We expect a lot from sparkling wine this time of year. It has to taste special — complex, delicious and, yes, expensive — but because we’re likely buying it by the case, it also has to be affordable. That’s no easy trick. Inexpensive sparklers tend to drink like soda pop, with big dumb bubbles and an aftertaste of candy or even chemicals. No wonder: Most are made using the Charmat method, which involves simply injecting vats of wine with CO2.
For our gougères, we want more. And so we tasted through about a dozen serious bottles, all made using méthode champenoise, the traditional process used to make Champagne, in which bubbles are created by a slower, secondary fermentation in the bottle and, in the case of our wines, aged up to 24 months on the lees.
These five bottles — from regions around the world — are the top picks of the tasting and they are also some of the least expensive we tried. In every case, the grapes are handled with care and often estate grown, and the winemaking is traditional and low intervention. The results — yeastiness, complexity, silky texture and excellent mousse — are almost a gift at this price.
1. Suriol 2013 Cava Reserva Brut Nature ($22, Bar & Garden)
This unusual, copper-color blend of grenache and mourvèdre is made on a 600-year-old family estate in the Alt Penedes region of Catalonia, Spain.
Grapes are organically farmed, hand picked, hand pressed and naturally fermented.
Add 24 months’ aging in the bottle and you get a wine of beautiful complexity: fresh, yeasty and bursting with strawberry flavor and fine, creamy bubbles.
2. Krone 2015 Vintage Rosé Cuvee Brut ($20, Spec’s)
The filigreed rose-gold label and foil enclosure look very French, so it’s even more of a surprise that this edgy sparkler is from South Africa’s Tulbagh Valley. Pale pink, with an expansive mousse and a creaminess balanced with high acidity, it’s a glass people will love. (And at 11.5 percent alcohol, bottoms up!) Made from 85 percent pinot noir and 15 percent chardonnay, with rémuage (or bottle turning) done by hand.
3. Chateau de Brêzé Cremant de Loire Rosé ($24, Spec’s)
With golden glints and tons of bright bubbles, this comes the closest to Brut Champagne. It’s made in France’s Loire Valley, a hot spot for wine geeks, and entirely from cabernet franc at an estate that dates to the 15th century. The wine has an underlying saline, savory character that also makes it the most quenching on the table. That’s ideal with the salty gougères and really good the next time the temps hit 110 degrees.
4. Signal Ridge Tiny Pink Bubbles ($18, Central Market)
The top discovery of the tasting. Behind the goofy label is a serious wine from the Anderson Valley in California.
A blend of 75 percent chardonnay and 25 percent pinot noir, it smells and tastes luxurious: yeasty, clean and crisp, with excellent acidity and red fruit, and a lingering, lightly sweet finish. It outshines the more famous sparkler from nearby Roederer Estate, and at about half the price.
5. Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rosé ($9, Goody Goody and other retailers)
This cava from Penedes, Spain, boasts a third consecutive award for Value Brand of the Year from Wine and Spirits magazine, and it’s easy to see why. The blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent trepat is bottle fermented and aged 12 months. It’s less complex than the others, but compelling nonetheless: savory and herbal, rather than fruity and creamy, with notes of rosemary, fennel and thyme.