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The sparkling wine category, perhaps more than other categories of wine, is full of hype and misleading marketing. If you know what to look for however, sparkling wines (especially Champagnes) are the one category of wine that you don’t have to pay a penny more to go first class.
 
Prosecco has become very popular in recent years, and production of this Italian sparkling wine has spread into some lesser quality regions. The best appellation for Prosecco is Valdobbiadene. The Casa Farive Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore($10.99) is priced lower than many mass market Proseccos with the general “Prosecco” appellation.
 
Cava is a sparkling wine from Spain that can be a terrific value. Some of the well-known brands of Cava have expanded production so high, the second fermentation time in the bottle is too short and they lack finesse. Some of the smaller producers still take enough time to do it right. Los Monteros Brut Cava ($9.99) has the fine, delicate bubbles of a more expensive Cava, but is priced like the mass market brands.
 
If you want a sparkling made in the traditional Champagne method, but from outside the Champagne region in France, look for the word Cremant on the label. Limoux in the South of France has been making excellent sparkling wines for even longer than they have in Champagne. The Faire La Fete Cremant de Limoux Brut is a real bargain at $9.99.
The unique chalky, limestone rich soils of the Champagne region are the main reason why Champagne is the greatest sparkling wine. About 15 years ago, however, the French government made the borders of Champagne larger so that production of the well-known, high volume brands of Champagne could be increased. These new outlying parts of Champagne don’t have the same soil. To me, this is what is watering down the quality of brands like Veuve Clicquot, Moet & Chandon, Mumm’s, etc… If you buy Champagne labeled Grand Cru you will get a sparkling wine that is made from the very best classified vineyards in the Champagne region. Because the Grand Cru designated vineyard land in Champagne is less than 7% of the total Champagne region, there is not enough Grand Cru grapes for the large volume producers to make a Grand Cru bottling. Only the small grower/producer houses can do that. Andre Cloet makes both an excellent Grand Cru Brut, and if you like very dry Champagne a Brut Nature for only $39.99. Yes, you can buy Grand Cru Champagne for $10-$20 less than the mass market swill! If you like the clean, mineral driven Chardonnay dominant style of Champagne, try the R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut $59.99. If you like the richness and depth of Pinot Noir dominant Champagne, try the Barnaut Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs or Barnaut Grand Cru Rose` (Both $59.99). Most sparkling wines and Champagnes are Non-Vintage to maintain consistency. When there is a truly exceptional quality vintage, however, a Champagne producer will make a Vintage Dated Champagne. The 2006 Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Brut Millesime Blanc de Blancs ($82.99) comes from the Les Mesnil Sur Oger district of Champagne, very close to where Krug grows the grapes for their $850 bottling of vintage Champagne. Blind tastings of the vintage Pierre Moncuit have beaten some luxury names like Dom Perignon and Cristal. It is one of the best kept secrets in Luxury Champagne.
 
If you don’t like your Champagne to be too dry, look for the words Demi-Sec on the label. This means semi-dry. Billecart-Salmon makes an excellent, well balanced Demi-Sec for $59.99.
 
If you would like some suggestions for sparkling wines or would like to make a reservation, please contact me at drusso@russosgr.com.
 
Author: Dave Russo