Your Guide to Choosing Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines for Any Occasion or Budget
What is the difference between Champagne, prosecco, cava, and other bubbles? And when is it worth the splurge?
When it comes to fun, festive wines, we can't get enough fizz. No matter what you're celebrating (New Year's Eve, a birthday, or just Wednesday) there's a sparkling wine out there to suit every palate and price range. But choosing that perfect sparkling wine can be daunting—with prices ranging from budget $10 bottles to luxury splurges in the triple digits, it's best to learn more about your options before hitting the wine aisle.
Remember this: All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne! True Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France. It's undoubtedly the most iconic sparkling wine in the world—and for those that prize quality above all else, and budget isn't a concern, Champagne is the top choice for toasting. Producing it is a highly skilled craft, from the growing of the grapes in this difficult climate to the work of Champagne artisans in the cellar.
Champagne primarily utilizes three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. It gets its lovely bubbles from the traditional method, where the grape juice is fermented to create a still wine (or "base wine"), and then the base wine gets fermented a second time inside the sealed bottle. The carbon dioxide produced during this second fermentation gets trapped inside the wine, making the wine effervescent. The process is very painstaking and handcrafted, hence the premium pricing.
Champagnes conveniently explains its sweetness level right on the bottle—if you know how to decode the label. Champagnes with zero added sugar are labelled "Brut Nature." Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut ($69.99, wine.com) is a great example. Champagnes with 12 grams per sugar or less per liter, are labeled "Brut." Try Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Bleu Brut ($36.99, wine.com). If you prefer a sweeter wine, look for "Demi-Sec," like Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec ($44.99, wine.com), which can be perfect with desserts or a cheese course. And don't forget that Champagne is also made in a rosé version, such as Moet & Chandon Rosé Imperial ($49.97, wine.com); it's a great choice if you just can't resist pink wines.
Is Champagne Worth the Splurge?
We asked Michelle DeFeo, president of Laurent-Perrier US, what makes Champagne worth the extra dollars. "Firstly, it's the highest quality sparkling wine in the world, made in a centuries-old way, made only from grapes grown in a very specific area of France called Champagne. If you're going to splurge, make it count by getting the good stuff! Plus, Champagne isn't just about how great it tastes—it's also about how it makes you feel. Nothing else in your glass can evoke feelings of elegance, celebration, and indulgence like true Champagne from Champagne."
Other Traditional Method Sparkling Wines
Sparkling wines are made from all over the world in the same method as Champagne: the traditional method (also known as methode traditionelle in France and metodo classico in Italy). They won't be exactly like French Champagne because the soil types and climate will be different and they can be made from different grape varieties, but it can be fun to sample what other world regions offer with their take on sparkling wine. One not to miss and a favorite of wine industry professionals everywhere for being top quality at a friendly price point is Cremant d'Alsace from the Alsace region of France. Try Jean-Baptiste Adam Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose ($26.99, wine.com). The top wine producing area in Italy for this style of wine is Trentino, with a wine category known as Trentodoc. Rotari Brut ($20.99, wine.com) is an elegant crowd pleaser. California is producing wonderful traditional method sparklers, like Sterling Vineyards Blanc de Blancs ($26.99, winedeals.com). And now England is getting a lot of attention for their sparkling wines, thought by many to rival Champagne. We love Nyetimber Classic Cuvée English Sparkling Wine ($64.99, wine.com).
Cava is one of the fastest growing categories of sparkling wine: It's Spain's signature sparkler, and it's also made in the traditional method just like French Champagne, but from native Spanish grapes like macabeo, xarello, and parellada. The Cava production area is much bigger, and more supply means lower pricing—so you can get these wines for a relative steal. Cava offers some of the highest quality at some of the lowest prices of any category of sparkling wine out there today. Try Juve Y Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava Brut Nature 2015 ($18.99, wine.com), Vilarnau NV Brut Rose ($18.99, wine.com), or Bodegas Muga Cava Conde de Haro 2015 ($26.99, wine.com).
Sure to be a crowd pleaser at any event, prosecco is wildly popular right now. The Italian sparkler is known for being a fantastic aperitivo, typically served before a meal to open up the appetite. Crisp and citrus scented, it's very easy to drink. Prosecco is made from the glera grape, and instead of the second fermentation happening in bottle like the traditional method, instead it's made in the Charmat method. This means, it's fermented in a huge tank and then bottled under pressure—so it's less handcrafted, and more simple in flavor because there's no grape blending or barrel aging.
It's easy to find prosecco as low as $10/bottle, so this sparkler is an especially great option if you're stocking up on volume for a party or event. Because of the simple, fresh, and fruity flavor profile, it's the perfect sparkling wine option to mix into cocktails and punches. And, it pairs amazingly with a cheese and charcuterie platter. One thing to know is prosecco comes in multiple tiers of quality. The basic (and most affordable) level is called Prosecco DOC, like Zonin Prosecco DOC ($12.99, wine.com), and a step up from that is Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Try Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($18.99, winedeals.com) or Adami Bosco di Gica Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($21.99, wine.com). If you'd like to treat yourself to the "grand cru" of prosecco, that would be Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, such as Bisol Cartizze Prosecco Superiore 2017 ($42.99, wine.com), which is well worth the higher price point.