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Whenever it’s time to celebrate, whether it’s a job promotion, a wedding or maybe just because it’s a Friday night, there’s no better way to do so than with a bottle of bubbly. While such celebrations might make you instantly picture a bottle of Champagne and nothing else, the world’s best sparkling wine isn’t limited to Champagne.
Of course, Champagne is still king (or queen, if you prefer) of the sparkling wine world. It probably always will be, especially around New Year’s Eve. But there are several other delicious sparkling wines on the market, and there are lots of good reasons to reach for something besides Champagne, including price, taste and personal preferences.
“When people think about bubbly, they think about Champagne. Still, Italian Prosecco is actually the top in production,” Erica Taylor, Certified Specialist of Wine, told SPY. Taylor runs Uncorkified, a wine marketing platform, and is the head of operations for the South African Sommeliers Association. She added, “Prosecco tends to have slightly larger bubbles and can be sweeter.”
That’s a good news-good-news situation for sparkling wine lovers. Not only is Prosecco more affordable compared to Champagne, but lower-priced bottles of Prosecco are usually delicious and worth drinking, which is not always the case with cheap Champagne, and the same goes for many other types of sparkling wine.
Whether it’s a Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy or even a bottle of home-grown American sparkling wine, each of these regions has something different to offer your taste buds. When choosing the best sparkling wines for your next celebration, we recommend thinking about what you enjoy most and choosing accordingly, regardless of what the bottle is called or where it is from.
To identify the best sparkling wine from around the world, we consulted a variety of wine experts and winemakers. The only thing they agreed on for sure? Choosing the best sparkling wine is entirely subjective. Below, we’ve presented some of the top bottles from the world’s best sparkling wine regions. Our list, of course, includes Champagne, but you’ll also find a whole host of alternatives to try. And if you don’t have a reason to celebrate or can’t think of one, why not cheers to trying something new with one of these popular bottles?
Champagne is truly the industry standard for sparkling wines of character with great potential for cellaring. The Champagne region of France is extremely protective of the label Champagne, which is reserved for select bottles produced in this French winemaking region.
So what makes Champagne so special?
“The influence of ‘terroir’, or ‘a sense of place’, is reflected in the wines, giving them unique flavor profiles that are given life according to the producer’s historical style,” said Elise Cordell, Pernod-Ricard National Champagne Ambassador.
The Champagne region also has a whole lot of bragging rights when it comes to sparkling wine. “While the Champenois didn’t invent the process of sparkling wine as we often hear, they did help to perfect it using their agricultural expertise and high standards of production, which are regulated by the Champagne AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée),” said Cordell.
They also created a system that delineates the villages into levels of quality, with Grand Cru being the best. “Out of 319 villages, only 17 have Grand Cru status,” said Cordell. “The cool continental climate is challenging for viticulture, but the region excels in growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that maintain high levels of acidity, which is essential for premium sparkling wine.”
They also use quite a bit of Meunier, a variety that buds later in the season, protecting it from inclement weather like frost and hail, and adding lush fruity flavors to the wines. Finally, when it comes to bubbles, Champagne is the absolute best in the sparkling wine world.
“This is the only category in the wine world where I believe in this absolutely,” said Gianni Cavicchi of One19 Wine Bar + Food in New York City. The region north of Burgundy and to the west of Paris has been obsessed with perfecting bubbles for over 300 years. “Champagnes are made in the traditional champenoise method of creating tiny bubbles during a secondary bottle fermentation,” said Cavicchi.
If you’re looking for the absolute best Champagne in the world, look for Grand Cru bottles. Our experts also shared some recommendations, which we’ve gathered below.
Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut 2013
“To demonstrate the prowess of the Champagne region, I think it’s important to highlight a prestige cuvée that is also a vintage release… Vintage champagne naturally expresses the characteristics of its particular year and terroir, and the personality of Belle Epoque can be described as harmonious and elegant due to the influence of Chardonnay,” said Cordell.
Only made in the best years, Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque is crafted from grapes grown on some of the most admired plots of land in Champagne, most notably in the Côte des Blancs from the Grand Cru villages of Cramant and Avize. The wine captivates the senses, with its bright gold color and persistent bubbles carrying nuanced flavors such as white flowers and white-fleshed fruit.
