Ever go shopping for traditional French Champagne only to be disappointed by the cost? At $40, $60, $100 and even $200 a bottle, it seems that supply and demand has gotten a bit haywire. So how did we get here?
Let's examine the situation. To use the term "Champagne," grapes must be grown in the Champagne region of France and processed using a method called "Méthode Champenoise." Once outside the region's boundary line, wines can no longer be called Champagne.
It infuriates the French when other countries call their sparkling wines Champagne. In fact, they have brought suit, made trade agreements and even written stipulations into treaties about the issue. Yet they are victims of their own success. To make more and keep prices down, the area of production has to increase. But if you've spent centuries telling the world about the uniqueness of the area, it becomes pretty hard to change. There are, in fact, discussions right now about increasing the size of Champagne. But that change, if it ever occurs, is still many years down the road.
So there they have us, and them. Competition is on the rise, however, as other wine-producing areas are watching prices and seeing opportunities. Argentina and Chile are now in serious Méthode Champenoise production. That means good, bottle-aged wines at half the price. I expect to see those on our shores next year. California, my goodness, is chock full of great wines, and from the French themselves. Roederer, Scharffenberger, Domanine Carneros and Mumm are all killer deals for a traditional bottle of bubbles. Let us not forget our own Jack and Jamie Davies, creators of Napa Valley's Schramsberg Vineyard. It was, after all, Schramsberg's sparkling wines that got the French excited in the first place.
Here are some sparkling alternatives to Champagne, available in town for about $18 to $25. Pour freely as your guests arrive and watch the smiles bloom.
Lucien Albrecht, Cremant d'Alsace, brut, rose
Built from 100 percent pinot noir with a beautiful, deep salmon color, this wine sports very fine foam and lasting bubble. It has good, sound aromas of strawberry and cherry, with a fresh, delicate, tender mouth that is dry, balanced and lingering.
Riefle, Cremante d'Alsace, Bonheur Festif, brut, rose
Again made with 100 percent pinot noir, this wine is a beautiful copper pink. The fruits, strawberry and cherry, are bright. The mouth is textured with micro-fine bubbles and balanced clean acidity that shows its class.
Schramsberg, Mirabelle, brut
This is Napa Valley's best-known secret. Non-vintage and bottle aged two years, it has a richness and character similar to Schramsberg's more expensive bottlings. Red apple fruits show off the 60/40 chardonnay to pinot noir blend. This wine has great foam when poured and out-drinks its price point year after year.
Graham Beck brut, rose and demi sec
These non-vintage sparkling wines travel all the way from South Africa to Alaska and still hit the shelves at $20. There is a brut, a rose and a luscious demi sec called Bliss. The demi sec is lightly sweet and you will taste sugar. The brut and the rose are both dry, crisp and clean. The brut carries more apple flavors, while the rose shows a little strawberry.
Dr Loosen L Sparkling Riesling
Americans are in general pretty unaware of how much sparkling wine Germany produces. There they call it Sekt and we are fortunate to have an example. Here you have the vivacious Riesling fruit done as a sparkling wine. The acid and bubbles tone down the heaviness of Riesling and brighten it up. This slightly sweet sparkler works great as an aperitif and is a good transition to dryer styles of wine.
Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad
From Spain, this beautiful bottle has an intricate silver metal base and an ornate silver metal cross on the neck, very showy. Spanish sparklers can come off somewhat bitter but the Heredad is rich and creamy, showing lots of bread dough and apple fruits.