Top 20 Sparkling Wines Under $20!

Over the past couple of years I’ve made it a point to blog about sparkling wines. For a time I blogged about a different sparkling wine on a weekly basis (At one point I tried 30 different sparkling wines over a 30 week period!).  Though I’ve gotten away from it in recent months, it’s not because I stopped drinking sparkling wines (I still drink bubbly pretty much on a weekly basis; I don’t wait for a special occasion and neither should you!), rather it’s because after a year and a half of trying more than my fair share of sparkling wines from around the world, I’ve found many I enjoy that have become repeat purchases.

While I love Champagne, it’s more expensive (entry-level examples start at around $30) than its sparkling wine brethren (I did find one for under $19.99, but didn’t care for it enough to purchase it again).  There are just too many other sparkling wines i enjoy more (especially since I’m footing the bill;-)…

Please allow me a moment on the Sparkling Wine soapbox..

  • Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne, the real stuff only comes from the Champagne region of France
  • Sparking wines are great wines – drink as you would other wines (i.e. don’t limit your consumption to special occasions), including trying different styles (White, Rosé, Red, Blanc-de-blancs, Blanc-de-noirs, Brut, Extra-Dry, etc.)
  • Sparkling wines are under-appreciated food friendly wines – If I’m not sure about a food a wine pairing, you can bet I’ll reach for a bottle of bubbly!  Besides being the only wine that’s socially acceptable to have with any meal, sparkling wine is one of the few wines that can take you from appetizers to dessert!

Ok…now that that’s off my chest…

Champagne Glasses

Image couresy of Grape Sense – Glass Half Full

Your best bets for finding quality for the price sparkling wines under $20 are to:

  • Here in the U.S. – look for sales on most major California labels, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, Mumm, and Roederer are in wide distribution and frequently significantly discounted. At least one of those brands is on sale at my local grocery store every week for less than $20 ( and often less than $15…)
  • If you prefer sparkling wine with as Champagne-like character, look for Cava from Spain, or  Crémant from France (Crémant de Bourgogne, Limoux, Alsace, and Loire). They’re produced using the same method as Champagne, so you’ll get a more yeasty character,and save some coin.
  • If you prefer sparkling wine with fruitier aromas and flavors, and you’re not hung up on the method of production, look for Prosecco from Italy.
  • Sparkling wine is made the world over, so you can find good value in sparkling wines from South Africa, Australia and even South America.

Here are my Top 20 sparkling wines under $20 (click on the bold italicized links for my more detailed blog posts from my T.G.I.F. series of weekly sparkling wine tastings) It’s a diverse list geographically, and stylistically. There is with bubbly from Argentina, Australia, California, Spain, Italy, and South Africa. And there is Brut, Rose, Blanc de Noir, and even a dessert sparkling wine. Many can be found at grocery stores, or large beverage retailers like BevMo, and Costco. Others may be more challenging to find, but are definitely worth seeking out.

