It’s the most wonderful time of year: Champagne season!
And while the French sparkling wine is a classic for a reason, consider trying a different sort of bubbly as you spend this week making merry at parties and ringing in the New Year.
So, I present for your consideration:
Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne. Most comes form the Penedes region in northern Spain, and it is typically made with native grapes macabeo, parellada and/or xarel-lo, though others might make it into the blend as well.
The wine gets its bubbles via methode traditionelle, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle in which the wine is sold. (This is how it’s done in Champagne.)
In terms of flavors, expect a dry wine with a yeasty-bready quality. Cava has a distinct earthy quality with notes of almond, crisp apple and white fruits. One of the best things about cava is its value: a good bottle can be had for $10-15.
The wines from Raventos i Blanc are amazing; look also for cava from Juame Serra Cristalino and Segura Viudas.
Franciacorta is one totally underrated bubbly. From Italy’s Lombardy region, the wine is made primarily with chardonnay and pinot noir, though pinot blanc is allowed in the blend. These must also me made using methode traditionelle.
Flavorwise, this wine is savory and fresh, with notes of bread, yeast and almonds as well as distinct citrus notes. It is quite juicy to drink.
Expect to spend a little more on these – good ones start at about $25 a bottle. Two to try are Ca’ del Bosco and Bellavista.
Vouvray is a sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley. These are crafted from chenin blanc grapes in a very minimalist style. They may be petillant (semi-sparkling) or mousseux (fully sparkling).
These wines are known for their acidity, making them a perfect match with food. In terms of flavors, expect to find notes of honey, nuts, ginger, fig, apples and white flowers.
Marc Bredif is a classic producer. Also look for wines from Francois Chidaine and Huet.
Everyone knows prosecco, the soft bubbly from northern Italy. These wines (from the glera grape) are usually made using the charmant method, where the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel before being bottled.
The result is a softer wine that is lower in alcohol that other bubblies. This makes it a very pleasing aperitif, with notes of apple, pear, peach and apricot. The best are from Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore appellation.
Most prosecco can be had fairly inexpensively; for these wines, $20 is a splurge! Ca’ Furlan, Mionetto and Bisol are all solid producers.
For a bubbly of a different color – literally! – reach for a Brachetto d’Acqui. This sparkling red is from Italy’s Piedmont region. It is light-bodied and very aromatic. Typical notes include raspberry and rose petals, though the wine is known for its distinct strawberry character. (The grape, by the way, is brachetto.)
Another red option is sparkling shiraz – a wine not so common over here, but one the Aussies know how to do with aplomb. The best ones have a wonderfully earthy complexity, with notes of red fruit, black berry, pepper and licorice.
However, it’s also best to spend $20 or more per bottle for these. Henry’s Drive and Mollydooker are two superb producers.
And, if nothing but the classic Champagne will do, heed this advice, which I learned from an executive at Veuve Clicquot: Vintage Champagne hits the sweet spot of deliciousness and value, making it worth the splurge.