Champagne dreams: Bubblies for your budget
 

Haiku for Champagne:

Tasty small bubbles
Fabulous fizz tornado
Seduces my tongue

Rarely refused, bubbly wines are the Don Juan of refreshment, seducing the most stalwart red-wine snob, the "I don't drink" drinker and the "I have to work in the morning" denier. This time of year, everyone's partying, and everyone knows Champagne. But bubblies come wrapped in other aliases: Prosecco (Italy), cava (Spain), spumante (Italy), sekt (Germany), crémant (France), cap classique (South Africa) and, in the good ol' U.S., sparkling wine. It's decidedly easier to use the original name to describe bubblies, but outside of fizz from France's Champagne region, we're not supposed to. Is it worth the sometimes extra $20 for the "official" stuff? Sometimes, like when you seek a more refined, chalky, earthy minerality or when it's a super-special occasion. But, for everyday and every budget, less than $25 will garner good juice. This year's choices:

Shit, I'm Broke but I Gotta Have Bubbly ($15 and under)

Sumarroca Brut Reserve Cava (Spain) The best deal I uncovered this year. Delicious, light-bodied and toasty, green apple sprinkled with lime, slight dirty earthiness. Sw = 2. $11. 4.5 stars

Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs (Washington) Clean, refreshing tangerine and lime, with a ginger spiciness. Sw = 2. $12. 4 stars

Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs (Washington) Mildly sweet on the tongue, earthier than their Blanc de Blancs, with light 'n' fruity raspberry and strawberry. Sw = 3. $12. 4 stars

Korbel Chardonnay Champagne (California) Flowery and perfumey, with kiwi, raspberry and a clean, crisp aftertaste. Sw = 3. $10. 4 stars

Fantinel Prosecco (Italy) Light and a tiny bit sweet, with juicy pear, baked bread and lemon-lime. Sw = 3. $12. 3.5 stars

Marquis de la Tour Rosé (France) A flowery, strawberry and black cherry aroma gives the tongue a tingle as well. Delivers soft, sweet fruitiness without being too candied. Sw = 4. $14. 3.5 stars

Zardetto Prosecco Brut (Italy) Delicate, crisp, lemony, tangerine with an enticing baked-bread aroma. Sw = 2. $15. 3 stars

I'm Doing Okay ($15-$25)

Gruet Brut (New Mexico) A wine from New Mexico? Yep. Loaded with tart, refreshing green apple, ripe pear and toasted bread flavors with a minerally lemon finish. Fantastic value. Sw = 2. $18. 4.5 stars

Mumm Cuvée Napa Rosé (California) Very dry, with tart citrus, bright red cherry and strawberry. Excellent juice. Sw = 1. $24. 4.5 stars

Mirabelle Schramsberg Brut (California) Yeasty, tart green apple and an earthy finish. Sw = 1. $20. HHH 1/2

Gruet Brut Rosé (New Mexico) A tinge of tangerine and heavier-bodied, with pomegranate, strawberry and a minerally slate finish. Sw = 2. $19. 3.5 stars

I Make Bank, Bring on the French Stuff ($25-plus)

Mumm Cordon Rouge (France) Very well balanced between tart and sweet, light-bodied with ripe pear, sour green apple, straw and a brisk citrus finish. Sw = 2. $40. 4 stars

Pommery Brut Royal (France) Full-bodied, brawny and earthy, with vibrant tangerine, bracing acidity and a minerally slate finish. Sw = 2. $42. 3.5 stars

Moet and Chandon White Star (France) Medium-bodied, slightly sweet, red apple, baked pear and an earthy finish. Sw = 3. $34. 3.5 stars

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. 1 (star) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

Tips for Serving Sparkling Wine

Other Reviews:

The Good:

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Light hearted and delicate, with green apple and a toasty finish. $28.

Segura Viudas Aria Brut Dry, earthy and bursting with citrus and herbs, it's an outstanding deal at $11.

Paringa 2004 Sparkling Shiraz South Australia Fascinating, unique wine: a sparkling red. Blackberry, black currants washed down with a tannin structure worthy of a cabernet. Refreshing and it's even tasty warm. $14.

Jacob's Creek Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Brut Cuvee On the sweeter side, but fantastic with anything spicy. Soft, lemon-lime and a toasty finish. Great value. $11.

The Not-So-Good:

Zonin Prosecco: Smells like Ivory dish soap and tastes like a sweet, fizzy cocktail. Eww.

Veuve Clicquot: WAY too expensive for the quality but loaded with figs and lime. $45.

GH. Mumm Rosé: Ditto on the price. Nice cranberry flavors but tasted so yeasty and bready, I couldn’t get over it. $60.

Domaine Ste. Michelle 2001 Luxe: Bland and boring, too earthy. $23.

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