The iconic New Year’s celebration includes a countdown, a kiss and a glass of bubbly. Two of those are free, and the third doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be perfect.
Understanding the different types of sparkling wines can help you understand more about what you might want to buy to ring in 2022.
What Is Champagne?
Real Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France and you often see the world capitalize. There are specific types of grapes used to make French Champagne. Those include pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes, as well as few others.
All that other bubbly that we drink is called sparkling wine. Champagne and sparkling wines are made in similar ways. There are prescribed ways to press the grapes, and then there is a second fermentation, which gives us the bubbles. That second fermentation process is often what separates Champagne from other sparkling wines.
So while Champagne is a sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne, despite our habits of using that name. It doesn’t need to be Champagne to be delicious.
Luckily, sparkling wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be holiday-worthy either. You don’t, as the cast of the award-winning Canadian TV comedy series Schitt’s Creek showed us, have to stoop to “zhampagne.”
One little warning — earlier this year there was a flood of stories about a looming Champagne shortage. While it seems that maybe the dire predictions were overblown, don’t wait until the last minute to get your cheap bubblies.
Types of Sparkling Wine
There is no actual, officially designated Champagne on this list, since it sells for $30 or more a bottle. Champagne-like sparkling wine can taste delicious to both regular wine drinkers and occasionally celebrators.
Here are four other types of sparkling wines to consider.
One of the best known sparkling wines that no one calls Champagne is Prosecco. Prosecco originated in the northeastern part of Italy, named after a little town in Trieste. Prosecco is more affordable than Champagne because the second fermentation happens in a vat, and then it is bottled. Champagne does its second fermentation in each individual bottle. Prosecco tends to be on the sweeter side.
There are two main types of Prosecco. Spumante is full on bubbly. Frizzante is fizzier, with lighter bubbles.
Rosé wine is made from dark-skinned grapes and some grapeskin, but not enough to call it red wine. Dark-skinned grapes may be left to macerate (soften in liquid), and then are blended in with other grapes. Sparkling Rosé is fermented in a closed container, so the carbon monoxide can’t escape, instead choosing to live life as delicious bubbles.
A lot of sparkling rosés from California use just the pinot noir grape. Sparkling rosé can be sweet or dry.
Spanish winemakers’ process for making Cava is similar to that of French Champagne, by doing the second fermentation in the bottle. One of the things though that makes it more affordable, is that the Spanish have machines doing the necessary rotating and tipping bottles during fermentation. The French usually do it by hand.
Cava can have the same robust flavor as Champagne but is lighter, and cheaper, because of a shorter production time. Cava tends to be more dry, or brut.
Crémant is another sparkling wine from France, made outside the Champagne region, but using a lot of the same methods. There are still pretty stringent regulations that must be met to be called crémant. Keep this in mind, since it costs a little less than Champagne but requires almost the same handcrafting and Champagne method to make.
Sparkling Wine Terms
There are a handful of terms that are good to know before popping the cork. Wine isn’t naturally sweet. Sugar is added during the process to make the flavor more pleasing. Paul Mulder of Total Wine & More said that people often think extra dry is less sweet than brut, but that is the opposite of what’s true.
Bruts are the driest designation, with brut zero having no additional sugar. Brut has just a couple of grams of sugar a glass. The dryness makes it an amiable partner with food.
Next is extra dry. Still pretty dry, with maybe 3/4 of a teaspoon of sugar per glass, this goes well with appetizers and light meals.
Demi-sec is the sweeter sparkling wine, which people often serve with dessert. It has at least a teaspoon of sugar in each glass. If you like really sweet sparkling wine, look for doux.
Best Champagne Practices
Whether it is for a toast on New Year’s Eve or just a Thursday night treat, Champagne and sparkling wines benefit from using the right glasses. Make that cheap champagne taste like the famous Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, released to much fanfare earlier this year (and costing more than 12 times as much as any bottle on our list).
“People like stemless glasses because they won’t tip over,” says Mulder. “They can diminish the presentation, though. Champagne flutes make the bubbles concentrate a little more.”
