If you refrain from drinking “bubbly” all year long (although I can’t understand why you would!) then this might be the perfect time to indulge. Champagne comes from all over the world, and each bottle is as different in style and flavor from each other as they are in price range.
Champagne usually makes special appearances at celebratory occasions, but it’s really just wine with bubbles in it! I think you can drink bubbly with any occasion, and so do other people that appreciate it. It’s the perfect way to start a meal—the acidity livens up the palate to get you ready for dinner. It’s perfect during the meal—champagne can accompany anything from fish to steak filet. It’s perfect after the meal—it pairs wonderfully with a cheese course for dessert. As you can see, I’m very much an advocate for bubbly, but it can be difficult to understand all the nuances of purchasing and enjoying it. Here’s a start to your bubbly education!
The most revered—and therefore most pricey—is true Champagne from the Champagne region of France. This is where bubbly was first developed. The French wineries of this region perfected the methods to make it, and they still make the best bubbly in the world. True Champagne starts in the $40 price range, and the sky’s the limit for a ceiling price. If you really want the most flavor, finesse, and elegance then buy true Champagne.
If you want really good Champagne at reasonable prices, then I suggest asking for a good “growers’ Champagne” the next time you’re shopping at Binny’s. These growers are small producers that make great tasting, high quality bubbly at lower prices, because they don’t spend all their money on marketing like Veuve Cliquot or Moet Chandon.
If you don’t want to go the true Champagne route, take the Cava highway. Cava is from Spain and makes excellent sparkling wine for the money you spend. Cava is made in the traditional manner, however, they use different grapes than those from Champagne. The climate is warmer in Cava, which produces a different style. Cava is my favorite substitution for true Champagne. It’s dry, crisp, clean, has apple and pear flavors, and also comes in rosé. Good Cava starts at $12 and goes up from there, but there’s no need to spend a lot for this bubbly.
If you like a slightly sweet or riper style of bubbly, then I suggest Prosecco from Italy. It’s not made in the same way as Champagne or Cava, but it is light, on the sweet side, and has of course plenty of bubbles for your enjoyment!
Whichever bubbly you choose, remember that you don’t need a wedding or other celebration to pour yourself a glass. Champagne can be its own special occasion!
Wine writer Maggie Bernat Smith contributes to the Strongbox blog each Friday.