The world of wine is filled with a variety and bottles to please just about any palate. Even the most novice oenophiles can find pleasure in exploring seasonal reds or the vast range of white wines. Yet, when it comes to bubbles, the journey often begins and ends with Champagne. Don’t get us wrong, there’s lots to love about the toasty beverage, especially during the festive winter season. But the bubbles category is actually quite broad thanks to the wide variety of sparkling wines options offered these days.
Yes, Champs may be the most notable, but there are plenty of other exciting alternatives to test out this season. “The beautiful thing about bubbly is that it instantly ignites a celebration and pairs with an array of foods from charcuterie to ham and sweet potatoes,” says Vanessa Da Silva, wine director at Point Seven in New York City. Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be difficult. But as Sara Jimenez, sommelier at Pennsylvania-based resort The Lodge At Woodloch, explains, you don’t have to give up your favorite flavors to find a good alternative. “If you like the brioche and bread notes in Champagne, look for an [alternative] bottle made in the traditional méthode champenoise style as it will have a similar softness and elegance,” she says. (We’ll have more on that process below.)
Ahead, a group of experts share tips for choosing an alternative sparkling wine and the best ways to serve and pair them this season.
Traditional Sparkling Wine-Making Methods
To find a great bottle of bubbles, it helps to understand the methods that create the fizzy effect. The aforementioned méthode champenoise is the customary production technique for Champagne that yields that soft and delicate bubbly finish. When you see this term, or any of its other names (méthode traditionnelle, classique, or classico) on the label, it indicates that the wine went through a second fermentation process in the bottle to produce carbonation. While traditional Champagnes are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier, the method itself can be paired with an array of grapes to deliver a similar result. Gilles Martin, head winemaker at Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery, explains that this process will always warrant exceptional qualities in a sparkling wine.
The second most common process is the charmat method that is used to make Prosecco. Instead of occurring in the bottle, the second fermentation happens in a large tank. “This keeps the wine’s notes fresh, so while you won’t get the toast aromas, you will have more fruit-forward flavors,” says Los Angeles-based sommelier Casleah Herwaldt.
Sparkling Wine Options
This option hails from Spain and is full of bright citrus notes. “Cavas have a similar mouthfeel to Champagne because they’re made in the traditional method but are fruit-forward despite having a dry finish,” says Jimenez. She continues, noting that this also makes them a popular choice for cocktails or celebratory toasts. Best of all, Cavas are fairly affordable. “With these wines, you don’t have to break the bank for a delicious bottle that’s complex and easy-drinking,” adds Yvelin Lim, e-commerce manager at the taste56 wine store in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
A lesser-known sparkling wine from northern Italy, Franciacorta is, as Jimenez quips, a fun alternative for Champagne lovers. “You’ll find more of the bread notes in these wines since they’re made from the same grapes as Champagne,” she says. However, with a flavor profile that ranges from fruity and zesty to floral, it tends to have a lot more personality and complexity than Italy’s more notable bubbly.
Light and fizzy, pét-nat’s are a unique class of sparkling wines that can have an interesting flavor profile. They use a natural method that predates Champagne and, therefore, have less carbonation. Notes in pét-nat’s are hard to categorize, but with the right varietal combination, they can be a delightful choice for easy drinking, meals, or even toasts.
This bubbly elixir hails from Italy and is named after both the region and grape from which it’s derived (although its production locale spans about nine provinces in the Veneto area). As mentioned above, Prosecco is typically made in the charmat method, which allows for much shorter production time, typically about 30 days, and a much more affordable price tag. This light-bodied wine is great for those who favor a highly aromatic and crisp wine. Typical flavor profiles include apple, honeysuckle, peach, melon and pear.
How To Shop For Sparkling Wines
With such a versatile category, finding the right kind of bubbly to fit your mood can be intimidating. Fortunately, these experts have a few quick tips to make shopping a lot less daunting. A quick scan of the bottle’s label is your best clue to the feel and flavor of the sparkling wine inside. “Look for keywords like ‘cremont’ that designate the wine was made like Champagne but in a different part of France,” says Da Silva. Similarly, Jimenez adds that the terms ‘Brut’ or ‘Extra Brut’ denote how dry the finish will be.
Last but not least, she notes to keep a price range in mind. “Search for bottles that fit your budget. There are a lot of great comparable styles that are very similar in taste and pair-ability to expensive options,” she says. On that note, embracing a new kind of sparkling wine is a breeze with the below expert-approved bottles.
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