Sparkle, Neely, sparkle!
Champagne – the international icon of class and decadence - is the go-to beverage for New Year’s. We often drink other sparkling wines in place of champagne – Prosecco, Cava, or various Mousseux and Crémants (d’Alsace, de Loire, de Limoux) – because there is only one true champagne (with a lowercase c) and it is all produced in a small region in France (Champagne with a capital C) using only seven grape varietals (but usually only three of those seven) and the méthode champenoise a.k.a. méthode traditionnelle, which all contribute to making it expensive. Like any brand, you pay for the label and many of us have outspent at the holidays and have resolved to be more frugal in the New Year.
But you do not have to sacrifice quality if you would rather save money on a sparkling wine alternative or challenge the status quo by bringing a more esoteric and unusual wine to the party. The best thing about the list that follows is you can satisfy both desires! We have compiled a roster of sparkling wines with ascending price points that are both worthy of celebration and have a fun and funky flare.
For those of you who are confused about the different methods of sparkling wine production mentioned in this blog post from Wine Folly is a great run-down of the many methods for producing sparkling wine. However, you don’t need to know the difference between a méthode champenoise and méthode ancestrale to enjoy these sparkling beauties. Bottoms up!
Sparkling wine in a can: Alloy Wine Works Méthode Aluminum ($12.99)
This no dosage (pronounced DOH-zahj, meaning no sugar added) sparkling wine is made from Pinot noir grapes grown on Edna Valley’s Greengate Ranch. Slip a few in your purse (or man bag) and you’ll be the life of the party!
Lambrusco: Luciano Saetti ($15.99)
Lambrusco is a typically red (but sometimes rosé like the Puianello Metodo Ancestrale and more rarely white), sparkling wine produced in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. It is also a group of red grape varietals grown widely in northern Italy, some of which have their own DOC or Denominazione di origine controllata - a system that monitors the quality of goods produced in a region through specified production methods and ingredients. In the case of wines, this translates to specific grape varietals. It is the same idea that determines champagne must come only from Champagne. Italian vintner Luciano Saetti makes his wine with the grape variety Lambrusco Salamino di Croce. He uses organically farmed grapes and does not add anything in the cellar, including sulfur. The result is a dry, sparkling wine that tastes of fleshy red fruits and berries with hints of violets, surprisingly firm tannins and resolute perlage - a fancy word for effervescence that you can impress your friends with in 2017.
Seyssel Mousseux: Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal ($21.99)
Seyssel is a small appellation in the Savoie region in the French Alps (bordering Bugey, discussed below). The Lambert de Seyssel is a white blend of Molette and Altesse – two indigenous varietals that grow well in this cool, alpine region. This wine is yeasty like a champagne with a complex aroma that evokes alpine flowers, honey, and bosc pear. It is light in body with a delicate golden hue. Like champagne, it has a pedigree from a region that has a long winemaking tradition but doesn't have the lofty price.
Bugey: Franck Peillot Montagnieu Brut ($24.99)
Bugey is a relatively obscure French region best known for Cerdon - a sparkling rosé made from Gamay and Poulsard. Though technically located in the low altitude hills of southern Jura the region is closer to the aforementioned Savoie and has a more similar climate and terroir. Winemaker Franck Peillot is carrying on the work of four generations of vinification on steep, Jurassic limestone slopes using methods inspired by Jules Chauvet – the winemaker and négociant from Beaujolais who inspired the contemporary natural winemaking movement. The Brut Vin de Bugey Montagnieu is blend of Altesse, Chardonnay, and Mondeuse. The mineral terroir is reflected in this refreshing, dry wine. Aromas of citrus zest, crisp apples, and peaches lead to balanced, rich wine, with a slight creaminess – everything you want from a champagne and at a fraction of the cost (but it’s still bougie)!
Cava (that’s technically not Cava): Raventos i Blanc de Nit ($29.99)
The Raventos estate has been growing grape vines in Penedes, Catalonia since 1496. Josep ‘Pepe’ Raventos founded the current iteration of the estate in 1984. He practices biodynamic farming and terroir driven winemaking. His De Nit Cava Rosé is pretty in pink. It is such a pale, delicate pink that it could almost pass as a Blanc de noir. For those who are unfamiliar, Cava is a DO (Denominación de Origen) wine made using the méthode champenoise with Spanish varietals Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello, though several other varietals are acceptable. De Nit is made with this typical blend and a touch of Monastrell (5%) which helps give the wine roundness and elegance. Worth noting, Raventos withdrew from the Cava DO in 2012, accusing it of having become a “volume-oriented DO lacking geographical distinction in terms of climate and terroir” that “suffers from low viticultural standards.” Raventos created the Conca del Riu Anoia DO in its stead. Red berries, white pepper and orange blossom dominate the nose with layers of citrus fruits and tart raspberry on the palate. This dry mineral wine is worthy of celebration.