  1. Taltarni Brut Tache - (Australia)  Lovely pale salmon color with floral, stone fruit (peaches/apricots), and fresh-baked scone aromas. On the palate, approaching medium-bodied, with a creamy mousse with watermelon, red berry, and a bit of hazelnut flavors. Dry with a light fruitiness, good acidity, and a clean medium long finish. >>Find this wine<<
  2. Schramsberg Mirabelle North Coast Brut Rosé - (California) Delicate pink color with strawberry and bread dough aromas.  On the palate, moderately creamy mousse, good acidity, focused, fruity, yet dry, and lively, with strawberries, raspberries and a touch of citrus, and spice flavors. Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  3. 2011 Raventos i Blanc L’Heure Blanc Brut Reserva - (Spain)  Very light straw yellow color with plenty of tiny bubbles, white flower, yeast, apple aromas. On the palate, a wonderful creamy mousse uncommon at this price point, dry, and approaching medium-bodied with apple, and a hint on citrus flavors. Medium finish >>Find this wine<<
  4. Törley Doux Tokaji (Hungary) The only dessert bubbly in the bunch – Pale straw yellow color with lots of pin prick sized bubbles and brioche, apricot, mineral and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it shows a creamy mousse, and is sweet but nicely balanced very good acidity with apricot, peach, and vanilla flavors. Made from Furmint grapes. 11% alcohol >>Find this wine<<
  5. Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley - (California) - Light golden straw color with plentiful, persistent stream of tiny bubbles, and sweet yeast, fresh-cut green apples aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with soft texture, zippy acidity, between dry and off-dry with sweet green apples, a bit of pear, hazelnut and vanilla flavors.
  6. El Xamfra Cava Mercat Brut Nature - (Spain)Pale straw yellow color with lot of bubbles, and floral, stone fruit, citrus and slight sweet yeast aromas. On the palate, it has a surprisingly explosive mousse, and approached medium-bodied with stone fruit, citrus, and toasted nut flavors. Medium finish. 11.5% alcohol. Zero dosage. A great value! >>Find this wine<<
  7. Mumm Napa Brut Prestige - (California) - Light golden tinged straw color with biscuit, sweet citrus, red fruit and subtle floral aromas. In the glass it displays lots of tiny bubbles. On the palate it is medium-bodied with fairly creamy mousse and cherry, vanilla, and citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  8. Vinos de Terrunos German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Rosat - (Spain) Cherry red color with a frothy mousse showing tiny dispersed bubbles with yeast and red fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s dry owing to zero dosage (no added sugar) with fresh cherry, raspberry, and a hint of mineral flavors. This Rosé is a blend of Trepat and Garnacha. >>Find this wine<<
  9. 2012 Antech “Cuvée Eugénie” Crémant de Limoux - (France) Light straw color with brioche, Fuji apple, and floral aromas.  On the palate, crisp with zippy acidity, a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet green apple, pear, and a bit of citrus flavors.  Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  10. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut (France) Light straw yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles, and brioche, and apple aromas. On the palate, it has a delicate mousse, is off-dry with apple and mineral flavors. 100% Chenin Blanc >>Find this wine<<
  11. Graham Beck Brut Rosé - (South Africa) Watermelon pink color with a hint of silver with aromas of yeast, and raspberries.  On the palate, a creamy mousse, fruity, yet dry, with crisp acidity and raspberries, cherries flavors, with a slight mineral overtone, and a hint of citrus on the back palate.  Short-medium finish. Great QPR! >>Find this wine<<
  12. La Marca Prosecco - (Italy) Very pale straw yellow color with white flowers, stone fruit, and a whiff of tangerine aromas. It shows an active stream of tiny bubbles. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, and fresh with a creamy mousse and peach, and tangerine flavors. Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  13. Deligeroy Crémant de Loire Brut - (France) Pale yellow color with a bit of bronze tinge and brioche pear, raspberry, and mineral aromas. On the palate it was light-bodied,and between dry, and off-dry with good acidity, and a prickly mousse with pear, raspberry, and mineral flavors. A Blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. >>Find this wine<<
  14. Scharffenberger Brut Excellence - (California) Pale yellow-bold color with tiny bead of bubbles that dissipated somewhat quickly, and bread dough, faint apple aromas. On the palate it’s light-medium bodied, with a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet fruity sweet apple, and lemon-lime flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  15. Gruet Blanc de Noirs - (New Mexico)  Salmon color with an abundance of dispersed tiny bubbles with brioche and apple aromas. On the palate approaching medium bodied with a moderately aggressive mousse, balanced with pear, sweet baking spice, vanilla, and nuanced citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  16. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut(California) – Very light straw color with persistent bead of smallish bubbles, and fresh bread, apple, citrus,and a bit of ginger aromas.  On the palate, it shows a moderately creamy mousse, with apple, pear, and citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  17. Reginato “Celestina” Rosé of Malbec - (Argentina) - Intense strawberry red color with intermittent stream of tiny bubbles with baked bread and ripe cherry aromas. On the palate, fruity, yet pleasingly more dry, than off-dry with an explosive, creamy mousse, and with delicate almost imperceptible tannins, with flavors of cherries, raspberries, and a hint of spice. >>Find this wine<<
  18. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva - (Spain) Light straw color with fine bead of bubbles with bread dough and lemon-lime citrus aromas.  On the palate, light bodied, with moderately creamy mousse with green apple, and tart citrus flavors. Short finish. This one is “everyday” sparkler for me.  It’s a great value at $9/bottle! >>Find this wine<<
  19.  Blason de Bourgogne Crémant de Bourgogne Cuvée Brut(France) Very pale straw yellow color with toasty pear, citrus and hint of spice aromas and tiny bubbles. On the palate it’s fresh and fruity with pear, fuji apple, a vanilla, and sweet baking spice flavors.  Wonderful QPR @$10! Available at Trader Joe’s
  20. Korbel Natural - (California) Pale golden-yellow color with yeast ,red fruit, and apple aromas.  On the palate light bodied, crisp, between dry and off-dry.  Straight-forward with cherry, apple, minerals, and a touch of honey flavors.  Short-medium finish. >>Find this wine<< 

What are your favorite sparkling wines under $20? I’d love to give them a try!

