Allison Levine Please the Palate: A world of sparkling wines
Is there anything that screams celebration more than bubbles? Birthdays, graduations, promotions, engagements, weddings, and any other celebration is usually marked with toasts of glasses filled with sparkling wine. And usually, it is Champagne.
Champagne is considered the crème d la crème of sparkling wines. But Champagne comes from a specific place and is made with specific grapes. There is a whole world of sparkling wines out there — different regions, different grape varieties, different flavor profiles, and different price points.
To talk about the world of sparkling wines, let us quickly review a few things. When we think of a classic sparkling wine, we think of Champagne. Champagne is made with three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Many other regions around the world will use the same grapes in their sparkling wines but other grapes are also used.
It is also important to understand the ways sparkling wine can be made. There is the Champagne Method, also known as the Traditional Method, in which the secondary fermentation happens inside the bottle. Other traditional method made wines include Crémant, Franciacorta, Cava and many domestic sparkling wines.
The Charmat Method, also known as the Tank Method, is where the secondary fermentation happens in a pressurized tank of still wine, instead of in individual bottles. The most famous wine made in the Charmat Method is Prosecco.
Another way to make sparkling wine that is growing in popularity is actually an old method called Ancestral Method. In this method, the secondary fermentation happens inside the bottle but unlike the Traditional Method where the dead yeasts are disgorged, the wine is not disgorged, and sediment remains in the bottle. The trendy Pétillant Naturel (“Pet-nat”) wines are made this way.
As delicious and wonderful as Champagne is, the world of sparkling wine is more than Champagne. There are fabulous sparkling wines made around the world that are not only lovely to drink but can be more affordable than Champagne. And if they are affordable, then that means that we do not need to wait for a special occasion to drink them. Sparkling wines are delicious anytime, anywhere and are wonderful additions to many meals.
While the world of sparkling wine is vast, here are 20 sparkling wines from around the world that I have been enjoying lately that are sure to add some sparkle to your day without hurting your wallet.
— French sparkling wines
Sparkling wines made outside of Champagne using the Traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle are called Crémant. And, in fact, the oldest recorded sparkling wine (dated 1531) was Crémant de Limoux, a crémant from the Languedoc in the southwest of France.
Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($25.99)
Located in the Loire Valley, Langlois-Chateau owns and manages 175 acres. More than 60 percent of the estate’s production is dedicated to Crémant. The estate is sustainably farmed, and the grapes are hand harvested in small bins and pressed gently. The Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut NV is a blend of 60 percent Chenin Blanc (including 10 percent reserve wine), 20 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Cabernet Franc. The wine is aged for 36 months on the lees resulting in a textured wine with aromas of apple, grapefruit, and lime. This medium-bodied wine has a crisp, mineral finish.
Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé NV ($22.99)
Made from a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Franc and 30 percent Pinot Noir, this wine is made from juice from the first pressing which spends 18 months on the less. This wine is bright and vibrant with floral, red currant, strawberry, cherry, and citrus notes as well as autolytic characteristics. It is light-bodied with a crisp, refreshing yet delicate finish.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut NV, Alsace, France ($20)
Eight generations of the Albrecht family have been producing wine in Alsace in northern France since 1689 but only began making Crémant d’Alsace in 1971. Lucien Albrecht was one of the pioneers of Crémant d’Alsace. (Alsace became an AOC in 1976.) The Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut NV is a blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, which are grown in the chalky soils of Alsace. The wine has notes of crisp green apple, pear, peach and citrus. It is a pretty, balanced wine with a mineral finish.
LVE Rosé French Sparkling ($20)
LVE is a partnership between musician John Legend and Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of the Boisset Collection. With roots in France, Boisset sourced fruit from well-known vineyards in France ranging from the Loire Valley to Languedoc. The LVE Rosé French Sparkling is a pink color and has a fresh, fruity nose of strawberries, red currants, peaches, and grapefruit. This wine is bright and fresh with nice acidity. For $20, this is an easy sipper to enjoy on a hot summer day by the pool.
— Italian sparkling wines
Sparkling wine was made in Italy for the first time in 1865 in the northwest region of Piemonte. Carlo Gancia made the first Metodo Classico sparkling with from Moscato grapes. Today sparkling wine is made all over Italy, especially in the northern part. Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese, both in the Lombardy region, produce traditional method sparkling wines using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and limited amounts of Pinot Bianco. In Trentino, in the province of Trento, Trentodoc wines are also made in the traditional method, typically from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Prosecco, made from the Glera grape, is made in the Charmat method and is produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine produced from the Lambrusco grape in the Emilia-Romagna region, as well as the Lombardy region. Lambrusco is produced both in the traditional method, as well as the Charmat method. Moscato d’Asti and Bracchetto d’Acqui are slightly sweet effervescent or sparkling wines made in the Charmat method that come from the Piemonte region.
