|US sparkling wine can be very good, and good value|
Much of the time I write this blog for wine geeks. But not today. I have been bubbly shopping with friends who drink wine but don't obsess on it, and I've seen their eyes glaze over if I get too detailed. If that's you, here's a very simple guide to buying sparkling wine you'll actually enjoy.
Why do that? Well, why drink anything you don't like? If you're going to drink the stuff on Dec. 31 anyway, why end the year with a bad taste in your mouth?
Plus, you know all those movies and rap songs that mention how great bubbly is? Well, it really is, if you know what to buy. And you don't have to spend $300 for Cristal to live large.
So here are the 8 simple points to getting a sparkling wine you'll actually like.
|Chardonnay grapes from Champagne|
Give it a shot. That's not so much money for a bottle with about 6 drinks in it, especially if those drinks actually taste good.
Good sparkling wine costs more to make than still wine. It has to be fermented a second time in the bottle (that's what "traditional method" or "methode Champenoise" means). If you spend less than $15, you're getting wine that was carbonated like Coke. It's not the same.
I know $20 is a lot of money for a bottle of wine. But give it one shot. At least you'll know what the rappers are going on about.
2) Buy from a real wine shop
Supermarkets bring in cases of the crappiest bubbly they can find just for this week. I went to several supermarkets this month that didn't have even one bottle of sparkling wine I would personally drink -- and a couple were goody-two-shoes higher-priced stores that supposedly sell quality food.
I'd like to see you go to a smaller wine shop where you can talk to the staff. "What's the best bubbly I can get for $20?" is a perfectly fine question; it says all you need to say. But even giant chain wine stores have some bubblies worth drinking this month.
3) Look for bubblies made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
These are the main grapes of Champagne and they are the grapes of all of the world's best sparkling wines. Seriously. All of them.
|Champagne is a place. This is what it looks like.|
If you see other grapes mixed in, that's probably a minus.
4) Look for "methode Champenoise" or "traditional method" on the label
Because otherwise, you might as well buy white wine and add 7-Up.
5) Here are a few reliable US bubblies that might be cheaper than $20:
* Gloria Ferrer Blancs de Noir
* Gruet Blancs de Noir
* Roederer Estate
The Gloria Ferrer and the Gruet might be found as cheaply as $15 and are the cheapest bubblies I'll personally drink.
I'm not a fan of Cava; the grapes aren't as good. I have had some fun Proseccos but while they're cheaper than good Champagnes, they're also more rare and you'll need to put more work into finding them. And Prosecco's ceiling just isn't very high: if I get one as good as the four cheap bubblies I listed above, I'm shocked and delighted.
I'd love for you to try an actual Champagne, something not too expensive (say, $30) that's still pretty good, like Nicolas Feuillatte, or a small-production Champagne your wine shop recommends. I'm not a fan of the most widely available Champagnes, Moet & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot: US bubblies in the same price range, like J and Schramsberg, are better.
|Under $20 and tasty|
Crémant de Bourgogne ("bubbly from Burgundy) is often good value because they grow the same grapes as Champagne but charge less for sparkling wines.
7) Don't eat sweets with your bubbly
Champagne is actually terrible with wedding cake, another reason people think they don't like it. Sweets make sparkling wine taste bitter. A solution is to get a pink Champagne, which is sweeter, but good ones cost about $10 more than regular Champagnes. And all we're trying to do here is get you through one bottle with a good experience.
Foods that are good with good sparkling wine include plenty of stuff that's around on New Year's Eve. Buttered popcorn is great. Potato chips are great. Pretzels are good. I'd drink Champagne with nachos (hold the jalapenos, though). You don't have to get fancy. Just think salty and crunchy, not overly spicy and not sweet.
8) Any white wine glass will do
The trend in Champagne glasses used to be wide and flat; then it was tall and thin.
At home, I drink sparkling wine out of regular white-wine glasses. You get more aroma than with a flute (the tall thin ones), and the bubbles don't disappear like they did with the glasses your grandparents used. A red wine glass or water glass is probably too fat; the bubbles won't last.
That's all. Spend the $20. What have you got to lose -- besides $20?