G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon Rosé
Another top selection is G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon Rosé. It expresses an intense, fruity character with rich aromas of wild blackberries, typical of Pinot Noir cultivated in the northern villages of the Montagne de Reims. This wine evokes flavors of crunchy fruit, like red berries and currants, and is made of 60% Pinot Noir, according to Cordell. Produced using assemblage, winemaker Laurent Fresnet blends in a percentage of still red wine vinified from their vineyards before the second fermentation, giving the finished Champagne a vibrant salmon color.
“The story of Maison Mumm is one of the legendary terroirs and a penchant for innovation, leading to a bold, rich style of champagne,” said Cordell. “Chardonnay is included in the blend for minerality and Meunier for ripe fruit characteristics, so the wine maintains a balance of power and finesse.”
Pol Roger, Brut Reserve, Champagne NV
Pol Roger’s Brut Reserve is a classic, elegant Champagne, and the bubbles possess a lot of finesse. This wine is aged for at least 5 years before release (extra aged in chalk tunnels that hold a consistent temperature of 50F). Founded in 1849, Pol Roger is still family-owned and operated but has a lot of history — legend has it Winston Churchill drank two bottles a day.
“It is straw golden in color with explosive bubbles and notes of warm buttered brioche, green apple, tangerine, and a creamy texture,” said Cavicchi.
Alsace + Burgundy, France
France has terrific sparkling wines beyond the Champagne region though. Also, not being restricted by Champagne rules, other grapes like Pinot Blanc can be used, giving winemakers more options and opportunities to explore.
“Both Champagne’s neighbor Burgundy and further out Alsace make delicious Cremants, almost the same quality of wine for a fraction of Champagne — and they also pair well with any food,” said Cavicchi.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose NV
“It’s my favorite lower price alternative to Rose Champagne, which tends to be very expensive,” said Cavicchi. “Made of 100% Pinot Noir it has red fruit flavors like strawberry, red currant and sour cherry, bright and delightful. The complexity of this rose works with regional Alsatian dishes like tart flambee (the pizza of Alsace) and Boudin Blanc with sauerkraut but it’s versatile and will work with any other cuisine.”
JJ Vincent Cremant de Burgogne Brut, NV
“Made entirely from Champagne, this crémant is reminiscent of a Blanc de Blancs champagne — crisp, bright and juicy,” Cavicchi told SPY. It is very versatile and will pair with a wide range of dishes like escargot, fish and chips, chicken wings and grilled cheese.
Napa & Sonoma
Napa Valley is a winemaking powerhouse because it has a diverse climate and unique terroir. As such, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s finest bottles of sparkling wine are produced in Northern California.
“While the region does produce some of the most iconic, full-bodied reds, the Los Carneros AVA (American Viticultural Area) spans across both Napa and Sonoma and has more of a coastal influence from the San Pablo Bay,” said Cordell.
This means that there is a cooling fog that blankets the vineyards in the morning and cool breezes in the afternoon to shield the grapes from the intense sun exposure that permeates other nearby wine regions. “Typical grapes used for sparkling like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay need that diurnal shift and a more gradual ripening process to reach their full potential,” said Cordell. “Some producers also use grapes like Meunier and Pinot Gris in their sparkling blends to bring out richer, brighter fruit characteristics. Many producers use Methode Traditionelle to make their sparkling wine, which is the same process used in Champagne. The result is a more balanced wine, with creamier bubbles and a crisp finish, perfect for any occasion.”
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige
“I selected Brut Prestige as my top pick from Napa because it best illustrates how the heritage of Champagne combined with the terroir of Napa Valley and has won more medals than any other in its class,” said Cordell. “Under the guidance of winemaker Tami Lotz, the grapes are hand-harvested during the crisp morning hours to ensure they arrive at the winery in pristine condition. After 18 months of aging on the lees, the finished wine features bright citrus, red apple, stone fruit, and creamy vanilla aromas, with hints of toast, honey, and gingerbread spice.”
Each harvest, the Brut Prestige blend is comprised of the best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris selected from up to 50 grower locations throughout the Napa appellation. Its vibrant flavors are balanced by fine acidity and a rich, lingering finish.
Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Brut, Sparkling, 2017
Domaine Carneros was founded by the classic Champagne Taittinger from France and is made in the same traditional method as Taittinger’s Champagne, so it’s a great value compared to classic Champagne.
