Tradition tells us to welcome the new year by popping the cork on a bottle of Champagne. But the price of true Champagne can blow a hole in your budget. It runs between $25 and several hundred dollars a bottle, according to Epicurious’ primer on Champagne.
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson wondered if most of us can tell the difference between real Champagne and a less-expensive sparkling wine. He conducted an informal test with a handful of volunteers. It wasn’t science, just fun. Our critics did a blind taste test on a $10 sparkling wine and a $50 Champagne.
The result? Mon dieu, Le Pew! Most liked the cheap stuff best. A few sophisticated wine connoisseurs on the panel did, however, prefer the real Champagne. They were in the minority, though. Watch the reactions in the video below, and then keep reading for 10 less expensive alternatives to Champagne.
What’s the difference?
Many of us use “Champagne” to describe sparkling wine. But real Champagne is made in one particular region of France.
“Champagne is made of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier and fermented in a labor-intensive procedure,” says USA Today.
Drink of royalty
In the Middle Ages, French kings were crowned by tradition in the city of Reims. After the coronation, the court would spend time in the nearby region of Champagne, Becky Sue Epstein, author of “Champagne: A Global History,” wrote in a Bloomberg article.
The nobility grew to love and appreciate the wines of Champagne. Demand for sparkling wine grew over the centuries, both in France and England. Champagne was well-positioned to benefit, because its rivers offered routes for transportation. Its fortunes were boosted by the 18th century French ruler Louis XV, who promoted Champagne wines, boosting their reputation and linking them with royalty.
“Over the ensuing centuries, as New Year’s Eve evolved from a religious festivity to a secular one, the concept of a drink fine enough for the gods became intertwined with Champagne’s reputation as a celebratory extravagance,” Epstein wrote.
10 Champagne alternatives
In your quest for affordable bubbly, avoid wines under $10 in order to sidestep the hangover for which super-cheap sparkling wines are famous, David Speer, one of Food and Wine magazine’s top 10 sommeliers of 2013, told USA Today. Cheaper sparkling wines have plenty of added sugar, which, like alcohol, dehydrates you, crushing your skull the next day.
For a drink festive and affordable, here are 10 excellent fizzy alternatives to Champagne:
1. Sparkling wine cocktails. Dress up an inexpensive sparkling wine by using it in a sophisticated concoction.
- Martha Stewart has 18 recipes for sparkling cocktails.
- LearnVest suggests dolling up a bottle of prosecco or cava with two cups of pomegranate juice and a squirt of lemon juice.
Sparkling prosecco wine, from Italy, “smells fruitier and has less of the ‘yeasty’ characteristic of Champagne,” Jay Youmans of the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C., told USA Today. Here are several recommendations:
2. Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico ($18 to $20). Fox News calls this wine “an elegant, easy-drinking prosecco that’s very dry and very crisp.”
3. La Marca Prosecco ($12 to $16). Wine blogger Ryan O’Hara (The Fermented Fruit) calls this wine “delicate and understated in its approach – somewhat unusual and refreshing in wines at this very reasonable price point.”
4. Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco D.O.C. ($9 to $10). Rachael Ray recommends Cupcake’s dry, affordable prosecco (“subtle nectarine notes and a clean, lemony finish”) for use in cocktails.
5. 89 Le Colture NV Fagher Brut (Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore) ($16). Wine Enthusiast magazine says, “Prosecco is often painted as a low-cost Italian sparkling wine made in industrial quantities. But nothing about Prosecco Superiore is easy or cheap, although many boutique producers offer the highest quality at attractive prices.”
Crémant French wine is a close cousin to Champagne. It is made with the same method but in other regions. Crémant de Bourgogne, for instance, is made in the Burgundy region.
6. Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($15 to $20). “A Champagne-style rose with rich, lush, fruity taste that is sure to be a crowd pleaser,” says Fox News.
7. JBC #69 Brut Rose Cremant de Bourgogne ($20). Bloomberg’s Elin McCoy calls this wine “a good fizz for the price.”