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. 2010 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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Oyster and Brie Soup and Wine Pairings for Celebrity Chef #SundaySupper

This week’s Favorite Celebrity Chef #SundaySupper theme was a blast from the past for me.  While I count Alton Brown, Paula Deen, Tyler Florence and Emeril Lagasse, among my favorite celebrity chefs, it wasn’t one of their dishes that was top of mind for me.

You know how there are dishes you will always remember because they just blow you mind for one reason or another?  Well, I’ll never forget the first time I had Blackened Redfish.  That was probably 30 years ago, yet I can still recall it like it was yesterday. Those layers of sassy Cajun spice and flavors took my taste buds to a place they’d never been before!

The man who put Blackened Redfish on our culinary maps was Chef Paul Prudhomme. Chef Paul’s claim to fame is the legendary K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which he and his wife Kay opened in 1979.  Prior to opening K-Paul’s Prudhomme was the executive chef at the another iconic New Orleans restaurant, the Commander’s Palace, where he was succeeded by Emeril Lagasse. According to Wikipedia…

Prudhomme has been credited with popularising cajun cuisine and in particular blackened redfish during the 1980s, and has been credited with introducing the turducken.

His cookbook Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, published in 1984, was awarded the Culinary Classic Book Award in 2012 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.  That’s were I got the recipe for his Oyster and Brie soup.  It’s a recipe I’ve had my eye on for years and finally decided to make for this week’s Favorite Celebrity #SundaySupper theme.

The soup is creamy but not too heavy ( I think of it as a Cajun Oyster and Brie bisque) with a slightly peppery kick that reminds me of an Etouffe. It was a fabulous pairing with the sparkling wine (Crémant) I used in the soup.

Oyster and Brie Soup and Wine Pairings for Celebrity Chef #SundaySupper
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Cajun
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • 3 dozen small to medium oysters in their liquor, about 18 ounces
  • 4 cups cold water
  • ½ pound (2 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onions
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped celery
  • ½ tsp. white pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground red pepper
  • 1 lb fresh brie cheese, cut in small wedges, with rind on
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • ½ champagne, optional
Instructions
  1. Combine oysters and water; stir and refrigerate at least 1 hours. Strain and reserved the oysters and oyster water; refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. In a large skillet melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and beat with a metal whisk until smooth. Add the onions and celery; sauté about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in peppers and sauté about 2 minutes more. Set aside.
  3. In a 4-qt saucepan, bring oyster water to a boil. Stir in the sautéed vegetable mixture until well mixed. Turn up heat to high. Add cheese; coo until cheese starts to melt, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. (Be careful not to let the cheese scorch.)
  4. Lower heat to simmer and contue cooking for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, strain soup and return to pot. Turn the heat to high and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in cream; cook until close to a boil about 2 minutes. Stir in champagne, if desired.
  5. Turn off heat and add oysters. Let pan sit for about 3 minutes to plump oysters. Serve immediately.
Notes
The recipe calls for Champagne, but opted for a sparkling wine from the Burgundy region of France instead. While Champagne sill has that "je ne sais quoi" (something special), a Crémant (a sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region using the same production method are known)

 

Speaking of wine pairings, I’m also offering wine pairings for this week’s fabulous Favorite Celebrity Chef #SundaySupper menu.  My recommended wine pairing are italicized.  Click on the name of the wine to find out where to purchase.

Pair these Starters, Snacks and Sides with NV Blason de Bourgogne Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Réserve from Trader Joe’s.  It’s a tasty blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Aligoté with a toasty pear, fuji apple, citrus and hint of baking spice character. This is our new everyday sparkling wine! At $10/bottle it’s a very good value!

Pair these main dishes with the 2010 Bodega Colomé Amalaya - a silky smooth blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon,Syrah and Tannat from Argentina with a mixed black and red berry, oaky spice and sweet tobacco character.

Pair the following main dishes with a crisp refreshing white blend, in this case the 2010 d’Arenberg Stump Jump White - a blend of 28% Riesling, 27% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne from McLaren Vale, Australia.  It’s very food friendly with juicy citrus and tropical fruit aromas balanced nicely with good acidity.

