Alterna-Sparklers ‘Tis the season for bubbles, but not every occasion necessarily calls for a full-blown Champagne. Here’s a look at some delicious alternatives—most of which are crafted just like Champagne but cost much less.
We’ve all heard this one: “All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.” It’s a refrain Champagne producers (rightly) repeat often, even though, at this point, very few would disagree with them. Yes, Champagne is king, we get it—but that doesn’t take away from the often-extraordinary quality of sparkling wines made elsewhere.
In a recent edition of “Explore 4,” SommSelect’s most popular monthly wine club subscription, we assembled a four-pack of Champagne alternatives we felt delivered the goods at substantial savings relative to Champagne (if you’d like to check out the assortment, you can do so here). As you prepare for the upcoming holiday season, affordable bubbles are likely on your shopping list... so, we’ve prepared a guide to the Alterna-Sparklers we reach for first.
Cava | Spain: Arguably the greatest values among the Champagne-method sparklers made in other regions. Because of the ubiquity of certain mass-market brands, many forget about the artisan sparkling wine tradition in the Penedès region of northeast Spain.
Producers to look for: Avinyò, Recaredo, Raventós i Blanc, Jané Ventura.
Alta Langa/Franciacorta/Trento DOC (Italy): These appellations (in Piedmont, Lombardia, and Trentino respectively) all employ the Champagne method—and Champagne grapes—for their spumanti.
Producers to look for: Ettore Germano (Alta Langa); Ca’del Bosco, Barone Pizzini, Monterossa (Franciacorta); Ferrari (Trento).
Crémant | France: Crémant is the term used to describe Champagne-method French sparkling wines produced in regions other than Champagne. This includes places like Burgundy, Loire, Alsace, and Jura—great terroirs capable of producing great wines.
Producers to look for: Parigot & Richard, Domaine Gouffier (Bourgogne); Domaine de la Bergerie, Clos de la Briderie, Maison Foucher (Loire); Domaine de Montborgeau, Bénédicte et Stephane Tissot (Jura).
Sekt | Germany: Although Germany’s original sekt producers learned their craft in Champagne, not all German sparklers are produced in the “Champagne method.” Those that are, however, also showcase one of the world’s most noble white grapes, Riesling.
Producers to look for: Fitz-Ritter, Dr. Heyden, Lothar Kettern, Nigl, Peter Lauer.
American & British Sparklers: Similar soils (in the UK especially) and classic “Champagne” grapes make for some intriguing Champagne alternatives.
Producers to look for: Schramsberg, Roederer Estate (USA), Gusbourne Estate (UK).
Arguably the most popular styles of sparkling wine today are those that aren’t very sparkly—at least not when compared to a classic Champagne. Whereas the Champagne method sparklers of the world are bottled at pressures of 5-6 atmospheres, there’s a broad array of semi-sparkling styles that are much more gently effervescent.
They go by many names: méthode ancestrale and pétillant-naturel (pet-nat) in French; frizzante, col fondo, and metodo antico in Italian; perlant in German. Whereas Champagne-method sparklers start with a finished wine and then add a measured amount of sugar and yeast to ignite a second fermentation in the bottle, pétillant involves a little more guesswork. It’s a throwback to pre-technological winemaking: Wine that is still fermenting is capped off and finishes fermenting in the bottle, which creates the light sparkle. It’s not a secondary fermentation—it’s the last throes of the first. A cloudy sediment of spent yeasts is typically visible in the finished bottle.
Producers to look for: Pét-nats and other fizzy styles from around the globe are all the rage right now, and they’re available in a rainbow of colors. For Prosecco wines made in the col fondo/frizzante style, be sure to check out Ca’ dei Zago, Le Spinée, Bele Casel, Zanotto. For French pét-nats, check out the suggestions in this article from PUNCH.
Want to learn more? Join myself and my sparkling-obsessed colleague, Mark Osburn, for an Instagram Live virtual tasting of our “Alterna-Sparklers” club pack. We’ll be pulling corks on Friday Dec. 9 at 5 pm PST. Hope to see you there!
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