Champagne is right up there with Kleenex Band-Aid and Frisbee as one of those brands that transcended language and eventually became the word we use to describe an entire category. Champagne has also managed to gain a stranglehold on nearly every type of celebration — holidays birthdays weddings promotions and even victories on the racetrack. Not a bad bit of marketing — and they’ve been getting away with it for over a century.
But at $45-plus a bottle not every occasion merits this extravagance.
Champagne is expensive for a number of reasons: the cost of vineyard land in the Champagne region which is the most expensive in the world; the method used to make it; grape prices; and the time it requires to age it and get it to market. Oh and I imagine those glossy ads in lifestyle magazines don’t come cheap. The best sparkling wines in the world do come from Champagne but there are a bevy of other fizzy wines that deserve your attention. Everywhere from California to the Loire Valley to Spain Italy and yes right here in Canada is making exceptional bubbly wines that will put a big smile on your face.
Prosecco is popular right now in the world of bubbles. These wines are usually made in the charmat method which means the wine is fermented in tanks rather than individual bottles as champagne is. This significantly reduces the cost of production and the grapes are also much less expensive. Prosecco is fresh and bright with aggressive little bubbles that deliver notes of pear and ripe peach. It’s a great way to greet your guests and for sipping yourself while you put the final touches on dinner.
Spain’s famous sparkler is called cava and it is one of the best known alternatives to champagne. It can be made using the same techniques as champagne and is also capable of delivering the same intensely dry mineral-laden flavours. Cava can be simple or serious — you’ll know which you have by the price. Either way the bang for the buck is good here.
Crémant is France’s other great sparkling wine from regions outside of Champagne. These tend to be good buys usually selling from $20 to $30. The Loire Valley is one of the best places for crémant production as it has a rich history of producing high quality sparkling wines.
In Canada we are cranking out some amazing bubbly ourselves. In the Okanagan most of it is made in the traditional champagne method. At their best Okanagan wines can mimic champagne with decent success but you need to be on the lookout for the best examples. Here are a few of my favourites from home and beyond.
• NV Nino Franco Rusitca Prosecco Italy ($25) — One of the best known Proseccos in our market. Dry and fine with nice hints of spiced pear and ripe peaches.
• Raventos — when it comes to Spanish bubbles you really can’t top Raventos. Their wines range between about $25 to $40 — all are well worth your attention.
• 2011 Antech Limoux Reserve Brut France ($22) — Another top French sparkler that delivers delicate bubbles and ripe white fruit notes. One of the best buys you’ll run into.
• 2009 Blue Mountain Brut Rose Okanagan Falls B.C. ($38) — This is one we can all be proud of. Ripe notes of wild strawberry are balanced by wonderful freshness and a long complex finish. Turkey wine? Oh ya.