Rotari Brut 2014 Trentodoc ($23)
Located in Trentino in the heart of the Dolomites, Rotari is named after the legendary Longbard King Rotari who fought important battles in the Trentino part of Trentino-Alto Adige. The Rotari Brut is made from Chardonnay that is grown in the hills of the Adige Valley at an altitude of 350-600 meters above sea level. Fermentation and aging on the less takes place in stainless steel and the wine goes through malolactic fermentation before secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. The resulting wine is a straw yellow color with pineapple, stone fruit and floral, as well as yeasty notes. On the palate, the wine is intense and precise with citrus and mineral notes.
Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Castelvetro Vigneto Cialdini ($17)
The Chiarli family, located in Modena, established the first wine-producing company in Emilia Romagna in 1860. Producers of Lambrusco, the area’s primary grape, the family is also responsible for introducing the Charmat method in Lambrusco a century later.
Prior to using the Charmat method, Lambrusco producers typically used the Ancestral method, which resulted in a dry, fizzy, cloudy wine.
The Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Castelvetro Vigneto Cialdini is made from 100 percent Lambrusco Grasparossa from a single vineyard. Made in stainless steel tanks, this wine used a single fermentation under pressure. It is a deep color and has a gorgeous nose of violets, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and plum. Beautiful aromatics give way to a dry wine with soft tannins and an elegant finish.
Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara del Fondatore 2018 ($15.99)
Lambrusco di Sorbara is the lightest and most floral in the Lambrusco grape family. This wine is made in the Ancestral method in which the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle and the wine is unfiltered. The wine is a light pink color. It is a bright, fruity wine with aromas of cherry, strawberry, watermelon, and violets. On the palate, the wine is dry yet mouthwatering.
Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rosé, Emilia-Romagna ($17.99)
A blend of 85 percent Lambrusco Grasparossa and 15 percent Pinot Noir, this light pink wine is made in honor of a traditional wine made in the old days from the runoff of grapes that were piled onto carts for delivery. Made in a single fermentation in an autoclave (pressurized tanks), this wine is bright with fresh watermelon, strawberry, raspberry, and cherry notes. It is delicate and structured yet lively and fun.
Mionetto Prosecco Cartizze DOCG ($35)
Founded in 1887 by Francesco Mionetto in Valdobbiadene, in the heart of the Prosecco region, just north of Venice, Mionetto is one of the area’s oldest producers and was the first to bring Prosecco to the United States. Cartizze is a highly regarded micro-zone inside the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Made from 100 percent Glera, the wine is a bright gold color with notes of apple, pear, citrus and yeast. On the palate, the wine is fresh, yet soft, and creamy and balanced between acidity and sweetness.
Sensi 18K Prosecco Treviso DOC ($21.99)
Sensi Vigne e Vini, established in 1890, is a fourth-generation family-owned winery and one of the leaders in the world for Chianti. The family’s primary estate is in Tuscany where they have 198 acres from which they produce Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sensi also expanded into Veneto where they make 18K, an exclusive line of sparkling wines. The 18K Prosecco Treviso DOC made from 100 percent Glera from Valdobbiadene, is a bright straw yellow color with a clean, fresh nose of apple and herbs.
— South African sparking wine
South African sparkling wines are made in the traditional method, which is called Methode Cap Classique (MCC). This term was adopted in 1992 in response to the ban on the use of the words ‘Champagne’ and ‘Champenoise’ for anything other than the wine from the Champagne region in France.
Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV ($19.99)
Established by Graham Beck in 1983, Graham Beck Wines is a sparkling wine house in Breede River Valley in the Western Cape town of Robertson. The Brut Rosé is a blend of 58 percent Pinot Noir and 42 percent Chardonnay. A light pink color, the aromas of the wine is a big basket of red berries. Elegant and structured, the wine is crisp and bright with minerality and a lot of texture.
— Domestic sparkling wine
Many domestic producers make small amounts of Traditional method sparkling wines.
Inman Extra Brut Luxe Cuvee 2015, Russian River Valley, Sonoma ($78)
Winemaker and owner Kathleen Inman loves Champagne, so it is no surprise that she makes beautifully elegant and textured sparkling wines. The Inman Extra Brut Luxe Cuvee 2015 is the first sparkling wine she has made that is not 100 percent estate Pinot Noir. This wine is a blend of 72 percent Pinot Noir from her Olivet Grange Vineyard and 28 percent Chardonnay from the Irwin Lane Vineyard. The wine spends four years aging on the lees and after disgorgement, no additional sugar is added. Fresh fruit notes of apple, pear and citrus mixed with a note of brioche give way to a rich, yet graceful, wine.
