Best Sparkling Wines and Champagnes–from Bargains to Bank-breakers

Champagne is the first beverage most people think of when it comes time to toast–and for good reason. Since the coronation of Louis the Pious in Reims in the year 816, the wines of the Champagne region have been associated with nobility and celebrations. Even though, it would be another 800 years before the wines of Champagne began to take on their trademark sparkle and fizz.

Following the demise of the French Monarchy in the 19th century, the popularity of sparkling Champagne exploded among European nobility. From England to Russia, Champagne became associated with luxury, wealth, power, and the good life–an impression Champagne houses worked hard to maintain. Some houses even went so far as to list the various European nobility they had sold wine to in their advertisements.

While Champagne sales came roaring back in 2011–and was expected to approach 2007’s record numbers–Champagne is not the only bubbly option for your wedding or next celebration. Every year there are more and more fantastic sparkling wines hitting store shelves. Here is brief guide to the best bubbly from around the globe:

Best Bubbles for the Buck–Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, $7.99

This Spanish producer may have lost their legal battle with Champagne Louis Roederer (the makers of Cristal)–forcing them to switch their label and change up their name–but they haven’t lost any of their quality. They still put out one of the best values in the world of wine. Because it is a a little simpler and drier than Champagne, Cristalino is the perfect sparkling wine for less expensive “Champagne cocktails.” Add some St. Germain for a lemony, floral delight. Or drop in a splash of Mathilde or Aqua Perfecta Framboise for a sweet, red-colored berry delight.

Best French Transplant–Gruet Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, $13.99

After generations of experience producing Champagne, the Gruet family expanded their operations to New Mexico where they produce the best value sparkling wines in the New World. Their non-vintage Blanc de Noirs is rich and toasty with plenty of lip-smacking berry fruit.

Best Wine to Commit a Party Foul–Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut, $13.99

As soon as someone errantly credits Dom Perignon with the creation of sparkling wine, you’ll be ready. “Well, actually…” and as you explain that sparkling wines were produced by the monks at the abbey in Saint Hilaire as early as 1531–over a hundred years before the birth of Dom Perignon–you are sure to be drowned out by a vuvuzela-esque drone of multiple noisemakers or an impromptu round of cheers and clapping. This blend of Mauzac, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay from Southern France isn’t half bad either.

Best Bubbly with a ‘Purty’ Label–Jean-Francois Merieau Bulles Brut, $17.99

This vibrant and racy Loire Valley sparkling wine is made from organically-grown 50-year-old Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. And yes, the label is quite festive and attractive.

Best Wine to Appeal to the Masses–Bottex Vin du Bugey Cerdon La Cueille, $19.99

Don’t be thrown off by the odd name or severely outdated label. It is nearly impossible for a human being to resist the charms of this blend of Gamay and Poulsard. Whether one is a wine novice or aficionado, likes red wine or white, likes sweet wines or dry, they will happily drink this wine from Bugey. Often referred to as ‘liquid crack’ by those in the wine trade, it tastes something like strawberry juice fermented with fairy dust.

Best Orange Wine Sparkler–Camillo Donati Trebbiano Secco, $21.99

From a teeny, tiny, family estate near the city of Parma (the one famed for Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma) comes this delightfully weird and adventurous sparkling orange wine (a white wine with an extended maceration period–increasing the time that the juice and skins remain in contact). Almost like the cider version of wine, this sparkler is cloudy, leesy, and funky with a lip-smacking and vibrant acidity. Biodynamic.

Best Champagne to Pretend You’re Nobility–Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV, $37.99

Pol Roger seemingly ‘de-knighted’ Bollinger as the royal Champagne house of choice last year when it was served at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It also happens to be one of the best value sparklers from any of the larger Champagne houses. Fresh and floral with crisp green apple aromas, nice acidity, and a refined finish.

Best Grower Champagne–Vilmart & Cie Rose Cuvee Rubis NV, $64.99

Champagne critic Peter Liem describes Vilmart as “not only one of the greatest grower-estates in Champagne, but one of the finest champagne producers of any type in the region.” One could easily add to that statement that Vilmart is one of the finest producers of wine from any region. The wines from Vilmart are distinctly unique and almost mystical and animal. The Cuvee Rubis sports beautiful aromas of raspberry and cherry fruit, smoked meat, and coffee. The wine is rich and creamy but sports a dagger-like acidity that keeps it fresh and nimble.

Best Champagne to Break the Bank–Bollinger La Grand Annee 2002, $100

Explosive pear, honey, orange, and spice aromas immediately notify the drinker that they are about to imbibe something special. Intensely rich and powerful, but focused and lively. One would be hard-pressed to find a better sparkling wine in this price range.


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