Sparkling wine makes every day a celebration, so it's a shame that most Americans think of bubbly as something to be reserved for occasions such as New Year's Eve. But there's an upside to its end-of-the-year popularity: Now is a great time to stock up on a few bottles of fizz. Discounts abound, especially for some of the popular domestic brands, large-production Spanish wines and even some Champagne (by which I mean the stuff from the Champagne region of France).
There are tons of good choices out there for $25 or less, if you're economizing. That price range isn't going to buy you much in the way of Champagne, but you can buy some very good California bubblies for around $20 a bottle. Sparkling wines from other parts of France, like the Loire Valley or Alsace, can represent good values. And there are some very tasty sparkling wines, known as cavas, from Spain. (Instead of the big brands, try the 2007 Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava, $16, which is spicy and floral, with a mineral note.)
This year, I'm going to keep most of my recommendations close to home, because there's so much good California sparkling wine. The really cheap stuff is usually drinkable -- it's OK for a midnight toast -- but you'll drink a lot better if you spend a little more. The cheaper wines generally are made by a bulk process known as the charmat method. The better wines, including the recommendations that follow, are made by the "methode champenoise" — so named because it's the process used in Champagne. This type of wine undergoes the second fermentation -- the one that produces the bubbles -- in the same bottle in which the wine is sold.
My favorite reasonably priced California sparkling wine is the nonvintage Roederer Estate Brut ($20) from Anderson Valley. The winery is owned by one of the great Champagne houses, Louis Roederer, and the wine offers a lot of complexity for the price. (The Brut Rosé is also delicious but costs a bit more.)
Another French-owned brand, Chandon, had slipped a bit in recent years, but I thoroughly enjoyed some of its most recent bottlings. The nonvintage Chandon Brut Classic ($22) is fresh and round, with Golden Delicious apple and a hint of toastiness, while the nonvintage Chandon Rosé ($22) is fruitier and easy to drink, with raspberry and citrus.
Gloria Ferrer is the Sonoma County outpost of the family behind Freixenet, the Spanish cava producer. The nonvintage Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($22) is spicy and bright, with fine bubbles, while the nonvintage Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($22) is leaner and citrusy, with a mineral undertone. Gloria Ferrer also produces some very good, higher-priced wines, such as the Royal Cuvee ($32) and Carneros Cuvee ($60).
The sparkling wines of Schramsberg in the Napa Valley are mostly priced above $35, though they are excellent. (I really liked the creamy, rich 2009 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, $37.) But for a taste of Schramsberg at a lower price, there's the nonvintage Mirabelle Brut ($25), which is crisp and bright, with nice balance and complexity.
Other California sparkling wines to look for include those from Iron Horse, Domaine Carneros and J. All top the $25 mark, although the 2006 Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvee ($27) isn't too much of a budget-buster; it's creamy, with racy fruit and a fine texture. J's Cuvee 20, at $28, is the winery's most affordable bottling, but I particularly like the 2005 J Vintage Brut ($48), a racy wine with a hint of toastiness, fine texture and nice persistence.
You'll have to shell out $40 or more -- often much more -- for most Champagne. The widely available (and well-priced) nonvintage Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial ($41) offers crisp fruit, a hint of yeastiness, some creaminess and fine texture. The nonvintage Taittinger Brut La Francaise ($50) is racier, with a touch of yeastiness. The nonvintage Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé ($48) is also quite zippy. If you shop around, you should be able to find better prices on all three. And for an astounding $25, Costco shoppers will find the nonvintage Kirkland Brut Rosé Champagne -- yes, it's really Champagne -- which displays bright citrus and red fruit with a subtle herbal note.
Contact Laurie Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.