Inman OGV Estate Brut Rosé 2016, Russian River Valley ($68)
Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir from the Olivet Grange Vineyard, the grapes are hand-picked and then whole cluster pressed. Aged on the lees before blending, as well as in the final blend, results in a balanced elegant wine that has a lovely texture. The wine has fresh aromas of strawberry, raspberry, citrus along with mineral and lightly toasted notes
Frank Family Vineyards 2014 Blanc de Blancs, Carneros ($55)
Napa Valley’s Frank Family Vineyards was established in 1992 by Rich Frank. The property he purchased in Rutherford had previously been owned by Hanns Kornell, a German immigrant who had made sparkling wines on the property since 1958. Frank continued the tradition when he bought property. In addition to producing approximately 75,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petit Sirah, Frank Family produces a small collection of sparkling wines. The Blanc de Blancs is 100 percent Chardonnay sourced from Carneros. The vibrant wine has citrus, floral, and fruit notes of apple and pear. On the palate, the wine is lively and elegant with a creamy mid-palate and a mineral finish.
Scharffenberger Brut Rose, Mendocino ($25.99)
Founded in 1981 in the Anderson Valley, Scharffenberger produces only two sparkling wines sourced from their vineyards in the Anderson Valley as well as other vineyards in Mendocino County. A blend of 56 percent Chardonnay and 44 percent Pinot Noir, the wine is a pale peach color. The nose is rich with citrus, red fruits, and peach notes. On the palate, tangy citrus and yeasty notes lead to a medium-bodied wine with energy and elegance.
Priest Ranch Brut Rosé 2015, Napa Valley ($50)
Somerston Estate, created by combining the 660-acre Priest Ranch and the 955-acre Lynch Ranch, is a 1,615-acre property with 215 acres of sustainably farmed hillside vineyards. Under the Priest Ranch label, only 100 cases of sparkling wine are produced. The Brut Rosé is made from 100 percent Syrah sourced from the west side of the property. Made in the traditional method, the wine spends 24 months in stainless steel on the lees and then bottled and aged an additional 24 months. Bold red berry and peach notes lead to a rich wine with a creamy mid-plate with acidity that dances on top.
La Crema Brut Rosé Russian River Valley ($45)
La Crema has focused on cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California and Oregon for more than 30 years. La Crema produces one sparkling wine, a blend of 73 percent Pinot Noir and 27 percent Chardonnay sourced from the Saralee’s Vineyard in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. Fresh and wild strawberries jump out of the glass mixed with white flowers and wet stones. The minerality continues through on the finish, along with vibrant acidity and lovely mid-palate weight.
J Cuvée 20 Brut NV ($38)
J Vineyards & Winery has been making sparkling wine in the Russian River Valley for more than 30 years. The J Cuvée 20 Brut was initially produced to commemorate the winery’s 20th anniversary. A blend of 51 percent Chardonnay, 41 percent Pinot Noir and 8 percent Pinot Meunier, the wine has a rich nose of apple, pear, tart lime, honeysuckle, toasted almond, and a touch of spice. On the palate, the wine is balanced between creaminess and a fresh finish that pops.
Flying Goat 2016 Goat Bubbles Crémant, Santa Maria Valley AVA ($40)
Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, Flying Goat is one of the original sparkling wine makers in Santa Barbara County using the traditional method to make bubbles. Winemaker and owner Norm Yost makes vineyard designated sparkling wines under the label Goat Bubbles. He produces seven different sparkling wines, each made in the traditional method and each bottle is hand-riddled, disgorged, waxed, and labeled. The Goat Bubbles Crémant is made from 100 percent Pinot Blanc sourced from the Sierra Madre Vineyard in Santa Maria AVA. Vibrant, fresh, and zesty, this wine has tart aromas of lemon and chalk that continue through on the palate.
Gran Moraine Brut Rosé, Yamhill, Oregon ($50)
Established in 2012 by the Jackson Family, Gran Moraine is a 190-acre estate vineyard in the Yamhill Carlton AVA in the northern Willamette Valley. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown in the ancient marine sedimentary soils. The Brut Rosé is produced in limited release. A pale, translucent pink color, the wine has a vibrant nose of strawberry, nectarine, rose petal, honeysuckle, and brioche. On the palate it is linear with a refreshing finish.
These producers are just a small sample of what is available in the world of sparkling wines. With so many delicious, and affordable, sparkling wines available from around the world, there is never an excuse needed to drink bubbles.
Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at email@example.com.