I like to make any excuse to drink bubbles. Wedding celebration? Of course. Birthday? Yep. Good hair day? Even better. I want to drink Champagne with everything. Caviar, hotdogs, a nervous breakdown… you name it, I want adult sparkling. I love the stuff so much I viewed one particular McDonald’s feast as the perfect opportunity to pop a bottle of Cristal. Three-digit bubbles right there, paired with one step below street meat. As you might imagine, however, this little proclivity gets expensive. That is, unless you know your way around the sparkling section of your local wine purveyor. Never mind that Prosecco, even though it’s certainly a wallet-friendly, highly popular option. There are plenty of really interesting, totally delicious value-driven options out there if you just know where to look.
First, start by walking right past those bottles of Veuve Clicquot. Not that it’s not tasty. And who doesn’t love to pretend they’re in the VIP section at a Polo Game every time they pour a drink? But it’s expensive, no matter where you buy it. I don’t know about you, but my budget doesn’t allow for that caliber of mid-week bubble, even if it’s the Greatest Hair Day of All Time. Happily, you don’t need to reach for the magnum Cook’s either. Save that stuff for your mimosas. Instead, get to know this very important word: crémant. A far cry from bargain basement bubbles, this stuff is made from hand-picked grapes and made in the same meticulous way that Champagne is. The only real differences, actually, between the two is that only wines made in the Champagne region of France can be called that. Other French sparklers made in the same way but elsewhere – Alsace, the Loire Valley, Limoux, Savoie and, yes, Burgundy, to name a few – are called crémants. A Crémant can also be made from grapes other than the big Champagne three (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier).
A good place to start when sampling through your Crémants is, of course, Burgundy, parent region to Champagne. A stellar version to try is the Clotilde Davenne Crémant de Bourgogne Extra Brut NV ($22). This female winemaker has been a well respected force in Burgundy for years and her Crémant is a fantastic example of her work. Made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this sparkler is bone dry, with notes of tart apple, lemon, bread crust and slate. It is the perfect palate-cleanser for greasy, salty or fatty foods so think fish and chips, cured meats and pastas with cream sauce. Or, for a real treat, go out and grab yourself a big ol’ bag of McDonald’s.
This week, I also popped some Lambrusco – Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosso Reggiano “Labrusca” NV ($18), to be specific. Historically, Lambrusco – a light, fizzy red made from a grape of the same name – has not really been taken very seriously. And, to be honest, it’s not really meant to be. But it has seen remarkable improvement over the years, graduating, in many cases, from a sweet, silly soda-pop bubbler to a lean, refreshing and – hallelujah! – dry sparkler. Made in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, from Lambrusco Salamino blended with 10% Ancelotta, this tart little number is the perfect summer BBQ wine. It’s like taking a handful of super ripe cherries, blackberries and raspberries, drizzling them with the tiniest bit of bittersweet chocolate and topping them with sparkling spring water. Crisp, dry and juicy, this wine is a match made in heaven for sticky ribs, grilled tri-tip and spicy chili.