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Cheap Champagne Buying Guide

The best inexpensive sparkling wines we found are Chandon Blanc de Noirs (starting at $17), Roederer Estate NV Brut (starting at $19), and Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut Cava (starting at $12), all chosen due to their flavor and finish. One cheap variety that doesn't appeal is Korbel Brut (starting at $10) thanks to its tart finish and sour aftertaste.

But getting to the heart of the matter: Cheap champagne ...

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does such a thing exist? During our research into sparkling wines found in the under-$20 territory we noticed that experts pose this question as well.

Officially, champagne is sparkling wine produced according to a traditional method (methode Champenoise) first adopted in the Champagne region of France. And only sparkling wines that are produced in Champagne, adhere to this process, and meet rigid quality standards may be called Champagne (capital "C"). Other bottles of bubbly, although similar in appearance and perhaps in effect, fall into the category of sparkling wine. Laws that govern the labeling of wines in the European Union are quite strict, and while other producers may follow the methode Champenoise, this process alone does not technically produce Champagne. Some sparkling wines produced in California may be legally labeled champagne (lower-case "c"), but in general, sparkling wines bear names that are identified with their country of origin, such as Cava from Spain or Asti and Prosecco from Italy.

But does the name matter? Does a grape by any other name taste as sweet? As any frugal champagne lover will tell you, looking past the label is one of the best methods for keeping cash in your pocket and off the counter. Still, you'll want some assurances that the bottle of budget bubbly you're buying is worth drinking.

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If you're not prepared to shell out a minimum $20 for a bottle of the real stuff, you'll have to make do with sparkling wine. The label on these bottles should provide clues about its quality. Some labels, but not all, mention the origin of the grapes, the level of sweetness, the alcohol content, and perhaps the flavor notes. Knowing how low-price champagne is produced can make all the difference. When possible, choose a bottle whose contents were made using the traditional French method, which should give you a close approximation of the true taste of champagne. That said, such detail may not appear on a label.

The tendency of wine to sparkle was considered a flaw by winemakers in the Middle Ages because the internal pressure caused bottles to burst. The reverberating effect of one bottle exploding could destroy an entire harvest and financially devastate a vineyard. But by the 17th century, the production of reinforced glass bottles combined with the use of an ancient Roman technique for producing corks meant sparkling wines could be kept stable. Although the French were slow to embrace the sparkling nature of wines, they ultimately perfected the process. These days French sparkling wines coming from outside the Champagne region are distinguished by the terms "Mousseux" or "Cremant"; Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose NV (starting at $19) is one example.

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In addition to our top picks, frugal consumers also might consider other cheap sparkling wines that hail from well-known wine-producing regions: Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut NV (starting at $13) and Barefoot Bubbly California Premium Extra Dry (starting at $9) from America, for example; Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry (starting at $8), a tasty Cava from Spain; Asti and Prosecco such as Castello del Poggio Barbera d'Asti (starting at $12) from Italy; and 50o N Sekt Weiss NV (starting at $12), a Sekt sparkling wine from Germany.

by Emily Lugg (Google+ Profile)

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Filed in: Alcohol, Champagne, Christmas,
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