In my wine-buying experience, there’s no single purchase that can be more variable and unpredictable than a mid-priced bottle of sparkling. At around $10–20, you can get nuanced, estate-driven, interesting bubbles just as easily as industrial, one-note, sickly plonk. And if you’re a newbie to the cage-cork aisle, it can be maddening to tell the difference.
But you should make the effort to know these wines because they will never go out of style. From holidays to housewarmings, birthdays to bridal showers, there’s no situation where bubbles feel out of place. Here are a few tips for your next purchase:
Skip Champagne and Find the Crémant
True-blue Champagne is still the finest sparkling wine in the world, but you really can’t get near those shelves for less than $40. No doubt your insufferable co-worker has corrected someone for using the word incorrectly: “It’s only ‘Champagne’ if it comes from the Champagne region of France.” Before you slap the monocle off his face, consider this—what about those other regions?
They make sparkling wine all over France. If it’s made exactly like it is in Champagne (with secondary fermentation in the bottle over a period of months), it’s called “Crémant” followed by the region in which it’s made. I love Crémant du Jura from high up in the French Alps, and Crémant de la Loire for luscious chenin blanc. They’re regularly under $20 and routinely excellent.
- Antech Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant de Limoux ($19)
- Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut ($14)
- Hubert Clavelin Crémant du Jura Brut-Comté ($19)
Cava: A Minefield Worth Wading Through
Cava, the Spanish sparkler, is almost identically priced to its Italian cousin, prosecco. But between the two, cava has tradition on its side—specifically the methode traditionnelle, that process of bottle fermenting that’s been perfected in Champagne. All cava, by law, must use this method, which makes a far superior wine than the stainless steel tank carbonation method that makes most prosecco.
Skip the entry-level Segura Viudas and Cristallino, and ask your wine seller for a smaller-batch cava with a good story. Pere Mata only vinifies estate-grown fruit, and Torre Oria is from much farther south in Spain than most cava—the inclusion of chardonnay makes their bubbles taste very French.
- Pere Mata Cupada No. 15 Cava ($19)
- Torre Oria NV Brut Cava ($15)
A Better Prosecco: Valdobbiadene Superiore
You know prosecco as the bubbles that launched a thousand brunches. But instead of buying the headache-inducing stuff they splash in your discount mimosa, look for a word on the label that indicates a superior quality from the heart of the region. “Valdobbiadene” prosecco is made in the Champagne method, and though that word might add $8 or $9 to the sticker price it also adds tons of nuance and flavor. So let them drown the Cupcake bubbles in OJ while you drink a good one on its own.
- Le Colture Fagher Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV ($21)