As New Year’s Eve approaches, I’m sure there are lots of folks out there still looking for the right bottle of bubbly to pop at the stroke of midnight. For those in need of some background info and suggestions, here’s my quick-and-dirty guide to world of sparkling wines out there (and it’s not just champagne!), broken down by general price range:
If you are looking to party on a budget, I’ve got good news for you: there’s a lot of good choices in this price range. Here’s a bunch of things to drink instead of cheap champagne (which can be pretty yuck):
Moscato d’asti: for those who like some dewy sweetness to their sparkling wine, moscato from the Asti region of Italy fills the bill nicely for anywhere from $10 and up. For those of you who want lighter bubbly action, many moscatos come frizzante, a term for wines that are less carbonated and feel more lightly sparkling. My favorite moscato producers include La Spinetta, Elio Perrone and Ceretto; Saracco is widely available and isn’t quite as good, but still does the job nicely.
Cava: these sparkling wines from Spain are made with the methode champenoise and the best examples can have very Champagne-like characteristics. The best one I’ve had is a Paul Cheneaux Blanc de Blancs Reserva; other producers to look for include Segura Viudas and Raventos. Cristalino can be found everywhere and has been decent when I’ve tried it.
Prosecco: these sparkling wines from Italy are fresh and have a bit more of a slightly green, sometimes savory (think olive) edge. My personal favorite is a lovely delicate prosecco from Vigne di Alice; I’ve also liked other proseccos from producers called Astoria and Valdo. Be wary of cheap knock-offs though – some are not even from Italy. Look for wines with a DOCG label, which means it’s from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone, the top area for prosecco.
Cremant: some French sparkling wines from outside the Champagne region are called cremant, such as Cremant de Bourgogne (from Burgundy), Cremant de Jura (from Jura) and Cremant d’Alsace (from Alsace). Good ones to look for include the Parigot & Richard Blanc de Blancs, the Philippe Bornard cremants for something a bit “different”, or the Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs, a steal at about $13. If you don’t believe me about how good these wines are – the Albrecht is what we’re having at our NYE celebration.
California sparkling wine: sparkling wines from California offer excellent value in comparison to Champagne; some of the bottlings that come in at or near $20 that I really like include the Roederer Estate Anderson Valley and the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs and Mirabelle Rosé.
Of course, no guide to bubbly would be complete with a mention of-
Champagne: there are a lot of terrific champagnes to be had in this price range, and you don’t have to keep buying the same bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Some of my favorites include: Larmandier Terre de Vertus 1er Cru, excellent grower champagnes from Benoit Lahaye, Henriot Souverain NV (meaning nonvintage), and a terrific little vintage offering, the 2004 Dehours Champagne Extra Brut Les Genevraux, made from 100% pinot meunier.
…and if money is no object
Had a really great year despite the recession? Or not that great a year, but you’re ready to blow big bucks to forget 2010? Look no further – vintage offerings like 1997 Salon, 1998 Krug, and 1996 Henriot Enchanteleurs will send shivers down your spine. If you need a little more street cred, rapper favorites like 2002 Cristal and 2002 Dom Perignon are not far behind in quality. Just be ready to drop $150-300 a bottle for these beauties- and please invite me! Tasting notes on a dizzying number of wines are below, for those who want the play-by-play. Have a great New Year’s everyone! -Alan
- 1996 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
A dark horse among the premium champagnes in this tasting. Showing some oxidation – butterscotch flavors abound, but if you can live with that style, this wine is really really tasty – has the most showy flavors in the tasting. For my palate, this competes for wine of the night, with the Krug 1998 and the Salon BdB ’97. 94-95 (94 points)
- 1997 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Perhaps the most complete wine of the night; very pretty, smooth, very tasty, everything in balance. Vying with the Krug 1998 for WOTN. 93-95 (94 points)
- 1998 Krug Champagne Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Delicious – a nice richness with beautiful acidity. Best wine of the tasting. 94-95 (94 points)
- 2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Did not keep detailed notes, but this was very good, 92-93+ish points. (93 points)
- 2004 Dehours Champagne Extra Brut Les Genevraux – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
A value standout of the tasting – juicy fruit with zing, and a very different kind of nose; slightly oxidative. Very tasty. Not scored at the time, but from memory, 90-92. 100% pinot meunier. (91 points)
- N.V. Henriot Champagne Blanc Souverain Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
A good performer for the price range; has juiciness to the fruit, good acidity, very pleasing; lots of flavor and a nice smoothness. 90-91 (90 points)
- 1999 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut – France, Champagne, Côte des Blancs, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Interesting – has a bit of creaminess; very smooth. Has something very different about it that I didn’t get to pinpoint due to the quick pace of the tasting.
- 2002 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Had a slightly bitter minerality on the palate; good but my least favorite among the premium champagnes poured on this night.
- 2006 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs – USA, California (12/2/2010)
Had a nice bit of minerality; good value.
- N.V. Benoît Lahaye Champagne Brut Nature – France, Champagne, Bouzy, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Good – consistent with prior tastings of this producer, though this bottling was a shade tart for me.
- N.V. Camille Savès Champagne Brut Grand Cru Rosé – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Good, with a nutty note.
- N.V. Dehours Champagne Grande Réserve Extra-Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
Decent but not as good as the Genevraux ’04, which is worth the extra money. 60% pinot (more…)