Food-Drink

Get Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

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Who says you can't enjoy champagne taste on a beer budget?

When it comes to sparkling wine, French champagne has always reigned supreme. But high quality often comes with a high price, and many people would rather put a cork on their craving than break the bank.

Fortunately, wine experts insist sparkling wine is something to celebrate.

“Just because it’s not champagne doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying,” explains Lauren Buzzeo, tasting director for Wine Enthusiast. “It’s easy to find great sparkling wine on a budget if you know what to look for.”

For starters, champagne is sparkling wine from the region of France that shares the same name. By law, only sparkling wine from Champagne can be called “champagne.”  Because champagne is considered a luxury due to its fine production, its price range can reach into the thousands. However, sparkling wine from beyond Champagne can be a delicious — and wallet-friendly —substitute.

Wine from other regions can be made into bubbly through what's known as the méthode champenoise. This is when a yeast nutrient and sugar source are added to still wine before it is sealed for aging in a bottle.

"Shoppers should look for the words ‘traditional method’ or ‘méthode champenoise,'" advises Master of Wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. “This will mean that the wines will be fully sparkling, the bubbles will be finer and create a more luxurious texture.”

While sparkling wine comes in all price ranges, like with anything else, you get what you pay for.

“There are a couple of really cheap wines that say champagne on the label and they’re terrible,” says wine and spirits expert Becky Sue Epstein. “Don’t get the really cheap stuff. That’s what gives affordable sparkling wine a bad name."

Epstein advises trying the wine before purchasing it and says you’re likely to discover a well-crafted bottle at least in the 10-15 dollar range.

Those in the market for a bottle of bubbly should also keep in mind which kind of grapes will best suit their taste.

“If you’re looking for champagne style that’s very dry and has a heavy body, probably the closest is Spanish cava, which is inexpensive," says Enore Ceola, Managing Director of Mionetto USA. "Franciacorta from Italy is also another option, but it’s closer to a champagne price than cava."

Prefer a lighter style with a more fruit-forward taste? "Prosecco is a great alternative and very affordable," Ceola says. "France also produces wonderful sparkling wines that are not from Champagne specifically and are affordable. If you’re looking for something in between, look for domestic sparkling wines, like Domaine Chandon.”

While Italy’s prosecco and Spain’s cava are popular for their quality, the U.S. also has some noteworthy options for drinkers. According to the Wine Institute, California has more than 80 producers and it shipped nearly nine million cases of sparkling wine in 2011.

You can also thank the Golden State for bringing champagne a little closer to home.

“Several of the champagne houses from France make sparkling wine in California like Domaine Chandon,” says Epstein.  “You can get them for a little bit less than the French version.”

And what should be the occasion be for sipping on a flute or two? Anything of your choosing.

“I love the idea of people having sparkling wine in general,” says Epstein. “People should serve sparkling wine with their tuna fish sandwiches.”

Still need pointers on which sparkling wines you should buy? Check out these picks from our experts:

Head to France: “Turn to alternate regions that produce crémant wines using traditional methods, like Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Limoux or Crémant de Loire.”- Lauren Buzzeo, tasting director for Wine Enthusiast Media.

Try Italian: “Champagne is considered as a sparkling wine for special occasions. Sparkling wine, especially prosecco, it’s for celebrating every day. You don’t need a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine, specifically prosecco.” - Enore Ceola, Managing Director of Mionetto USA

Pick a Different Grape: “I recommend Spanish cava, but there are some American and Italian moscatos worth savoring. You do have to look on the label and see whether it’s a little sweet or not. If it is, that particular moscato would be more appropriate for brunch.  And all of these are under twenty dollars.” - Becky Sue Epstein, wine and spirits expert

Go Traditional: "Traditional method sparklers for under $25 are 2008 Domaine Carneros Brut, Codorníu Cava Anna de Codorníu and Ferrari Metodo Classico. There’s also Gruet Brut from New Mexico-believe it or not, it’s excellent and you see it on great value wine lists!”- Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine