From holiday festivities to memorable milestones, a great celebration calls for a great bottle of bubbly. But, like anything else in life, quality is more important than quantity (here, we’re talking price tag). Even the nation’s top wine connoisseurs know that choosing the right sparkling wine does not mean require you going broke in the process. “Expensive bottles are usually the result of more time aged in the bottle and more expensive grapes,” says Mari Coyle, Director of Wine for ONEHOPE. “But there are still great-tasting bottles that are less aged and use less expensive grapes.”
The key to finding the right bottle for you starts with your preferred level of sweetness. “Depending on your taste preferences, it’s important to note which sparkling wine types will be dry versus sweet,” Coyle says. Next up: Know grape flavors. Coyle explains that Blanc de Blanc, for example, is made of Chardonnay grapes, which often evoke crisp apple, pear and citrus flavors, where Blanc de Noir is made from black or red Pinot Noir grapes with red berry flavors. Rosé, on the other hand, is made by blending a small percentage of Pinot Noir into the Chardonnay to make the wine pink. So which bottles will pack a whole lot of celebration into one expensive-tasting, but affordable, bottle under $50? We asked top sommeliers for their best recs.
This non-vintage sparkling wine hails from Champagne, France, so it starts with a level of OG-ness that’s hard to recreate. It features a relatively high proportion of Chardonnay, which exudes an extra crispness and elegance, says Sarah Tracey, sommelier and founder of The Lush Life. “It’s blended with 15-20 percent aged ‘reserve wine’—a true signifier of luxury!” Grab this bottle if you’re in the mood for fresh fruity flavors of apple and citrus combined with nutty notes of almond and elderflower.
If you're trying to stay in a more affordable range, but retain quality and deliciousness, Stacey Khoury-diaz, founder of Dio Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., suggests this California sparkling wine. “The Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 percent Chardonnay is creamy with notes of toast and citrus,” she says. “While not technically a champagne, this sparkling is made in the champagne method, with champagne grapes.” Plus, the winery practices sustainable farming, which is always an welcomed bonus.
“It is impossible not to taste Duval-Leroy's 150 years of Champagne production in every sip of this wine,” says Tim Wallace, staff sommelier at Stowe Mountain Lodge. “Duval-Leroy balances Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through the terroir of 15 different Cru vineyards in Champagne.” So whether you're celebrating with oysters or pork chops, you can pretty much count on Duval-Leroy to go with everything.
When it comes to Champagne, the term “cuvée” means the first-pressed (aka the best) grape juice of the year. You can expect a not-too-sweet, chardonnay-forward blend that has a pleasant, honey scent. “The first sip has a lemon-meringue, creamy taste with a tart finish, and just seconds later your mouth is dry,” says Jeremy Allen, sommelier and general manager of MiniBar Hollywood. “It's more clean than complex and more red apple cider than grape juice, which makes it great for a celebration longer than a one-bottle sitting, or for earlier in the day.”
This American winery from California’s Anderson Valley is owned and operated by Roederer, one of the top houses in Champagne, explains Tracey. “They definitely bring all the care and craft they have cultivated for decades in France to their American outpost.” This bottling, called L’Ermitage, is made only in years where the fruit quality is truly exceptional, so you can expect nothing less than celebratory-worthy flavor.
The straw yellow hue of this dry Champagne exudes aromas of white flowers and summer pear, so it has a soft and delicate flavor. “It smells like fresh laundry in summer,” says Allen, who finds Lanson’s Brut to be a little too lean, so he much prefers the dryer (sec), label. “The White Label is a deeper color with a bigger mouthfeel and only a hint of sugar on the finish,” he adds.
According to Josie Zeiger of MFW Wine Co., this is one of the most readily available Champagnes on the market. “Perrier-Jouët (you pronounce the t) is classic and feminine, made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay,” she says. “It carries notes of fresh apples and lemons with aromas of tropical fruit and spices.” Since it is so elegant and crisp, she loves to see it served with a raw bar, or any light shellfish dish, though it could easily be paired with wedding cake, too.
Gosset only uses juice from the first-pressed grapes of the season and conducts the fermentation process in small oak barrels. This gives the Champagne an unrivaled richness that’s typically found in slow-maturing wines. “The flavors include lemon cake, poached pear, ginger and apple with delicate acidity and a creamy finish,” says Justin Evelyn, sommelier and executive hospitality manager at Bagby Beer in Oceanside, California. “This is a great option if you’re looking for a Champagne to carry you through from aperitif to dessert.”
This intensely salmon-colored rose is a delicate balance of fruity flavors—ripe red currants, cherries, strawberries—with a hint of earthiness. “The nose on this intense, deep pink sparkler is awesome—halfway between meat and cherries, which means it can go with anything,” says Allen. “The blend is about 45 percent white wine from white grapes, 45 percent white wine from red grapes and 10 percent red wine from red grapes.”
This famed Champagne house still delivers quality and consistency year after year, according to Taylor Grant, wine director at Scopa Italian Roots in Venice, California. “It’s robust, yet elegant, with more Chardonnay in the blend than traditional NV cuvées. “It’s a versatile option that guests can enjoy well beyond cocktail hour and throughout the dinner.”
This is a Champagne Zeiger would like to see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle drink this at their 2018 wedding (which, clearly, says a lot!). “Pronounced ‘sawn-GHER,’ this wine is the product of the enology school responsible for training 80 percent of Champagne’s winemakers, where current students are trained by former pupils (now Champagne’s most accomplished winemakers) using grapes donated from some of the most prestigious vineyards throughout Champagne,” he says. “This cuvée is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The bubbles are very fine, the nose presents white peach, apricot and strawberries.”
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“As American wine embarks on its newest frontier, the northeast, Hermann J. Wiemer has been producing world class wines for what feels like forever,” says Wallace. “It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, so it’s marked by serious acidity that help you celebrate with those chickens that have been on the rotisserie for the past few hours.”