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Cheap Champagne Buying Guide
Champagne is generally associated with feelings of euphoric excess and the special occasions that prompt them -- New Year's Eve celebrations, weddings, birthdays, promotions. Even if you're in the mood to splurge, that doesn't mean giving up on the pursuit of cheap champagne.
The challenge lies in knowing what you're buying.
Based on our research, we suggest looking for cheap sparkling wines (a.k.a. cheap champagne) from Spain, France, and California. 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 ... 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.
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 on a label is rare.
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.
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.
Best Cheap Champagne
Chandon Blanc de Noirs
Chandon's Blanc de Noirs is the traditional champagne served at receptions hosted by the President of the United States, which shows that a low-cost sparkling wine is welcome in high places. Affordable yet complex, this bubbly is redolent of red fruit, including dark cherry, currant, and strawberry.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Roederer Estate NV Brut
Roederer Estate Brut NV, from California, is celebrated by critics and consumers for intricate notes of fruit that add depth to a full-bodied base. The sparkling wine is made from oak-aged reserves and is described as an excellent approximation of the real thing.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Good Cheap Champagne
Korbel Brut is readily available and often put forward as a cheap option in the sparkling wine category. Experts, however, say the bubbles are rough and many consumers complain of a tart, short finish and a sour, plastic-like aftertaste even as some revelers consider it an option for champagne cocktails.Read more »
Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut Cava Review
Chandon Blanc de Noirs Review
Roederer Estate NV Brut Review
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