Most sparkling wine isn’t Champagne and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A decent entry-level bottle of Champagne goes for around $40. This is not “Taco Tuesday” pricing. Fortunately, there are tips to follow to find great alternatives.
The solution is to look outside the small region of Champagne (a region in France), for good, decently-priced bubbles at a fraction of the cost. Many of these wines are produced with the same method and use the same grape varieties.
Tip #1: Champagne is just one type of sparkling wine.
There are lots of other high quality sparkling wines being produced all over France and the rest of the world. Here is a short list of regional names for non-French wines that are made in the traditional Champagne style:
- Italy: Metodo Classico (not Prosecco or Lambrusco: see why)
- Spain: Cava and Espumoso
- Germany and Austria: Sekt
- South Africa: Cap Classique
- Portugal and Argentina: Espumante
- USA, Australia, Chile, etc: Traditional Method and “Méthode Champenoise”
Tip #2: There are 23 other sparkling wine regions in France alone.
Outside of Champagne, France has 23 other sparkling wine regions produce fantastic bubbly, so you should definitely get familiar with a few of the 23 French sparkling regional names and styles.
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Tip #3: Cava is dope! (as in “tasty”)
In Northern Spain, sparkling wine is called “Cava.” This style of Spanish bubbly offers several tiers of quality that mimic the same classification system used in Champagne. That’s particularly exciting because most Cava are available for less than $20, which is an outrageously awesome deal high quality sparklers.
- Cava: Entry-level non-vintage (NV) Cava with 9 months of aging.
- Reserva: NV Cava with 15 months of aging (identical aging to basic NV Champagne).
- Gran Reserva: A vintage dated Cava with no less than 30 months of “tirage”/aging.
Tip #4: The longer it’s been aged in cellar, the better.
Most sparkling wines improve with extended aging during Tirage (“Tear-ahj”). Tirage happens after the second fermentation (which is when sparkling wines get bubbly). Wines rest on dead yeast particles.
The dead yeast particle, called “lees,” give sparkling wines fuller body, creamier texture, and more nutty flavors. Winemakers may extend tirage period in order to make a richer style of sparkling wine.
- 9 month tirage: This should be a minimum and doesn’t really add a great deal of new characteristics.
- 15 month–2 year tirage: During this period, sparkling wines start to develop richer flavors.
- 3-8 year tirage Top-rated sparkling wines use extended tirage.