Knowledgeable Wino: Champagne supernovas

Want to ring in the New Year in style, but can’t afford to shell out the big bucks for a quality Champagne? Forget Cristal — here are seven recommendations that’ll both wet your whistle and help you forget all the stupid things you’re about to do on NYE.

Nothing ushers in a new year quite like popping open a cold bottle of sparkling wine. Arguably the most versatile of all styles of wine, bubblies can be sipped in almost any situation. They also pair well with almost any dish you throw at them and are great alone as aperitifs.

But just as all poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles, so is it that not all sparkling wine is Champagne. With a price tag that usually starts just above the $40 mark, buying a nice bottle of bubbly right after a bank-breaking holiday may not be in the cards. Luckily, there are some tasty classic styles that are priced pretty reasonably.

A few years ago, the world caught Prosecco fever and gave the Champenois a run for their clams. It doesn’t have much in common with Champagne other than bubbles, as the methods and grapes used for both are quite different. Crisp and refreshing with refined fruit flavours, the best are from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region. Recommended: 2011 Bisol (SAQ code: 10839168, $19.10)

Prosecco’s partner in crime also sticks it to the Champenois. Cava is made using the same method used in Champagne, but with Spanish grapes instead of French varieties. This method gives Cava slightly toasty and almond-y aromas — a most attractive touch. Recommended: 2008 Reserva de la Familia Juvé y Camps Brut (SAQ code: 10654948, $19.10)

The Champagne of northern Italy. The recipe and method are almost identical to those used to produce Champagne, and a glass of Franciacorta could probably stump connoisseurs in a blind tasting. It’s pricier than Cava and Prosecco, but well worth the ticket if something fantastic and different is what you crave. Recommended: 2012 Ca’del Bosco Brut Cuvée Prestige (SAQ code: 11008024, $33.00)

Crémant d’Alsace
In France, if it’s a sparkling wine made outside the Champagne region, it’s a Crémant. It’s usually a bubbly version of whatever wine is made in a given region; in Alsace, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling are the usual suspects. Crémant d’Alsace is the second-most popular sparkling wine in France, after Champagne. Recommended: Wolfberger (SAQ code: 00732099, $18.60)

Blanquette de Limoux
Almost 500 years ago, before corks were flying in Champagne, some folks in Limoux produced the world’s first bubbly. Made mainly from the Mauzac grape in a small region nestled in Languedoc-Roussillon, this wine is elegant and refreshing, serving up apple and brioche flavours. Recommended: 2010 Domaine de Fourn (SAQ code: 00220400, $19.40)

New World Champagne
Sparkling wine produced in the new world using the Champagne grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) and production method can be a tremendous bargain. It can’t be sold as Champagne, so it doesn’t usually fetch Champagne prices, but it often tastes just like the French stuff, especially when a Champagne house is making it. Recommended: Roederer Brut Anderson Valley (SAQ code: 00294181, $27.90)

There’s no denying it — this is the classic. If Champagne is what you must have, then Champagne is what you will have, along with mellow pear, crisp apple, toasty brioche and slightly nutty aromas with tongue-tantalizing fizz. Forget about the Cristal hullabaloo — there are some real treasures under $50. Recommended: Lallier Grande Réserve Brut Grand Cru (SAQ code: 11374251, $44.75)

Whatever you choose, serve it chilled at about 8°C in an ice bucket.

Happy New Year! Santé! 

Photo via Flickr

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