We all know that I am such a Champagne connoisseur that I will only drink Champagne that comes from Epernay, a region that is less than a 9 mi2. The picture below is Pat and I in Epernay. I solemnly swear this post will cover all types of bubbly wines (links in red) you may want to ring into the New Year with, celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and occasionally just Tuesday. Though you must know by now, at my house it will be Moet and we will indulge on one of our last Joseph Desrutes on Christmas day. Generally speaking, if you buy locally, your local store is more likely to carry what you like long term. That said a subscription to wine.com is worth its weight in gold. I’ve got a link that will get you $30 off. Due to it being so close to the holiday’s a lot of online sources are running low so you may need to hit your local store regardless. I am linking to Wine.com and Total Wine, which is a large East Coast, with relatively knowledgeable staff.
First, what is the difference between Champagne, Prosecco, and other sparkling wines? It’s not just French snobbery, I know it seems that way but there is so much more to it. To be true champagne, the wine must be made from any combination of three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot meunier that have been grown in the Champagne region. I could talk about that forever, but lets look at how the bubbly gets bubbly. In Champagne, they use an hundreds of years old fermentation process that uses yeast in the bottle that’s turned (riddling) while it’s aged and then disgorged (freezing the yeast and removing it). There is also a secondary fermentation progress and a perfect blending of grape juice from years of harvests. Hopefully from this brief overview you can see that it’s a complicated and very old process. Here are my top recommendations.
It’s clear why this is my favorite. Dried fruit, a bit salty, and smokey. It’s complex and it’s mouth watering.the It's one of those oldest champagne houses in France and is always exactly the same, which is exactly perfect, every single time. It's listed at$48 (and that's a really good deal because it's often more like $58).
This is quite different from the Moet but also from Epernay. It’s a balanced fruit combination but the soil seeps in but it’s airy. $48 can’t we get any decent champagne for less than $50, Manide? I’ll do this.
This one is only $35 but it’s a good example of what the region can offer. Lemony citrus, honey, and a nice acidity. Champagne is expensive because of the time, care and limitations on the process.
Photo of Sonoma California by Shane O
California “Champagne” can be so difficult to determine how they are made and how it will affect the taste. For example G.H. Mumm, made in Reims Champagne, is made exactly the same way and with almost exactly the same grape blend in their California made Napa Mumm. Yet, it tastes quite different and that’s a result of the soil, water table, sun exposure, temperature, etc. There has been a lot of discussion about global warming impacts on wine growing but there is no back up plan for Champagne. Chandon, also in Napa, started by a former Moet businessmen, also uses the same grapes and methods but doesn’t have that distinct Moet taste. It has the same apple fruit, hints of lemon and honey, but it’s missing the chalky flavor from the French soil. American's are also looking for a less expensive wine and so less time goes into it and likely less blending. Korbel, which is the most classic and identifiable California champagne say they use the same fermentation process (I personally doubt they're lying about it but more like speeding the process up artificially). Korbel costs under $20 and it’s an old Sonoma winery, which grows lots of the Chardonnay grapes that give it the strong apple/pear flavor and the land and growing costs are lower so maybe the haters are just snobs. If this is what you can spend and want an California champagne then you should go for it.
I don’t like the Chandon because I love Moet, but GM Mumm is not one of my favorites so the vanilla and strawberries of this bubbly are refreshing. For $24 it's a great way to ring in the new year.
This California made sparkling wine is aged for 6 years in oak barrels minimum. The price reflects it ($45) but they have a Roederer Estate Brut that’s more affordable ($25). Like most American made sparkling wine it’s a mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and no Pinot meunier.
Photo of Tuscany by Jean-Luc Benazet
Italian Prosecco may be quite delicious to many people and you may not be able to tell the difference but it is essentially the soda stream of sparkling wine. Prosecco can be made from a variety of white wines, usually made with Glera grapes, some quite excellent and high quality, but the carbonation are then injected in what’s referred to as the tank method. This will make prosecco the cheapest option with potentially great flavor.
My favorite sparkler to make mimosas with is this 500 year old Italian wine maker’s crip and only slightly sweet, with lemons and pears. I am not a fan of their rose. It’s overly sweet and highlights the downsides of prosecco and roses that are not made the French way. I wish it was easier to get in stores but Wine.com usually has it for $15,
My parents really love this. I would describe it as a Harry and David's fruit basket in a glass with effervescence. They also like that it has a screw cap and can lay on it’s side. For $12 it’s a great deal. It's a perfect summer porch wine and will do the trick at midnight too for many people.
Spanish Cava is my personal favorite alternative to true champagne. It’s made from the grapes Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel. Cava is similarly to Champagne methods. They mostly make non-vintage, meaning they’re blending grape juice from various years till they reach perfection which creates a truly consistent and usually quality wine. They also normally complete a secondary fermentation process. But with less restrictions, and cheaper land, Cava is often less expensive than Champagne. However, it doesn't taste the same because of the grapes, soil and climate. But these things don't make it bad.
This vineyard is over 400 years old but they have young family members who are innovating. recently did a tasting with him and he spoke on how important it is to keep innovating and elevating. This is a somewhat different attitude from the big Champagne houses like Moet, but it's how small wine makers like Ployez-Jacuemart who make a champagne with zero sugar added and it's su It pairs beautifully with seafood. Side note, the rose is to die for. I like this because it's sublime, to some, myself included. This cava has a subtly nutty flavor along with dark fruits. It costs around $22.
Lilies, hints of nuts, but more peach then the apple flavor I don’t love in Prosecco and California Champagne. It's almost an effervescent crisp apple taste. Oh did I mention it’s $9? This is the case you buy when you have a big party. It does a good mimosa but it will fool most people into thinking you’re drinking something more expensive.
So that’s what I think you should know before you chose what to clink at midnight, serve with your roast duck and suckling pig, etc. In our case it will be minced meat and custard pies at the Harry Potter Yule Ball, I'm throwing for my family of 7. I’d love for you to tag me on instagram (@mandiesdiary) with what bubbly you chose this holiday season. If you're local I highly recommend trying out the new River Hill Wine & Spirits, that is under new ownership and that's where I buy my cases of Moet Imperial and Rose. They also sell a Prosecco called illi, that are perfect for mimosas. Here are some recommendations on glassware and a wine bucket to use with your sparkling wine, no sorry it's not bedazzled. That was a find from a decorator friend.
Photo by Scarlett V. Brooks