A simple guide to enjoying bubbles on a budget

All that shopping during the holiday season inflicted serious damage on your bank account and by now you’re reduced to eating mayonaisse sandwiches and pretending your grape kool-aid spiked with cheap vodka is Merlot. Bummer. But your highfalutin tastes won’t let you skimp on quality bubbles so we’ll help you out by offering some reasonable alternatives to the Dom Perignon.

Here at Last Bottle we like to open a bottle of bubbly for many reasons – our cat’s birthday, because it’s Friday afternoon, or anytime the Golden State Warriors win. Plus it has the unique ability to make you wicked smart. But our unscientific research suggests there’s no more appropriate time to open a bottle of Champagne than New Year’s Eve. While you might not mind digging a bottle of Cristal or Bollinger from the cellar to share with a close friend, what if you need to share it with more than a few people? In that case you probably want to consider some cheaper options.

First, a quick breakdown of the major forms of bubbly:

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  • Champagne – The king of all bubbly, it must be produced in Champagne, France using the méthode champenoise which relies on a secondary bottle fermentation to produce those ultra fine bubbles. Because of it’s prestige and extra rules surrounding production, good Champagne will often cost $25-50 or more per bottle.
  • Crémant – A close relative to Champagne, Crémant is made in other areas of France, like Burgundy where you’ll find a Crémant de Bourgogne. These places can also use varietals other than Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Petit Meunier so you’ll find a great variance in styles. Finally, it’s usually priced much lower than its big brother.
  • Prosecco – Thanks to Italians and their love of great wine and food, we have an extremely reasonably priced sparkling wine made from Glera grapes. Prosecco isn’t made under the rigid requirements of méthode champenoise, which makes it easier to produce, and thus cheaper. It also means the bubbles don’t carry as much finesse, but that’s a small trade off considering the price difference as most bottles will cost around $10-15.
  • Sparkling wine – Almost every American producer of bubbles calls their product sparkling wine. A few lucky Californian producers are permitted to use the term “Champagne” but anyone else trying to label their sparkling wine as such can expect a lawsuit. Prices can vary greatly, especially among California producers, so don’t be afraid to try something from Michigan or New York’s Finger Lakes region.
  • Cava – Made in Spain from three grape varietals, Macabeau, Xarello, and Parellada. Its production follows a similar method as Champagne, but due to the rigid laws they must call it “traditionelle” instead of “champenoise”. Although not as popular as Prosecco, Cava has enjoyed a nice lift in the eyes of consumers and can be easily had for less than $15/bottle.

Over the past year we’ve offered quite a few affordable examples, and below are a couple of our favorites.

Perelada Cava Stars Brut Nature 2013

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Just about every bottle of Cava falls into the most affordable price range. This offering from Perelada was among our favorites, and at $10/bottle it was certainly the cheapest. This is a crowd pleasing sparkling wine, made in a dry style, with crisp green apple, lemon creme, honey and lime flavors, all balanced in a lovely fashion with a lip-smacking freshness and length.

Bernard Remy Grand Cru Brut NV

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If you can’t possibly lower your standards by very much, consider this Bernard Remy Grand Cru. It hails from the epicenter of Champagne – Mesnil, and is made from 100% Chardonnay. It’s zippy and refreshing, with racy meyer lemon and stone fruits, flowers, mineral and a touch of toastiness on the palate. At it’s regular price of $60 or so, it’s not a terribly low priced substitute, but when we featured this bottle it went for a much more approachable $29/bottle.

Gallimard Grande Reserve Chardonnay NV

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Grower Champagne is so hot right now. Like single-vineyard wines, grower champagne tends to have a better expression of terroir and this is a spectacular example from Gallimard, a small, six generation family-owned producer with a small production of around 140k bottles each year. We were astounded by the quality to price ratio here, and you could easily pay $70+ for something similar but we hooked it up for $25/bottle. Regardless of the price it’s sure to please the most fussy of bubbly fanatics with plenty of citrus, fresh made dough, a touch of ginger, and lemon pie flavors that blast off through super fine bubbles.

Pro-tip: Champagne Cocktails
If you need to fill more glasses and don’t have enough bottles to afford, borrow a move from the old cocaine smuggler’s handbook and cut it – i.e. make a cocktail. If it’s early in the day, make a Mimosa. Brunch calls for a Bellini, and in the evening you could opt for a Black Velvet by mixing 50% stout and 50% bubbles.

You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding equally delicious substitutes at your local wine shop, but of course, if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on future deals on bubbly, the smart thing to do is join our mailing list below so you’ll be among the lucky ones who receive our daily deal.

Mike Meisner

Mike Meisner

Mike is the resident content creator for the Last Bottle blog. When he's not spilling wine on his keyboard he can be found wandering the aisles in the warehouse with a Coravin in hand, whispering to bottles "This will only hurt for a second".
Mike Meisner

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