the bottle. My wine shop carries N.V. René Barth Crémant d’Alsace for $14.99. It’s nice and lemony with a slight hint of pear.

Crémant is a term that refers to certain French sparkling wines that are made in other regions using the same method as Champagne. In addition to Crémant d’Alsace, look for Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Limoux, and Crémant de Loire. You should be able to find the more frugal Crémants for approximately $14 to $30.

French sparklers are not the only budget-friendly bubbles. Italy also produces some great traditional method sparkling wines in Lombardy and Trentino (you may find them for as low as $18). Prosecco, which is produced in the Veneto, is another popular type of Italian spumante. Prosecco and many of the world’s other sparkling wines are fermented with what’s called the Charmat method, or the “tank method.” The second fermentation takes place in a sealed steel tank as opposed to the bottle. It’s a lot cheaper to make wine with this method, and therefore these sparkling wines tend to be more frugal-friendly ($7 to $30) than those made with the traditional method in areas like Lombardy’s Franciacorta or Trentino’s Trento. Prosecco is also good for making cocktails with (especially if you have leftovers on New Year’s Day)!

Spain is second to France in the amount of traditional method sparkling wine they produce. Spain’s sparkling wine is called Cava and it’s usually made with Spanish varietals. Unlike champagne, Cavas are not suitable for aging. Most Cavas are produced in Penedés, though other Cavas are made in the Rioja, Navarra, and Utiel-Requena regions. Cavas typically go for around $8 to $25.

Have you ever had a sparkling Riesling? Wunderbar! German sparklers, known as Sekts, tend to be a little pricier than a Prosecco or Cava, even though they’re typically produced with the tank method. You’re likely to find Sekts for about $18 to $35. The best ones are labeled Deutscher Sekt, and they’re made with German grapes like Riesling or Müller-Thurgau.

And last but not least, there’s our own homegrown sparkling wine. California sparkling wines from Sonoma, Napa, and elsewhere can start around $5 a bottle (and go all the way up to around $90). The Foodinista, Heather John, also cited some picks from Washington and New Mexico in her recent Bon Appétit blog post: The Best Domestic Bubbly for Your Dollar.

Cheers to frugal decadence in 2011!

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