Have Yourself a Bubbly Little Christmas

The retail shelves are flooded with bubbly choices this time of year — everything from Cook’s to Krug. And I get this question several times a day: Can you recommend a good bottle of Champagne? Oh, HELL yeah, I can recommend a good bottle of Champagne. But most of the time, when folks ask for a “Champagne” recommendation, they mean generic wine with bubbles.

Here’s my decision tree:

  1. Must the bottle say Champagne? (Insert discussion about Champagne vs. other bubbly).
  2. How much do you want to spend?
  3. Do you prefer dry or sweet?
  4. Complex and nutty, fresh and fruity, or cheap and cheerful?

If you know the basic differences between Champagne, Cava, Cremant, Sparkling Wine and Prosecco, you’ll be well ahead of the curve.

Champagne: Only Champagne is Champagne. A bottle can only say Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region of France (the French are pretty sensitive about this). That said, there is a 100-year old loophole that makes it technically legal for a handful of California sparklers to call themselves “California Champagne”, but that’s a story for another day.

Champagne is like no other bottle of bubbles. It’s glorious, elegant, acidity driven, and usually not cheap. Only three grapes are permitted — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Made using the Méthode Champenoise, or Traditional Method, where the second (bubbly) fermentation takes place inside the bottle. Mark Twain hit the nail on the head with these words: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” 

Cava: Made the same way as Champagne, but in Spain, with different grapes (Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo). Delicious, and a great alternative to Champagne due to its reasonable price tag. If I’m making mimosas, this is my go-to wine (I’m looking at you Cristalino).

Crémant: Bubbles from anywhere else in France that isn’t Champagne. Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Alsace, etc. Made the same way as Champagne, but using the grape(s) of the particular region. And much cheaper than Champagne.

Sparkling wine: Bubbles from literally anywhere that isn’t Champagne.

Prosecco: Made using the Charmat method, where the second (bubbly) fermentation happens in a large tank. The process is less labor intensive and cheaper than the traditional method, so the wines are cheaper than TM bubbles. Fresh and fruity. Usually (but not always) cheap. Usually on the sweet(er) side, too.

Necessary disclosure: The following reviews are for samples I received from Palm Bay International.

Pere Ventura Tresor Brut Cava ⭐️⭐️⭐️/85
From Penedes, Catalonia, Spain. A blend of 40% Xarel-lo, 40% Macabeo and 20% Parellada. Made using the traditional method of sparkling wine production. Grapes are hand harvested, first fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by second fermentation in bottle. Ripe yellow apples, citrus, baked pear, and toast. Medium(-) acidity, abbreviated finish. Great value. 11.5% ABV. Retail = $15.99.

Villa Marcello Millesimato Prosecco DOC Brut NV ⭐️⭐️⭐️/85
From Treviso DOC within Veneto, Italy. Millesimato means that the wine is made from grapes from a single vintage only (85% Glera, 15% Pinot Bianco). Primary fermentation in stainless steel, followed by four months of lees aging, with second fermentation about 2 months later. Bears all the hallmarks of a quality Prosecco — bright, clean, and fresh — surprisingly dry, with notes of pear and lemon. 11% ABV. Retail = $16.99.

Ackerman Crémant de Loire Sparkling Blanc Brut ⭐️⭐️⭐️/86
From Saumur in the Loire Valley, France. The tufa soils in this region are noted for producing mineral driven wines with naturally high acidity. Made using the méthode traditionnelle, a blend of 70% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Cabernet Franc. Aged sur lie for 12 to 18 months. Ah, the Chenin “funk”, ever present in this wine (think Parmesan cheese toasts). Fresh and slightly creamy, notes of lemon curd, toast, and 11.5% ABV. Retail = $21.99.

Altemasi Brut, Trento DOC ⭐️⭐️⭐️/86
From Trento DOC, Italy (this is an appellation for sparkling wines only). 100% Chardonnay, made using the traditional method. Grapes are hand harvested and vinified in stainless steel tanks, followed by second fermentation in the bottle, and aged on the lees for 15 months. Notes of green apple, peach, pear, lemon rind and biscuit. Some really decent acidic traction on this wine. 12% ABV. Retail = $23.99.

Boizel Brut Réserve Champagne NV ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/91
From Champagne, France. A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier. Only first pressings are used, with 30% of reserve wines from the previous two vintages used in the cuvée to ensure consistency and freshness. After secondary fermentation, the wine is aged for three years sur lie in bottle. Super vibrant, with notes of honey, lemon zest, green apple, and pear. Beautiful brioche finish. 12% ABV. Retail = $49.99.

Champagne André Jacquardt Brut Expérience 1er Cru Blanc De Blancs ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/93
From Côte de Blancs, in Champagne, France. André Jacquart is a true “grower Champagne” — run by the 5th generation, and only 24 hectares of vines. 100% Chardonnay, vilified in a combination of stainless steel and old oak barrels. Aged for 5 years on the lees before disgorgement. Truly gorgeous wine. Complex and layered, with notes of green apple, lemon curd, brioche, hazelnuts, and that tell-tale Champagne chalk. An absolute acid trip — glorious stuff. 12% ABV. Retail = $99.99.

Remember, if you’re ever looking for a particular wine, you can always search wine-searcher.com to find retailers near you, or (even better) have the wines shipped to your door.

Happy Holidays & Salud!

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