Pair the following dishes with the 2011 Burgáns Albariño Rias Baixas a crisp, fresh food-friendly white wine from Spain with a crisp apple, apricot and peach character. 

Pair these dishes with a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. I recommend the 2011 Pascal Janvier Jasnières.  It shows a core of tangy apple, citrus fruit complemented by a mineral undertone. 

Pair these desserts with a Sauternes,  a sweet wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section of Bordeaux. They are made from  SémillonSauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes affected by noble rot.  Look for the 2005 Guiraud Sauternes.  It has a full-bodied, honeyed, lemon tart, baked apple, baking spice, and  vanilla cream character

Pair with these desserts with the Yalumba Muscat Museum Reserve, a dessert wine from Australia with rose petal, ginger and orange peel aromas, and rich raisined fruit, and spice flavors.
Please join on us via Twitter for #SundaySupper on December 2, 2012, throughout the day. In the evening, we will meet at 7 PM EST for our weekly #SundaySupper live chatAll you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat.

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…NV Blason Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc De Noirs

This week’s sparkler hails from Burgundy region of France.  It is produced by Blason de Bourgogne.  I picked it up at Trader Joe’s on a whim because I recognized the Blason name.  It’s a name I associate with value wines.  According to the Blason website they represent 800 wine-growing families throughout Burgundy.  Beside this Blanc de Noirs, they also produce a Rosé, an Extra Brut, and a Brut Reserve, all from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes.  Of the four Crémant produced, this one is aged the longest.  And interestingly, all are made from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes.


NV Blason Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc De Noirs

Region: France>Burgundy>Crémant de Bourgogne

Variety – Pinot Noir, and Gamay

Dosage – < 15g/L

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Aged 16-18 months on racks

Alcohol by volume: 13%

Cost: $11

My tasting notes follow:

Color: Light golden-yellow with copper tinge

Aromas: Brioche, and red fruits – cherries and strawberries

Body: Light-bodied with dispersed small bubbles that dissipated quickly

Taste: Strawberry, cherry and toast

Finish: Short-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 nicely with wide variety of foods.  Try this with roast white meat, seafood with light sauces, or enjoy as an aperitif along with goat cheese.

This is a value sparkler.  It was easy, enjoyable, and since it’s sold at Trader Joe’s, availability should be good. I’m a fan of Blanc de Noirs (“BdN”), and you’d be hard pressed to find a better BdN at this price level.  This is a case where $2-$3 more dollars (Chandon, and Gloria Ferrer come to mind) would probably deliver more.  But, I recommend if you prefer BdN and you want to save a few bucks.  (86 pts).

“May your glass always be filled with warm memories, and the taste of a life well lived linger on your tongue” - Unknown

What I’ve learned tasting 30 Sparkling Wines In 30 Weeks..

Murganheira Bottle of sparkling wine.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been drinking sparkling wine on a weekly basis since February, and blogging about it in my “T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…” series.  During that time, I’ve tasted sparkling wines from not only the usual suspects, France, California, Spain, and Italy, but also countries that aren’t “top of mind” when it comes to bubbly like Argentina, Austria, Australia, Portugal, and South Africa.  I’ve had more bubbly since February than I’ve had the last 10 years!

I’ve learned a handful of things about sparkling wine as I’ve worked on perfecting my palate for bubbly.  What do I mean by perfecting my palate?  It has nothing to do with developing greater tasting acuity.  Rather, it’s about “living” with a particular wine, learning everything you can about it, and buying as much of that wine as you can.   It’s been an immensely pleasurable pursuit, which has turned me into a bubbles fiend!  Here’s what I’ve learned…

Sparklers are wines with bubbles

Duh! Here’s what I mean.  Like still wines, sparkling wines are made from a variety of grapes.  They are easy, complex, and everything in between.  They are light, medium, or full-bodied. They can be bone dry, or sweet. They are made in white, pink (Rosé), and red styles. Some are made to drink now, others can be aged for many years.  And most importantly, just like still wine, sparkling wine is an every day wine.  It’s so much more than a beverage for celebration.  Yet, those bubbles seem to add a dash of magic to any occasion.  I can’t resist sharing this quote that sums it up for me…