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Which Wines Go Best With Oysters?

Well it turns out there’s a competition for that!  The most recent edition was the 18th Annual 2012 Pacific Coast Oyster Competition.  Are you kidding me?  They’ve done this 17 times before this year and I just found out?!;-)

Here’s what the website says…

Traditionally, restaurateurs have looked to France for wines like Muscadet and Chablis to accompany oysters on the half shell. There aren’t many wines that work with oysters but when one does…bingo!…it’s a beautiful thing. In a unique wine competition where judges taste each wine with at least one oyster and then rate the “bliss factor”, 25 top food and wine experts have selected 10 West Coast wines for prestigious “Oyster Awards”…Each wine is blind tasted with at least one Kumamoto oyster. The judge first smells and then chews the oyster well, then smells and tastes the wine, then rates the “bliss factor”, the wine’s affinity for the oyster

I think tasting the oyster first is a subtle but important point because otherwise, the judge could fall in love with the wine, and not the oyster and the wine together.

Fresh Tomales Bay Oysters

Here’s a list of the 2012 winners (listed alphabetically) from the website, which were announced April 30, 2012 (click here for full press release):

Brandborg Wines 2010 Pinot Gris (OR) – $16

**Cedergreen Cellars 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (WA) – $14

**Dry Creek Vineyard 2011 Dry Chenin Blanc (CA) – $12

**Foris Vineyard Winery 2010 Pinot Blanc (OR) – $14

**Hogue Cellars 2010 Pinot Grigio (WA)  - $11

Kenwood Vineyards 2011 Pinot Gris, Russian River (CA) – $16

**Kenwood Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – (CA) – $12

Millbrandt Vineyards 2010 Traditions Pinot Gris (WA) – $13

Sockeye 2010 Pinot Gris (WA) – $10

**Van Duzer Vineyards 2011 Pinot Gris (OR) – $17

**Prior Multiple Oyster Award Winner 

What I found interesting about this list is that it’s dominated by Pinot Gris, a wine that isn’t admittedly “top of mind” when it comes to oyster and wine pairings.  Top of mind for me are Muscadet, and sparkling wines (see my post below).  But that’s one of the things I enjoy about the drinking wine – keeping my mind open to trying new wines, and combinations of wines and foods I enjoy!  As good fortune would have it, we’re planning an outing to the Tomales Bay Oyster Company next month.  I’ll try to find one of the winners and report back!

It’s also good to know the wine aren’t expensive.   The most you’ll spend on one of the winners is $17 (although it seems as if the competition is oriented toward restaurateurs, which means you’ll probably pay at least twice as much as the prices listed above for a bottle – I shutter to think about the per glass price).

What wine(s) do you like with oysters?

I leave you with this quote from Ernest Hemingway..

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

Moveable Feast , Ernest Hemingway

That my friends, sounds like a plan to me!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…NV Deligeroy Cremant de Loire Brut

This week’s sparkler is a Crémant (Pronounced “Creh-MAHN) from Loire France, specifically Saumur, which is produces the most sparkling wine in France outside of Champagne.  Crémant is produced using the same techniques used in Champagne, but can’t be called Champagne because it isn’t made in the geographic region.  This one is priced like a Prosecco or Cava, but approaches an entry-level Champagne.  Very nice QPR!

Deligeroy Crémant de Loire

NV Deligeroy Cremant de Loire 

Region: FranceLoire ValleyCrémant de Loire

Variety -  Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$12 – Retail , 12.5% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode traditionnelle;  Aged an average of 4 years on lees

My tasting notes follow:

Pale yellow color with a bit of bronze tinge and brioche pear, raspberry, and mineral aromas. On the palate it was light-bodied,and between dry, and off-dry with good acidity,prickly mousse, and pear, raspberry, and mineral flavors. Medium finish 12.5% ABV. A Blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was very nice as an aperitif, and just as nice with food.  I enjoyed with an impromptu salad my wife threw together of romaine lettuce, grilled asparagus, chopped egg, and avocado, dressed with Creamy Garlic Horseradish Dip.  And later with an avocado, sea salt, and salsa.  It was an excellent pairing with the sparkler matching the creaminess, and the diversity of the food, and the food making the Crémant taste better!

This is a very good sparkler, and compares favorably with entry-level Champagne. I recommend!  87pts   (Click here to find this wine) Wine tasted 2/24/12.