Every sparkling wine listed here would work well in champagne cocktails. We can’t recommend using a good Champagne in your mimosas, since the orange juice would hide the quality. A brut champagne is best when paired with fruit or juices.
Mulder loves the versatility of sparkling wine cocktails. He recommends a bocio, which is the Italian liqueur limoncello mixed with Champagne and lemon peel, maybe using St. Reine Blanc de Blancs Brut, just $14.99 at Total Wine.
“What is the flavor profile? Sweet, dry, in-between? Fruit forward, or crisp? Some people buy by country,” Mulder told us. “You can get sparkling wines at every price point, every tier.”
Here’s a list of 10 sparkling wines that will make toasting in the New Year an absolute, inexpensive pleasure. We’ve given you sources to buy them online but you might be able to find them — or request them — at your favorite spirits purveyor.
Best Champagne-Like Bubbly
Traditional Champagnes made in the Champagne region of France are too pricey for our under-$15 a list. These three are the next best thing to capture the smoothness and balance of French bubbly.
1. Bouvet-Ladubay Saphir Saumur Brut
This French brut is dry and crisp, and can be paired with appetizers or solo. Your taste buds will detect nectarines or peaches in the mix ($12, Sherry-Lehman Wine & Spirits Merchants).
2. Domaine Saint Vincent Brut
Very traditional flavor profile, with a green apple start and citrusy finish, this is the classic brut Champagne-like taste. Even though it is brut, there isn’t a prominent acidity to it ($14, Wine Chateau).
3. Korbel Extra Dry
If brut is too dry, Korbel is a light, crispy choice, easy on the wallet and tongue. It’s probably the best known cheap champagne-like sparkler out there, for good reason ($13, korbel.com).
Prosecco is Italian sparkling wine, and is often touted as a great accompaniment to appetizers. We recommend these three for that, but also for toasting the new year.
4. La Marca Prosecco
When you see that beloved sky blue label, you know the party is starting with my favorite cheap Prosecco. Maybe get two bottles, since it is very easy to drink ($12, Total Wine).
5. Fascino Organic Prosecco NV
Fascino makes the frizzante–type Prosecco, with light, tickling, fruity bubbles. Plus it’s organic. It’s a blend of different vintages, which keeps the price low and quality high ($13, Giannone Wine & Liquor Co.).
6. Mionetto Prosecco di Treviso Brut
This is a consistently highly rated cheap Prosecco, with a slight taste of tropical fruits and a smooth, creamy feel. It is less sweet than traditional Prosecco ($13, Wine Searcher).
California winemakers often use pinot noir grapes solely in their sparking rosé but other producers use a blend of red-skinned grapes. Our budget suggestions here come from Chile and Oregon.
7. Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé
There are a lot of reasons this is the best sparkling rosé on the list. The climate for Chilean wine making is perfect, and using Prosecco-like methods keeps the costs low. Berry and fruity flavors with strong bubbles that soften after a minute ($11, Vivino).
8. Del Rio Vineyard Estate Rosé Jolee
This demi-sec rosé has a creamy, citrusy and tropical flavor, and tastes way more lush than its price indicates. These Oregon winemakers balance sweetness with acidity, so there’s the right amount of each ($15, Del Rio Vineyard Estates).
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and tends to be sweet and dryer than French Champagne.
9. Loxarel Amaltea Cava Brut Natural Penedes NV
This is an exciting wine discovery! This Spanish winemaker uses organic and biodynamic viticulture methods, combining older traditions with newer science. Consider it fabulous ($14, PJ Wine).
10. Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut Cava
Made with the centuries old Cava traditions, this robust and fruity Cava pairs well with seafood and cheeses, or with that midnight toast and kiss. A refreshing drink that tastes similar to brut Champagne ($13, Marketview Liquor).
The Penny Hoarder contributor JoEllen Schilke writes on lifestyle and culture topics. She is the former owner of a coffee shop in St.Petersburg, Florida, and has hosted an arts show on WMNF community radio for nearly 30 years.