Sparkling Wines that Won't Break the Bank

By: Alison Sickelka

It's almost time to ring in the New Year. And the occasion just wouldn't be complete with something bubbly to drink at midnight. But that doesn't mean you have to splurge on a $80 bottle of Champagne to make the night special. We spoke with Lorena Ascencios, wine buyer at Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City, to find out the best bets for affordable sparkling wine.

In addition to Proseccos from Italy and Cavas from Spain, both affordable sparkling wines, Lorena also recommends looking for French sparklers not  from the Champagne region. And pair wines with foods from the region they are made: Cavas pair well with seafood and cured fish. When purchasing Champagne, look for smaller producers who make the wine from A to Z; you won't be paying for the marketing dollars that go into the name brand bottles.

Best Bets Under $20
Country: France
Bottle Price: $12.96

This lightly sparkling (petillant), honey-colored white wine is made from Chenin Blanc. The aromas and dose of sweetness will amaze. Think wildflowers, yellow mirabelle plums, and tangy Meyer lemons. The acidity and mineral are just the right balance for the nice sparkle on the tongue. The subtle bubbles cut through the creamy saltiness of ripe and robust cheeses - before or after dinner.

Country: Italy
Bottle Price: $8.96

Prosecco has long been one of our favorite alternatives to Champagne, and this delicious bottle is a perfect reminder of why. It's light, dry, subtly citrusy and endlessly drinkable, and would pair well with salty foods. Scu Do comes to us from a collection of small independent growers in Northern Italy's Valdobbiandene, a sub-region of the Veneto. We think it's some of the best bubbly on the market: perfect  for sipping, savoring, or toasting.

Country: Italy
Bottle Price: $11.96

This wine comes from hand harvested Lambrusco grapes that are crushed and quickly drawn from the skins to create this delicate rose color. It's very friendly on the palate with soft aromas of red strawberries and cherries. Drink chilled and enjoy the bubbles.

Country: France
Bottle Price: $14.99

Some claim this sparkling wine was around before Champagne was ever made. Whether that's true or not, you'll enjoy this sparkler for all it has to offer: smoky and floral aromas, pearly bubbles, and a nice dry finish.

Top Choices Under $60
Country: France
Bottle Price: $29.96

Brigandat is a small organic grower. This is made entirely from Pinot Noir. The wine is dry on the palate with aromas of strawberries and a touch of brioche. It's a great wine to serve guests as they arrive.

Country: France
Bottle Price: $56.99

This wine is a vibrant melange of apples, pears and chalky mineral tones with leesy notes of warm biscuits and gorgeous texture. It's a full-bodied, sophisticated Champagne with vibrant acidty and incredible length..

Bottles Worth the Price
Country: France
Bottle Price: $69.99

This wine is made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes located in the village of Louvois. It's wild with aromas of spice, game, cherries and plums. A vinous Champagne for fans of sophisticated rose Champagne. Rose Champagne is a more difficult to make so it's a bit more expensive. But it's worth the splurge, and it looks great in the glass.

Country: France
Bottle Price: $63.99

This is truly a luxury Champagne. It is made from free-run juice only. It is a barrel-fermented wine, rich and luscious, with aromas of orange blossom, mint, herbs and spice, with fullness and great depth of flavor. This is a favorite food wine for it's rich and giving. It's age-worthy but drinks well today, too.

And to fully enjoy your purchase, Lorena offers a few tips:
1. Don't over chill your sparkling wine.

Champagne and other sparklers only need a slight chill to be enjoyable. Let it warm up a bit to be able to appreciate the aromas in the wine.

2. Don't run out!

You'll get about 6-8 glasses of champagne out of a bottle. It's better to have a few extra bottles then leave someone empty handed at midnight. Don't fear extra. It won't spoil. It will just get better as it sits (provided you keep it away from light and heat). Save it for the next special occasion!

3. Don't be afraid of sweetness.

Everything thinks they don't like sweetness in their wine. But sweetness has a range. A dose of sweet can make for a very enjoyable bottle of sparkling wine.

4. Do drink champagne with a meal.

Don't be afraid to pair champagne with foods. A fuller-bodied champagne pairs excellently with a meal.

What will you be toasting with on New Year's Eve?
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