As New Year’s Eve approaches, you’re probably looking for a bottle of bubbly for that traditional midnight toast (and possibly the several hours leading up to it). While I’m a firm believer in drinking champagne all through the year, there’s no doubt that the holidays just aren’t the holidays without something sparkling to toast in the New Year.
I’m also a firm believer in buying quality champagne. I hear a lot of people say champagne gives them a headache, but that’s less likely to happen if you buy good champagne. And if you’re like most people and only buy one bottle a year, why not splurge a little? After all, champagne is the drink of kings, queens, and emperors, of celebration and luxury. If we’re talking proper champagnes, from the Champagne region of France, Veuve Clicquot is probably the best balance of quality and price you can find. It retails for between $50 and $80 and is just as good as any cuvée de prestige.
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend upwards of $50 on a bottle of anything, especially if you’re looking at serving a large crowd (or your champagne habit has you buying a few bottles a month *shifty eyes*). The solution? Sparkling wines!
I scoured the sparkling wine aisle of my local liquor outlet to bring you the three best sparkling wine alternatives to champagne for under $15 a bottle. It was a hard job, admittedly, but someone had to do it. And the winners are…
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut ($12), Cava
One of my friends and fellow champers fanatic told me about Freixenet a few years ago, and it’s been on my auto-buy list ever since. I love the crisp, clean taste of the wine and the fact that it doesn’t overwhelm my palate with bubbles or sweetness. In fact, there’s an almost savory finish to the wine that I really love. It’s well-balanced, goes with everything, and packs quite a punch. You’ll be in an awesome mood and feeling pretty positive toward your fellow human beings after one glass.
Casteller Brut ($13), Cava
My new favorite sparkling wine! Delightfully dry with great bubbles, Casteller has a bright flavor with hints of citrus. It also has the yeasty, buttery, toasty notes that one usually finds in great champagnes, making it an excellent substitute for champagne drinkers OR a good introduction to champagne for those who prefer their sparkling wines on the sweet side. In other words, a high-quality, affordable crowd pleaser. Who doesn’t love that? And it’s only a dollar more than Freixenet.
Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée ($9), Sparkling California Wine
A classic budget sparkler, this wine isn’t for people who prefer sweet wines like moscato (fortunately Barefoot makes eight other sparkling wines, some of which are intensely sweet, so if that’s your preference you certainly have the option to go in that direction). It is very tart—think biting into a Granny Smith apple—but has just the right amount of bubbles. It doesn’t have the layers or well-rounded flavor of, say, Casteller Cava, but Barefoot Brut does get props for not trying to drown the flavor of the wine in sugar.
Keep in mind prices may vary depending on where you live and shop. For more about champagne and sparkling wine, see my down and dirty Champagne 101 guide.
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