7 Affordable Sparkling Wines, Plus A Quick Guide To Splurging On The Good Stuff

Alas, many of us drink sparkling wines only on special occasions, so the holidays find us staring in wonderment at displays of legendary wines at legendary prices. And we hope that a wise wine merchant will point us to something we’ll love at a price we can afford – in fact plenty of wine merchants can and will do just that, certainly at shops that have a strong commitment to wines. (And, by the way, recent visits around town suggest that prices at many neighborhood shops are actually lower than at high volume stores.)
In any event, a decade ago my pals Sandy and Rob decided to take matters into their own hands. Starting in early December they hit the area shops, pick up an assortment of cheap bubblies, sample them early in the month, and let their findings guide their New Year’s Eve selections. Based on their years of painstaking research, here are some bargain bubbly recommendations (the listed prices represent the lowest we’ve seen, but of course prices vary from shop to shop). We also offer a couple of thoughts if you’re planning to splurge. And no, we didn’t include anything that ranked as swill, including the one Rob described as tasting of “old shoe with a hint of minerality.” Anyway, here are seven sparking wines that are worth your money, plus a quick guide to splurging.

 

Bargain Bubblies

Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs, 2013 (circa $15)

Most sparkling wines don’t bear a vintage marker, because they’re blends of wines made in multiple years. Like a well-made Italian Prosecco, this wine is light, distinctive, and fun with a sassy edge. (California)

Il Follo Cuvee Rose, Spumante Rosato (circa $14)

Nothing is more celebratory than a sparker with a pink hue. This Italian Prosecco has a nice fruity nose and vivid flavors – but our bottle lost its fizz pretty quickly; keep it chilled, and drink it down. If you’re looking for something with a sweeter note, consider the same maker’s Extra Dry, with a slightly lower price tag. (Italy)

Mionetto Prosecco Brut (circa $14)
Not much of a bouquet, but a sharp-edged, bracing burst of flavor on the tongue. (Italy)

Biutiful Brut Nature Cava (circa $11)
Spanish Cavas are among the best values in the world of sparkling wines, and if you like your sparklers bone dry, this is an excellent example at an exceptional price. “Austere” barely does it justice; there’s not a hint of sweetness in this wine, but if you’re serious about the New Year, this will match your mood. (Spain)

Poema Cava, Brut, Brut Rose, or Extra Dry (circa $11)
In 2007, when Poema first showed up on our list, you could buy a bottle for $8. Now it’s up to $11, but it remains a superb, consistent bargain, made using the same traditional techniques associated with the finest sparkling wines in the world. If you crave a sweeter style, go for the Extra Dry. (Spain)

 

For A Few Dollars More
Roederer Estate Brut (circa $20)
Take a whiff of this traditionally-made California sparkler and you’ll breathe in a rich, yeasty aroma that smells like bread dough on the rise. Take a sip, and things get even better, with a rich, creamy texture and a flavor as delicate as blossoms on an apple tree. (United States)

Alma Negra Brut Nature (circa $19)
A fine, bready aroma, a hint of pink color, and a needle-sharp finish. This Argentinian sparkler has enough heft to accompany a rich New Year’s Eve meal. (Argentina)

 

A Guide To Splurging

There are sparklers and there is Champagne, the greatest sparkler of all. And there are lots of well-known and heavily-marketed Champagnes out there. You can’t miss them; they’re all over the place in big, gaudy boxes. And they’re all fine. But, if you’re splurging on Champagne, why follow the crowd? The most interesting Champagnes are grower-produced. That is, the farmer grows the grapes, makes the wine and bottles it on his own grounds. These are wines with distinctive personalities that express the essence of today’s focus on traditional agricultural practices. Pricing typically starts in the $40 range and climbs. All grower-produced Champagnes have the letters RM on their label (Récoltant-Manipulant). You have to look closely for that mark — it’s often tiny. And because these wines are made by individuals in small lots, there’s variability over time. But discovering those variations is part of the pleasure of wine drinking, and that brings a bit of adventure to your celebration. Besides, in general, only the serious wine merchants care enough to stock grower-produced Champagnes – and if they’re stocking them, they almost certainly have the sort of specialized knowledge that makes them a good source of information, about these or other wines. Here are a few stores that stock grower-produced Champagnes: Wine Rack, 2632 Frankfort Avenue; Westport Wine & Spirits, 1115 Herr Lane, Suite 140; Gemelli Wine + Spirits, 3935 Chenoweth Square; Wine Market, 1200 Bardstown Road; Old Town Wine & Spirits, 1529 Bardstown Road; Whole Foods Market Wine Shop, 4944 Shelbyville Road.