California Pét Nat: Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc Sparkling Wine ($34.99)
We have discussed Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars on the blog before. This California winemaker is interested in overlooked plots and unusual Californian varietals. Cabernet franc is a grape that is often considered a blending grape. Here, Chris Brockway uses the varietal for an easy drinking Pétillant Naturel (a sparkling wine that gets its bubbles from the continued fermentation of grape juice inside the bottle, also called the méthode ancestrale). It is refreshing and unusual. It is also herbaceous, acidic, and somewhat earthy like a Cab franc should be with notes of flowers and pit fruits. Brockway uses a natural style of winemaking with little intervention and no additives so it’s practically like you’re starting your New Year’s cleanse early. Plus it sports hand drawn white stars on its black label so the bottle looks dressed for the party.
German Sparkler: Peter Lauer Riesling Sekt ($39.99)
We discussed Peter Lauer and his fantastic Rieslings in an early blog with ideas for Thanksgiving wine pairings. This Sekt – the German version of traditional method sparkling wine – is 100% Riesling from Mosel, the region known worldwide for producing some of the finest Rieslings. Many people automatically associate Riesling with sweet wine but many are in fact dry and off dry. Would its location permit, this non-vintage Sekt would be labeled “Brut” (dry). It is linear and mineral with a long finish. Riesling’s signature floral nose is no exception here giving way to a palate of spiced orchard fruits, tangerines with a slight creaminess from its time spent on the lees. This wine would be a great conversation piece for your friends who thought they didn’t like Riesling. Those who “only drink dry white wine thank you very much” just might be stunned.
Austrian Pét Nat: Stroheimer Rosé ($45.99)
Franz Stroheimer is an Austrian winemaker and innovator who uses unconventional methods to produce natural wines that he feels best express the terroir in Styria, Austria. He is not bound by tradition but instead experiments with new techniques. Though his grapes are not certified biodynamic his winemaking practices fall under that definition. His unusual rosé is made using Blauer Wildbacker - a dark skinned Austrian red varietal said to date back to the Celts. It is aged in 80% steel tanks and 20% old barrels with indigenous yeasts. He adds champagne yeast during the secondary fermentation, which takes place in bottle, but he does not add any sulfur or dosage – sugar added during the second fermentation to balance the wine. This blush colored wine is extra-dry. It boasts aromas of cherry, tart raspberry, orange, and pepper. This wine has tons of character and will bring you into the New Year inhaling deeply to savor its aroma.
Austrian Sparkler: Wimmer-Czerny Blanc de Noir ($52.99)
Wimmer-Czerny in eastern Austria’s Wagram region makes wine with the utmost integrity. Wimmer-Czerny wines are biodynamic certified, they do not use additives, they only use indigenous yeasts, they hand pick their grapes and pay close attention to natural rhythms for growth and harvesting. Beyond the vineyard there is more biodynamic farming with farm animals wandering through green pastures. This Champagne method Blanc de noir (white wine made from red grapes) is subtle and complex. It is earthy and mineral like the sandy soils where its grapes grow and with aromas of wildflowers and red berries. While this wine is a fantastic reflection of distinctly Austrian wine it can stand up to a Blanc de noir from Champagne. This wine is as delicious as it is virtuous.
California Sparkler (Baller Edition): Under the Wire Chardonnay ($64.99)
Under the Wire is the brainchild of Chris Cottrell and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. The focus is on single-vintage, single-vineyard, terroir driven sparkling wine produced in California. The pair was inspired by the grower champagne movement in which Champagne growers produce a single estate wine that reflects their land and growing technique. This is atypical in Champagne where many houses simply buy the best grapes from multiple vineyards to produce their wine. Chris and Morgan made this sparkling Chardonnay from grapes grown at the Brosseau vineyard in the Salinas Valley. Brosseau grows organic grapes on granite and limestone terroir, which gives this wine a mineral quality evocative of crushed oyster shells. The wine smells and tastes of apples, ginger, and lemon zest with a floral bouquet and a creamy texture. It might be the closest you can get to champagne without the birthright. This wine might be priced more like a champagne but it is well worth the splurge. Say goodbye (nay, good riddance) to 2016 in style.