A (Cheaper) Toast to the Holidays

Love Champagne but, hey, there's a recession out there? No worries. It isn't the only sparkling game in town.



The holidays are right around the corner, and you’d like to treat your staff, your clients, and perhaps yourself to a nice bottle of bubbly. But you can’t justify the hefty price tag a decent Champagne often commands. So how about a comparable bottle of Spumante for half the price? Don’t laugh. Great sparkling wines are produced throughout the world, not just in Champagne’s eponymous region in France (see "Champagne 101")—and they can give you the same bang (er, bubble) for fewer bucks.

Here’s a roundup of some great Champagnes and some comparable, lower-priced sparkling-wine alternatives—all available locally, and all well-suited for the holidays and their festive gatherings.

Light Bodied

    

$60
Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV
Zachys, Scarsdale

$19
Nino Franco "Rustico" Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV
Westchester Wine Warehouse, White Plains

A great way to start a party, the Egly-Ouriet is well crafted, complex, and ambrosial. For a similar-tasting, but slightly less bubbly, alternative, the "Rustico" is a good match (and a richer Prosecco than most).

Medium Bodied

    

$150
Moët et Chandon "Dom Pérignon" 2000
Suburban Wines and Spirits, Yorktown Heights

        

$16
Roederer Estate Brut NV
Rye Brook Wine and Spirit Shop, Rye Brook

The Dom Pérignon is a noble companion to caviar, oysters, or lobster. The Brut is made in the same way as Champagne—with the same grapes—and has the same round, toasty palate as the Dom Pérignon.

Full Bodied

$150
Krug Grande Cuvée MV
Varmax Liquor Pantry, Port Chester

              

$16
Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad
Suburban Wines and Spirits, Yorktown Heights

This Krug is a monster of a Champagne—full of smoke, grilled nuts, and roasted coffee notes. This Cava from Spain boasts a remarkably complex taste. Its bottle is hand-blown and embossed with pewter designs, making it a great corporate gift option.

Rose Champagne

$80
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV
The Wine Company, White Plains

    

$13
Jacques Pelvas Brut Rosé NV
Suburban Wines and Spirits, Yorktown Heights

This Billecart-Salmon is the leader in its category—mouthwatering acidity is accompanied by strawberry and floral notes. The Jacques Pelvas, from Provence, France, is quite refreshing and full of bright fruit flavors.

Organic

$105
Vilmart "Coeur du Cuvée”
Zachys, Scarsdale

            

$23
Domaine Carneros Brut 2005
Westchester Wine Warehouse White Plains

Organic is a rapidly increasing trend in still wine, and Champagne and sparkling winemakers are following suit. Vilmart "Coeur du Cuvée” 2001 is an incredible example of an organic Champagne—one that has developed almost a cult following. Fuller-bodied, it has tropical fruit notes well balanced by toasty oak, with a touch of herbs and spice. Domaine Carneros Brut 2005 is a more budget-friendly, though still organic, alternative. While not as full-bodied as the Vilmart, it does have pleasant fruit and spice notes, and a delicate, persistent finish.

Champagne 101

For a sparkling wine to be considered and labeled as a true Champagne, it must meet three conditions: it must be produced only in the Champagne region of France; it must only be fermented from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier grapes; and it must be made using the Méthode Champenoise—a more arduous process than other, more modern techniques of getting carbon dioxide into wine, the secret to creating the bubbles. All sparkling wines must go through a secondary fermentation to produce their iconic carbonation after the primary fermentation, which converts the sugar in the grapes into alcohol. But in the Méthode Champenoise, this secondary chemical reaction has to occur in the same bottle that is for sale on the shelves (modern methods can involve transferring the bottled wine into a vat and then back again). After the first fermentation, a mixture of sugar and yeast is added to the wine in the bottle, which is then sealed with a crown cap (the type found on a beer bottle). A natural byproduct of fermentation, the carbon dioxide becomes infused in the wine, making it fizzy. The alcohol level is equivalent to the average glass of wine (about 10 to 12 percent). After a period of aging, the waste products of the secondary fermentation must be removed, and a mixture of sugar and wine or brandy (called the “dosage”) is added to the bottle to replace the lost fluid and for sweetening before it is corked, caged (the cage is the metal contraption atop the cork to keep it from exploding at an inconvenient moment), and sold.

Champagne Terms Uncorked

These terms often appear in the names of Champagnes and other sparkling wine.

NV non-vintage (cheaper wines made from grapes from different years)
BLANC DES BLANCS only white grapes used (Chardonnay)
BLANCS DES NOIRS only red grapes used (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier)
CUVÉE a blend of vintages/grapes
CUVÉE DE PRESTIGE a Champagne producer’s top “luxury” Champagne
EXTRA-BRUT or ULTRA-BRUT driest
BRUT very dry
EXTRA SEC or EXTRA DRY slightly dry
SEC medium sweet
DEMI-SEC sweet
DOUX or RICH very sweet

Shana Reade received her Diploma in wine and spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London, England. She is currently the corporate trainer for Empire Merchants, the largest beverage distributor in New York City, after spending many years as a sommelier at some of New York's finest restaurants. She is still constantly amazed that she is encouraged to drink at work.