Champagne is synonymous with celebration, and whether you’re ringing in the new year (hello, 2021!) or toasting to the holidays with family and friends, a glass of bubbles is a must. There’s a misconception that Champagne is the only worthwhile type of sparkling wine—there are many incredible libations produced across the world that are perfect for your holiday celebrations (and easier on your wallet).
First, a little about the golden child of the sparkling wine world: Champagne is produced using grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. The traditional method to produce it is a multistep process in which the transformation from still to sparkling wine occurs inside the bottle during a slow fermentation that can take as long as five years to complete. Champagne is known for its fine bubbles and its nutty and bready flavors with a hint of apple and citrus. The labor and time required to produce Champagne contributes to its heftier price tag, so consider it for your most special occasions. I love the classics like Krug and Ruinart, and newer options like Champagne Rendezvous.
Crémant is a sparkling wine that will scratch your Champagne itch for a fraction of the cost. Crémant is produced in France, outside of the Champagne region, using the same labor-intensive technique. Keep an eye out for Crémants from the Loire, Limoux, Bourgogne, and Alsace regions—even some of the most experienced tasters have mistaken Crémants from these regions for Champagne. Some of my favorites are Faire la Fête Crémant de Limoux and Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne.
Cava is sparkling wine produced in Spain using three indigenous Spanish grapes. Similar to Champagne, Cava is known for its fine bubbles, balanced acidity, and nutty and citrusy flavor profile. The longer Cava ages, the more prominent its flavors will be, so look out for bottles labeled Reserva and Gran Reserva, as these wines have been aged longer than average. Some standouts are Gramona and Recaredo.
There’s always a good reason to pop the Prosecco. Prosecco is sparkling wine produced in Italy using the less-laborious tank method, in which wine turns from still to sparkling while in a large tank. This gives Prosecco a more fresh-and-fruity character, larger bubbles, and a slightly sweeter flavor than Champagne. Pick up a Prosecco labeled DOC or DOCG, which guarantees that it was produced in one of Italy’s highest-quality growing regions. There are a lot of fantastic Proseccos out there, but I love bubbles from Biancavigna and Valdo.
California Sparkling Wine
Finally, we produce some world-class sparkling wines right here in California. Restrictions around California sparkling wine production are loose, meaning you can get a variety using both the traditional method and the tank method. The common distinction across these sparklings is that the California sunshine adds a lot of ripeness to the grapes, making the bubbles slightly lighter and fruitier than Champagne. Keep an eye out for sparklings from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and the Anderson Valley. Domaine Carneros and Schramsberg are some of the Napa classics, and J Vineyards’ sparklings produced in Sonoma County are always fan favorites.