When Lily Bollinger was asked “When do you drink champagne?”, she replied:
“I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”

It’s great with a wide variety of foods

On a recent Saturday night at Chez Redmond, we had a diverse assortment of leftovers for dinner, including, steak, chile rellano, salad topped with tomato, and avocado salsa, and chicken apple sausage.  We enjoyed this diverse range of food with a sparkling Rosé that paired nicely with the leftovers.  Put simply, sparkling wines are food wines.  Of course, like still wines, I recommend pairing light-bodied sparklers (most Cavas, Prosecco, and other light-bodied sparklers) with lighter fare.  At the other end of the spectrum, I’d pair a steak with a fuller-bodied sparkler, especially a Rosé.

You don’t have to spend a bunch to drink it all the time

The average price of the sparklers I’ve tasted over the last 30 weeks was $17.  The most expensive was $33.  I’ve discovered an everyday Cava that’s less than $10 that has a good quality-price ratio.  And, many good sparklers can be found for under $20 (Look for my Top 10 Sparklers Under $20…Coming soon!)  At the same time, I’ve come to realize that I’m willing to spend more for sparklers that I enjoy.  Like most folks, I used to think sparklers were limited to being consumed as apéritifs, or for celebrations.  Consequently, I wouldn’t spend as much for “better” sparklers.  Yet, I’d spend $30-$50 for a “better” bottle of still wine. Ironically, now that I’ve come to realize sparklers can be consumed throughout a meal, I’m willing to pay more for the pleasure.

It’s a deathbed wine for me

Yep…if I had a choice, I’d have a great Rosé Champagne (at least for the first couple of courses) to celebrate going to my Sweet Reward.

Cava – It’s not just for Mimosas anymore

I’m really digging Cava, at least Reserva level Cava.  It hasn’t always been that way.  I pretty much limited my consumption of Cava to using it for Mimosas.  That was before I discovered a couple of Raventós i Blanc Cavas, one a traditional white, the other their outstanding Rosé.  I’m sure there are others awaiting my discovery.

Here’s my hearty recommendation friends.  Go out and buy a bottle of bubbly today, whether it be Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava, or Prosecco.  Enjoy it as more than an apéritif.  Wait a day, or a week, or maybe two. Repeat indefinitely!

“May your glass always be filled with warm memories, and the taste of a life well lived linger on your tongue” – Unknown

p.s. To view the sparklers reviewed in the “T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…” series, just type in T.G.I.F in the Search box above.

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…NV Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Perle d’Aurore

This week’s sparkling wine is a Crémant from the Burgundy region of France, the N.V. Louis Bouillot Perle d’ Aurore (Pearl of Dawn).  It is a sparkling Rosé. Burgundy is best known for their world-class Pinot Noir and White Burgundy (Chardonnay).

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne. Photo courtesy of K&L Wine Merchants

N.V. Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé “Perle d’Aurore”

Region: France; Burgundy; Cremant de Bourgogne

Variety -80% Pinot Noir & 20% Gamay

Dosage – Unknown

$14, 12% abv

Production method: Méthode Traditionnelle; Aged 24 months, sur lie

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance:  Salmon

Aromas: Cherries and a bit of oak

Body: Aggressive mousse with tiny, dispersed bubbles. Fruity on the front palate, and dry on the back palate.

Taste: Cherries and fuji apple

Finish: Short

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food. We enjoyed this with a variety of grilled salmon. It’s enjoyable as an aperitif, but I found it to be a bit better with food.  It would pair well with grilled seafood, grilled chicken, or a mixed seafood pasta cooked in a tomato garlic sauce.

This wine is a good value for a Rosé sparkler.  However, I would spend an extra $2, and buy the Taltarni Brut Taché  from Australia, which I rated 90 pts. Nonetheless, I like this wine - 84 pts