Sweet Sticky Things…Unique Dessert Wines From Around The World Tasting

In the world of dessert wines (a.k.a. “stickies”) Ports from Portugal, and Sauternes from Bordeaux rule. When I saw that my favorite wine shop, K&L Wine Merchants, was doing a tasting called “Unique Dessert Wines From Around The World“, I was eager to see what other regions of the world have to offer. Not only was the wine geek in me curious, it’s also been my experience that lesser known wine regions often offer outstanding Quality-Price Ratio (“QPR”) wines.

The tasting was not only geographically diverse (Austria, Hungary, Canada, Greece, and lesser known regions of France – Loire, Languedoc, and Alsace), it also offered a variety of both late harvest, and fortified stickies made from both white and red grapes. There was also a variety of treats to pair with the wines including various cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, and chocolates from The Chocolate Garage.

Unique Dessert Wines From Around The World - The Lineup

My tasting notes follow:

2009 Weiss Grüner Veltliner Fahrenheit 19 Ice Wine - Austria, Burgenland

Light yellow with gold tinged color with pear, brown sugar, and faint floral aromas. On the palate approaching medium bodied with very good acidity, and nectarine, spice flavors. Medium finish. (88 pts).

2008 Union of Winemaking Cooperatives of Samos Muscat Samos Vin Doux, Vin de liqueur - Greece, Aegean, Samos

This is a fortified vin doux Muscat.  Yellow gold color with peach liqueur, apricot, and spice aromas. On the palate medium light bodied with honeyed citrus, spiced apricot jam flavors. Medium-long finish. (88 pts).

2008 Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon-Beaulieu Les Rouannieres - France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Coteaux du Layon-Beaulieu

Minimally  botrytised Chenin Blanc.  Light yellow gold color with muted candied apple,and almond aromas. On the palate medium bodied with tropical, apple, and pear flavors with a hint of nutty savoriness. Long finish (90 pts).

2007 Beck-Hartweg Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles - France, Alsace, Dambach-la-Ville, Alsace AOC

Sélection de Grains Nobles (“SGN”) are  botrytised wines from Alsace, France.  Light yellow color with nutty, peach, mineral aromas. On the palate medium bodied, well balanced with very good acidity and peach, spice, and slight mineral flavors. Long finish. (91 pts).

2006 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji 5 Puttonyos - Hungary, Hegyalja, Tokaji

Botrytised Furmint Blend.  Golden honey color with aromas of apricot, honey, alcohol. On the palate viscous, with apricot, honey and faint mineral notes. Long finish. (91 pts).

2001 Tokaj Hétszőlő Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos - Hungary, Hegyalja, Tokaji

Botrytised Furmint Blend.  Golden yellow color with vivid aromas of apricot and orange peel. On the palate viscous, balanced with harmonious streak of acidity, and intense apricot and orange flavors with a hint of minerality. Long finish. (94 pts).

2008 Henry of Pelham Cabernet Franc Icewine - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Short Hills Bench VQA

Pretty rosy dark pink color with sweet red fruit aromas. Palate follows with vibrant cherry and raspberry flavors; medium bodied with light tannins and medium-long finish (89 pts).

2007 Domaine Mas de Lavail Maury Expression - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Maury

This is a Vins doux naturels fortified wine from the south of France made from Grenache grapes ; very dark garnet almost inky color with aromas of cherry liquer, sweet tobacco,spice and floral notes. On the palate red fruit, and spice with good acidity and a touch of fine grained tannins. Medium long finish.  (89 pts).

After taking care of business tasting this group of outstanding dessert wines, it was time to enjoy a few different food pairings.  Hands down my favorite pairing was the Henry of Pelham Cabernet Franc Ice Wine and Pralus Madagascar 75% Dark Chocolate. It was simply a sublime pairing!  I also enjoyed the classic Roquefort cheese and Tokaji pairing, though I must confess I’ve never had cheese for my dessert course.

I always look forward to furthering my wine education, and this was a very good opportunity.  I tasted Tokaji for the first time, which I’ve been eager to do, and I now have a better understanding of which types of dessert wines to pair with which types of desserts,  and which might be better on a stand-alone basis for dessert.  All in all, a sweet start to the weekend!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like – 2008 Antech “Cuvée Eugénie” Crémant de Limoux

This week’s virtual trip around the world of sparklers takes me back to France, specifically the Languedoc-Roussillon region that is renowned for great quality-price ration (“QPR”) wines.  I must confess that, so far, I’ve only enjoyed Crémants (as sparkling wines produced in France, but outside of Champagne are known) from the region.

