Bubbly On A Budget


December 28, 2005|By ROB KASPER

While many of us feel festive at Christmas, by the time New Year's Eve rolls around we are usually tapped out. We want to ring in the New Year without bringing on financial ruin.

With that in mind, I recently searched for budget bubbles, carbonated sparkling wines that deliver some pop and some pleasure yet cost less than $20 a bottle.

I found several. Most of these sparklers hailed from distant climes, but not from the prestige houses of France or the cellars of Napa Valley. The wines from these two sources are exceptional but expensive. Some day when my ship comes in, I will buy the vintage stuff by the case.

Meanwhile, I am content to fill my glass with more moderately priced bubbles that carry some fizz and some flavor.

My search method was simple: I called proprietors of two wine shops, Mitchell Pressman of the Chesapeake Wine Co. in Canton and Michael Hackshaw of the Spirits of Mount Vernon in downtown Baltimore, and told them what I was looking for and that my price range was $20 or less.

Picking the brain of the proprietor of the "dispensary" in your neighborhood is a method I highly recommend. Be clear how you are going to use the sparkling wine. There is a difference between using it as a mixer for mimosas or as a companion to caviar. And don't be shy about stating your price level.

These two wine touts sold me eight sparklers. I brought them home, chilled them and, along with my wife, sampled them over a period of a week. The wines came from around the globe - Spain, Italy, France, Australia, Washington state and New Mexico - proof that globalization has come to bubbles.

Their colors ranged from golden to bright red. Their dominant flavor was fruit. There were little of the yeasty notes that vintage Champagne offers. Yet each was good company for a glass; the better ones brought me back for seconds.

Drinking sparkling wine, even the less-expensive ones, on a weeknight does temporarily brighten your mood.



Here, in descending order, are my favorite budget bubblers:

Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Pinot Noir ($16.99). Overall favorite. Golden, crisp, delivering the faint green-apple notes usually found only in more-expensive bottles. A mix of 57 percent chardonnay and 43 percent pinot noir, this sparkler from down under is a delight.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut, Washington state, ($14.99). Second best. Plain but pleasing. The illustration on the label, of golden ribbons taking flight, is the effect this wine has on the mind.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs Brut, Albuquerque, N.M. ($16). Who knew New Mexico could produce such a sparkling wine? Not too sweet, a short, if metallic, finish. A terrific bubbly with food.

Renardat Bugey Cerdon Rose Sparkling Wine ($21). A bold French approach to sparkling wine. Some might find it too sweet, but no one doubts that this bubbling red is gorgeous. It pushed above the $20 ceiling, but only by $1.

Sparkling Folonari Prosecco ($11.99). Not expensive but not a very exciting sweet sparkler from Italy. There is no pretense here; instead of a cork this bottle has a metal soda-style cap.

Montelliana Prosecco Extra Dry ($11). More of the sweet, soft wine from Italy. Bubbles, a little sweetness. A good wine to sip while nibbling on cheese and whiling away the end of the old year.

1+1=3 Cava Brut ($14). Reflecting the Spanish approach to making sparkling wine, this brut had a rich aroma and good fruit but a slightly metallic finish. Mimosa material.

Cava Avinyo ($15.99). A white sparkler with sweetness that beckons you to drop a few strawberries in the glass, smile and welcome whatever the year brings.


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