We all love Champagne. That’s a given. Especially if it’s top-of-the-line grand cru or vintage Champagne. But unless you’re related to the Getty family or another of that ilk, you’re probably not going to be able to break out the Dom Pérignon or the Salon for a crowd.
This is where alternate bubblies come in. They could be called brut or crémant, but though they’re often made in what’s called the méthode Champenoise, i.e. in the style of Champagne, they don’t hail from that prestigious appellation. And they’re often made not just with Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, but with alternate grapes such as Chenin Blanc — or Riesling, in the case of our first bottle in this holiday lineup.
The following are nine Champagne alternatives, ideal for the holidays:
2013 Gebrüder Simon Sekt Mosel Riesling Brut (Mosel, Germany). An impressive sparkling Riesling from Germany. Hard to believe, but the grapes come from prize hillside vineyards in the Mosel. When you see the handsome bottle and taste this fresh, lively brut, you won’t believe it costs less than $20. The taste is all pear and apples. The bubbles just kept coming. Delightful. You might want to lay in a case. Look for it at Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa, the Wine House in Los Angeles and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. From $18 to $20.
NV André and Mireille Tissot Crémant du Jura Extra Brut (Jura, France). Here’s something even more unusual: a beautiful pale gold crémant from France’s smallest wine region. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Tissot’s extra brut is bright and true, scented with chamomile and sweet spices, tasting of citrus and fall fruit. The finish is long and satisfying. And if you love pink, there’s also a fine rosé version. Look for it at domaineLA and K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood. From $27 to $30.
NV Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (Alsace, France). Some of the best wine estates in Alsace produce not only exceptional Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Tokay Pinot Gris, but also some lovely sparkling wines. The Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé from Lucien Albrecht, an estate founded in 1425, has always been a favorite. Made from Pinot Noir, it’s a ravishing rose petal pink in the glass, with a fresh, appealing perfume of wild strawberries. Perfect for smoked salmon or trout, or, if you’re lucky, some caviar on toast points. Look for it at Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, John & Pete’s Fine Wines & Spirits in West Hollywood, Los Angeles Wine Company in Los Angeles, Manhattan Fine Wines in Manhattan Beach and Monopole Wine in Pasadena. From $15 to $20.
Schramsberg “Mirabelle” California Rosé (North Coast, California). A fine nonvintage rosé sparkler at a great price from the historic Schramsberg house in Napa Valley. Just over half Chardonnay, the rest Pinot Noir, from several areas in California, this dry rosé is lightly scented with strawberries, more complex than you’d expect at this price. A festive bottle to have on hand over the holidays. Look for it at Green Jug in Woodland Hills, Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, Wade’s Wines in Westlake Village and Wine Club in Santa Ana. From $20 to $24.
2014 Cidrerie du Vulcain La Transparente (Fribourg, Switzerland). This cider qualifies as a festive bubbly, too, and one that may win over guests who just aren’t that into wine. Made from antique varieties of apples grown on high-branched, untreated trees in Fribourg, Switzerland, this complex demi-sec sparkling cider is fermented on wild yeasts and only lightly filtered. Open it with ceremony, like a fine Champagne — a wonderful surprise for guests. Look for it at domaineLA in Hollywood and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. About $20.
NV Robinot L’ Opera des Vins Fêtembulles (Loire Valley, France). If pet nets (short for Pétillant Natural), the darlings of the natural wine world, are not your thing, think again. This one from Paris wine-bar-owner-turned-vintner Jean-Pierre Robinot, is bone-dry, yet busting out with fresh fruit flavors and plenty of bubbles. And nobody will mistake this terrific expression of Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley for a ho hum sparkling wine. The label is endearingly eccentric and folksy, kind of like the wine. Look for it at Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. About $24.
NV Roederer Estate Brut (Anderson Valley, California). Consistently one of the best buys in California sparkling wine, Roederer Estate Brut from Champagne Louis Roederer’s Mendocino County estate is beautifully balanced. Scented with citrus and toast, it delivers the flavors of pear, baked apple and citrus. Never cloying, this elegant brut is a good holiday basic. Stash a case away in the closet and chill down bottles as needed. Widely available at wine retailers and liquor stores. From $18 to $20.
NV François Pinon Vouvray Brut (Loire Valley). Another Loire Valley sparkler, this one from Vouvray presents a more complex version of Chenin Blanc. Made from certified organic grapes harvested by hand and fermented with wild yeasts, the flavor is rich, punctuated with pear, apple and quince, sweetly scented, but with a dry, lingering finish. For a couple of dollars more, François Pinon also makes an excellent non dosé, which is, of course, even drier and more elegant. Look for it at domaineLA in Hollywood and Woodland Hills Wine Company in Woodland Hills. About $22.
2014 Paolo Saracco Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy). When New Year’s Eve comes around, it’s time to pull out a chilled bottle of Moscato d’Asti, the lightly sparkling muscat from Italy’s Piedmont. Paolo Saracco is virtually the king of Moscato d’Asti and in 2014 produced one of his best ever. Yes, it’s slightly sweet — but it’s balanced with acidity and minerality. The effect is like biting into a ripe, juicy pear. Have it with a plate of biscotti. Look for it at Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, K&L in Hollywood, Los Angeles Wine Co. in Los Angeles, Wally’s in West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and Wine Exchange online and in Santa Ana. From $13 to $15.
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