“It ranks and scores right up there with top champagne houses so at $34 it is a deal,” Cavicchi tolld SPY. He added, “Also, Domaine Carneros’ ability to age is fantastic. You can cellar them or pop them now and have two different experiences as these wines are built to evolve. In terms of flavors and texture, it has a full body, pale golden hue with persistent bubbles and notes of honey, toasted almonds, pear and fresh lemon.”
Often called the Champagne of Spain, Cava is produced in the same method as its expensive French relative. However, Cava production has fewer rules and can be made all across Spain and with up to seven different grapes, which means Cava winemakers are less restricted.
“The three most commonly used grapes are indigenous to Spain and are all white grapes; Macabeu, Paralleda and Xarel-lo. Cava producers can also use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell. My favorite Cava’s come from Penedes, a wine region right beside Barcelona,” said Cavicchi.
If you’re searching for the best sparkling wine from Spain, then our experts recommended popping one of the bottles below.
Juve & Camps, Reserve de la Familia, Gran Reserve, Cava 2017
The wine has a pale lemon hue with aggressive bubbles, notes of fresh pear, lime zest with a biscuity bone-dry finish. “I came across this classic while visiting Barcelona years ago and taking in the local tradition of sharing a bottle of cava while watching a fountain show at sunset. I highly recommend doing this,” said Cavicchi.
If Champagne is the bubbly of choice for a European royal court dinner, then Prosecco is the go-to drink for a fun bottomless brunch in the East Village. Compared to Champagne, Prosecco is usually more fruit-forward and sweeter than bottle-conditioned sparkling wines.
“Prosecco comes from the vineyards in the Veneto near Venice and features the Glera grape,” explained Cavicchi.
“The wine offers fresh and rich fruity aromas of cherry and pomegranate with a hint of citrus fruit that fades into the floral bouquet,” said Jessica Green, a sommelier, wine educator and owner of Sayville, Long Island-based Down The Rabbit Hole Wine Boutique. Fresh and fruity, and with fine bubbles, this is a fun bottle of bubbly that pairs well with everything from appetizers to dessert.
Col di Luna Flora Brut, Prosecco, NV
“I found this prosecco at an industry wine tasting and it immediately caught my attention. Super fresh flavor, organic and very modern packaging. I now feature it on tap at One19 Wine Bar, it’s pale straw in color with agitated bubbles, notes of Asian pear and white flowers, and lemon acidity,” said Cavicchi.
If you follow all things royal, you’ll probably want to try a sparkling wine poured at an actual royal wedding or two. So even though England might not top the list of the world’s best sparkling wine regions, there are some English bottles worth a closer look.
“One of the most interesting regions to me right now is southern England,” said Laura Pauli, Certified Sommelier, of Cucina Testa Rossa. (Yes, you heard that right, Southern England). “While global warming has not been a friend to our polar ice caps, it has helped grapes ripen at higher latitudes than in the past,” said Pauli.
The soils in the Champagne region that produce those beautiful grapes are limestone and chalk, the same soil found in southern England. “With the same soil and now warmer temperatures, we are seeing some spectacular sparkling wines sail from those white shores,” said Pauli.
Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée
Here’s a piece of trivia to stump even the snobbiest of wine snobs: Nyetimber’s winemaker, Cherie Spriggs, is the first person ever to win ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ outside of the Champagne region of France.
“I love the spice and toasted brioche aromas with baked apple, almond, and honey on the palate,” said Pauli.
Gusbourne, Brut Reserve 2016
The Gusbourne Estate dates back to 1410 and has also earned its fair share of awards. Pauil recommended that fans of English wines try the Gusbourne Brut Reserve from 2016.
“Their Brut Reserve has aromas of light cherry and strawberry, pastry and spice that leap out of the glass and finish with bright citrus and stone fruit,” said Pauli.
South Africa’s sparkling wine region doesn’t get a ton of press, but that’s starting to change. One of the experts we consulted, Erica Taylor, is based in South Africa, and she said there’s a lot to love and respect about this emerging wine region.
“South African sparkling is called Cap Classique and it is made in the traditional method (how it’s made in Champagne),” Taylor explained. With South African sparkling, you’ll enjoy top quality at an affordable price, and the wines are made from a wide variety of grapes.
Silverthorn The Green Man
This is a perfect sparkling wine for anyone looking for “something light and easy,” said Taylor. If that sounds like your ideal bottle of wine, then this could be the perfect bottle to add to your wine fridge.