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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wishing for a sparkling holiday season? Sparkling wines under $20

December in Utah, and it’s time to get ready for the holidays and the champagne occasion of the year: New Year’s Eve.  Regular readers are aware that real (capital “C”) Champagne comes only from France.  The French discourage others from using the appellation “champagne” on their sparkling wines, and most of the quality wineries  comply, so many sparkling wines (bubbly for short) do not say “champagne” on the bottle, although a few do.  Unfortunately there aren’t any legitimate Champagnes available in the under $20 (for 750ml.) price range.  If you would like to learn more about Champagne, including the names of the big Champagne houses, check out the New York Times Champagne navigator page.  (Note: while the prices in this article are for Utah, readers in other locales should be able to find similar prices.)

For those Utahans who want to celebrate with some sparkling wine, the Utah Sate Liquor Store system has obliged us with a great selection of American sparkling wines for under $20 with some pretty good ones for under $10.   (Those of you who live in bigger markets should be able to buy all of the wines mentioned here.)  The Utah Mixologist loves champagne cocktails like the French 75 and the Kir Royale.  When cocktail recipes call for champagne, though, it’s usually more economical to use a good sparkling wine.  Drink your high quality Champagne (and high quality domestic bubblies) straight so you can appreciate them.  For champagne cocktails, there are some very good sparklers under $20 (or even $10, but not much) that are great for mixing.  Readers should always have a bottle or two of better quality champagne around for celebrations and several less expensive bottles for mixing.  If you have a spare fridge in the basement, keep it stocked.

This post will only recommend wines from makers that have had some of their sparkling wines score at least 85 or 90 points by some well known rating service like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast.  Although quality will vary year to year with the vintage, etc., it’s safe to assume that these winemakers know what they are doing and will turn out a good product.  So while individual wines mentioned here may not have been rated (or not rated high enough to brag about), you will be buying a reliable product and not junk wine.

Under $20
Before we get into the real bargains, lets look at the bubblies that price out closer to $20. Domaine Chandon is a producer of highly rated bubbly in this price range.  Their Brut is on sale this month for $16, and their Blanc de Noirs and Chandon Riche Extra Dry, while not on sale, are very drinkable $19.  Rated only a couple of points lower is Mumm Napa’s Brut, on sale this month for $18.  In addition, Gloria Ferrer makes some excellent sparkling wines that are among my favorites.  Although not on sale this month (that’s a shame) their Blanc de Noirs ($18) and Brut ($17) have both been highly rated by multiple rating services. 

Around $10 and less
Korbel used to be the best of the budget bubblies, their Extra Dry has been rated respectably in the mid-eighties, but is not on sale this month (regular price $14.5); their Brut, however, is on sale ($10.5).  Domaine Ste Michelle has been giving Korbel some competition in their price range with a tasty Blanc de Blancs that also scored in the mid-eighties and is on sale for $11 this month.  An interesting contribution from France (but not a Champagne, it’s from the Savoie) is Trocadero Brut ($9).  Mrs. Mixologist is a Trocadero convert.  The real bargains in this price range, however, are some of the sparklers from Barefoot Bubbly.  Three Bubblies (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Brut, and Chardonnay Extra Dry) are all on sale for $8.  Wine Enthusiast gave one of their bubblies an 87 rating and a Top 100 Best Values award several years ago.  Barefoot Bubblies are a great value; the first time I tasted one I couldn’t believe the quality for the price.  Barefoot’s sparklers are very drinkable on their own, and are great in any champagne cocktail you might care to try.

Don’t forget to check out the sparkling slideshow.  If you have an affinity for some other bubbly (domestic or imported) that is available for under $20 (or close to it), please share the information with others by adding a comment to this post. Happy Holidays!

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