The Crémant de Limoux is an Appellation d’origine contrôlée ”AOC” for modern-styled sparkling wines from the vineyards around the town of Limoux in southern France.  Crémant de Limoux are considered more modern because Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc dominate the blend, as opposed to Mauzac, which historically dominated the Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines from the same region.

I’ve always found specificity of the French wine AOC system, which is based on the concept of terroir, interesting.  Especially compared to the relative freedom winemakers here enjoy.  For example, according to Wikipedia…

…Crémant de Limoux contains 40-70% Chardonnay, 20-40% Chenin Blanc, 10-20% Mauzac and 0-10% Pinot Noir.[1] AOC regulations dictate that the wine be aged for a least a year on the lees prior to disgorgement.

Here in the US, we don’t dictate the grapes, or percentage of grapes that go into wines, although there are some labeling laws.

Antech "Cuvée Eugenie" Cremant de Limoux

2008 Antech “Cuvée Eugenie” Crémant de Limoux

Region: France>Languedoc-Roussillon>Crémant de Limoux

Variety - 50% Chardonnay, 40% Chenin Blanc, 10% Mauzac

Residual Sugar – Unknown

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Minimum of 18 months on lees.

Alcohol by volume: 12%

Cost:$14

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Pale straw color

Aromas: Brioche with Fuji apple and floral notes

Body: Medium-light bodied with zippy acidity, and a creamy mousse, and mouth feel

Taste:  Sweet green apple, pear, and honeyed toast

Finish: Medium

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their pairing versatility with a variety of foods.  This one would be a good aperitif, and also pair with creamy fish dishes, or fondue.

This is a very good for $14, and another winner from the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  It would make a great house sparkler, especially if you prefer French wine.  I recommend. (87 pts)  To find this wine, click here



And the winner is…

For the September bi-monthly meeting of the Pacific Point Wine Tasting Club, we blind tasted 10 sparkling wines.

It was a fun evening filled with lots of sparkling wine, food, and we learned a thing or two about sparkling wine in the process!

The sparkling wines were geographically diverse. While half of the wines were from California, there were 3 from France (including one from Champagne), a Prosecco from Italy and Cava from  Spain.  Almost all were the drier “Brut” style.  And there was one Rose, which happened to all be the only vintage wine.  All the other were non-vintage (“NV”) wines, and all the wines were between 11% and 12.5% A.B.V (Click here for a video explaining the difference between vintage vs. non-vintage Champagne).

On top of the aforementioned wines we also had a couple of bottles of Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut from Washington State to get us started.  Somehow they disappeared before the scoring began (They coulda been a contender;-)!

Food pairings for the evening included mixed nuts, popcorn with truffle butter, and Brie for appetizers, with broccoli cheddar quiche, spinach artichoke quiche, and Salvadoran chicken tamales for entrees, and a fruit cheese tart, and shortbread cookies for dessert!

In order, we tasted the following sparkling wines:

NV Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain Cava ($12) – Blend of 45% Macabeo; 40% Xarel-lo; and 15% Parellada

NV Domaine Carneros Brut ($25) – Blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay

NV Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée ($9) – 100% Chardonnay

NV Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label ($40) – Blend of two-thirds black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), and one-third Chardonnay

NV Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($17)- Blend of 91%-Pinot Noir/9%-Chardonnay

NV Francois Chidaine Montlouis Brut ($20) - 100% Chenin Blanc

NV Candoni Prosecco Brut ($14) – 100% Prosecco

NV Mumm Napa – Brut Prestige($19) Blend of 51%-Pinot Noir; 46%-Chardonnay; 2%-Pinot Meunier; 1%-Pinot Blanc

NV Laetitia Brut Cuvée($22)- Blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay

2008 Antech Cremant de Limoux Cuvée Emotion – ($14) - Blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac, Pinot Noir

Hard work, but somebody's gotta do it!;-)

In a very close contest, the winner was the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée!

The first runner up was the  Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut,and the second runner-up was the Francois Chidaine Montlouis Brut.

As is usually the case, (at least so far in our wine tasting club – but as I understand it, it’s pretty common for wine tasting clubs, and other blind tastings) the least expensive wine was the winner!

I find it interesting that of the top 3, all were single varietal wines (Two were 100% on white wine grapes, while the other was 91% of red wine grapes, Pinot Noir, with the balance being Chardonnay),  rather than the typical sparkling wine blend of 3 different grapes.   Lastly, I also think it would have been interesting to have had an “Extra Dry” sparkling wine or two in order to compare the sweetness of  Brut to  Extra Dry sparkling wines.  Hmmm…sounds like another sparkling wine night down the road?!