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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TJ’s Two Buck Chuck-10 Years and 600 Million Bottles Later…

I was in a Trader Joe’s (“TJ’s”) today, and happened to notice the headline “Happy Anniversary Charles Shaw” on the Fearless Flyer.  The article noted “Two Buck Chuck” has been sold at TJ’s for  10 years, and a bit to my surprise, they’ve sold about 600 million  of Two Buck Chuck  (“TBC”) (along with the requisite marketing plug that it still sells for $1.99 ten years on – it is marketing after all…)  They also went on to proclaim…

Charles Shaw wine displayed in a Trader Joe's ...

Image via Wikipedia

…they’ve proven that a wine doesn’t need to be expensive to be good, drinkable wine.  These are not expensive; they are good, and they’re very drinkable.

I recall when it first came out,  I used to buy it pretty regularly.  At the time I’d just started to drink wine on a somewhat regular basis (maybe a bottle or two/week compared to five or six now), and I thought it was good.  I probably drank it, off and on, for about a year before I stopped drinking it.  Two Buck Chuck went on to spawn plenty of imitators, and a $2-$3/bottle wine can be found pretty much every where today.

Nowadays, I only consider Two Buck Chuck for Sangria.  From time to time I’ve heard tales of TBC winning blind tastings, and scoring well at this or that wine competition (don’t get me started on wine competitions).  So from time to time, I’ve wondered  if maybe I should be buying it as an everyday wine.  Then I snap out of it, as I say to myself “Life is too short to drink bad wine” (although, it would certainly make me appreciate the other wines).  Of course, what’s considered “good”, and “bad” wine is in the palate of the drinker.

The situation reminds me a bit of high-speed internet vs dial-up.  Once you’ve experienced high-speed internet, you can’t ge back to dial-up (at least I can’t!)  Of course it helps I’ve got the disposable income for high-speed internet.  I suppose if I my disposable income didn’t allow it, and I wanted internet service badly enough I could settle for dial-up.  But until then… It’s the same thing with wine for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no objection to a what I think is good $5 bottle of wine.  In fact, I picked up a couple of bottles of Chariot Gypsy  while I was at TJ’s.  Is there that much difference between a $2 bottle of wine, and a  $5 bottle of wine?  Will I enjoy a $5 bottle of wine two and a half times as much as the $2 bottle?  Probably not.  Then again, we as consumers aren’t completely rational.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad…it just IS.  When was the last time you bought a bottle of TBC?

Grenache Smackdown…10 Wines; 1 Winner!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but we reached a minor milestone for the Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC“) with meeting last week for Grenache Night.  It was our 10th meeting!

We blind tasted a group of 10 Grenaches.  We actually had 15 bottles of wine, but for the first time, we had more than one duplicate bottle.  There were 5 bottles of Sarah’s Vineyard Grenache.  From what I could gather – widely available at BevMo;-) Of the ten wines we tasted ,seven were from Spain.  The majority of Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) were from the Calatayud region in Aragón, where many believe the grape originated.  The balance were from California, all from the Central Coast.   There was a large group of 25 tasters who scored all the wines.

What I especially appreciate about our wine-tasting club is the diversity of experience.  There is a handful of what I would consider “serious” wine lovers, but the majority of the club members, core and otherwise, are more “casual” wine drinkers who like wine and I suspect drink it occasionally rather than daily.  But they want to learn more, and have a good time doing it! And that friends, is the beauty of our wine-tasting club!

The 10 wines we tasted were:

NV Don Quixote Almansa capitulo 8 (Spain-La Mancha)

NV Altovinum Calatayud Evodia (Spain-Calatayud)

2007 Bodegas San Alejandro Garnacha Catalayud Las Rocas Viñas Viejas (Spain-Calatayud)

2008 Artazuri Garnacha Navarra (Spain-Navarra )

2008 JC Cellars Ventana Grenache (California – Central Coast)

2008 Query Grenache (California – Central Coast)

2009 Bitch (Spain-Calatayud)

2009 Castillo de Monseran Garnacha Cariñena (Spain-Cariñena)

2009 Sarah’s Vineyard Grenache (California-Central Coast)

2009 Trader Joe’s Catalayud Old Vine Reserve Garnacha (Spain-Calatayud)

We  kicked off the evening with a Grenache Blanc, the white counterpart to the Grenache Noir (a.k.a. Garnacha/Grenache), the wine of the night.  Sparkling wines and whites are a great way to prepare the palate for tasting reds.

2009 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc

Before we embarked upon the wine tasting we usually have a bite to eat -pot luck style.  We ask that folks bring dishes that will pair well with the wine being tasted, and provide them with a list of suggestions. We had some very nice dishes that paired well with Grenache including various BBQ (see pics below) and Grilled Pork, Beef Chow Fun, Chicken Pineapple Meatballs, and  Lentil Salad.

After that we got down to the business of tasting the wines.  And (drumroll please)…..and the winner, with an average score of 90pts was:

2008 JC Cellars Grenache Ventana

I find it interesting that, that’s the same score given to the JC Cellars Grenache Ventana by the iconic Robert Parker!  The JC Cellars Grenache retails for $35. For the first time in our short history, the most expensive wine was the winner!  There were two value wines that were hot of the heels of the winner with an average score of 89pts that I must mention.  In second place was the NV Altovinum Calatayud Evodia available at Whole Foods for about $8, and in third place was the 2009 Trader Joe’s Catalayud Old Vine Reserve Garnacha available for $10 at TJ’s. Either would be an inexpensive way to give Grenache a try!