Choosing a Budget-Friendly Bubbly

By Mary Ann DeSantis Photography courtesy of Tony DeSantis, Vindulge.com and Gourmet Wedding Gifts Blog

Selecting a champagne or sparkling wine for your wedding reception can be overwhelming with so many choices. Toast to happiness, love and good health with these suggestions for all budgets.

Wine has been a part of wedding sacraments long before crystal flutes were invented. From Greek mythology to Old Testament scriptures, wine has symbolized life, vitality and abundance — all subjects of many toasts to the bridal couple. Centuries ago, the French made wedding toasts even more fun when they dropped toasted bread into the wine goblets just as the ancient Romans did. The Romans were trying to temper the taste of acidic wine, but in France the bride and groom were racing to get to the soggy lump first. The winner, supposedly, would rule the household.
Luckily, champagne has come to epitomize romance more than who will be the boss. A picture-perfect moment is born when the couple, with arms twisted like pretzels, sips their beverage of choice from a flute. If it tastes “like the stars” – as the famed Dom Perignon supposedly described – then it’s all the better.
To be legally called “champagne,” the wine must come from the Champagne region in eastern France. Sparkling wines from any other French region are known as “crémants” – a less expensive sparkling wine usually made from the same grape varietals as champagnes.
A nice glass of “bubbly” is inviting and enjoyable, and while good champagne is always a hit, it can be expensive. More couples are discovering Italian prosecco instead of champagne – not only because it’s less expensive but also the sweeter taste more often appeals to American palates.
A bottle of good champagne that’s not too sweet or too dry will average about $50. Prosecco, by comparison, runs about $25 or even less. Cost and complexity are not the only differences; the grapes are also different. Champagne usually contains chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes, and American sparkling wines usually contain a blend of those same grapes. Prosecco, however, is produced primarily from glera grapes, which are native to Italy’s Veneto region. Therefore, the flavors will be different. Prosecco is often characterized by notes of tropical fruits, hazelnut, vanilla, and honeycomb. Champagne offers a “toastier” version of these flavors and more, including peaches, cherries, or raspberries.
Once known as “the poor man’s champagne,” prosecco’s quality has improved so much that sales are growing. According to Nielsen.com’s Newswire, prosecco sales were up 32 percent in 2015 while champagne grew by only 8 percent that same year. In Britain, prosecco sales have already jumped ahead of champagne. In the U.S., prosecco sales account for 14 percent of all sparkling wine sales.
Other regional specialties are also excellent choices for weddings and special occasions. If budget is a concern, consider Spain’s sparkler, called “Cava,” or Asti Spumante from Italy’s Piedmont region. The sweeter, lower alcohol Asti Spumante is typically used as a dessert wine. Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. also produce some delicious sparkling wines at exceptionally competitive price points.
With more than 4,000 champagne producers in France and even more sparkling wine producers worldwide, it’s hard to know which one to choose for your special day. Buying from a reliable producer whose consistency has been proven year after year is the best guarantee for getting a wine that your guests will enjoy.
The following suggestions and suggested retail prices are by no means comprehensive, but these producers have excellent reputations:

BUDGET FRIENDLY
Domaine Chandon Brut, about $25 for non-vintage. The best French traditions and methods are combined with New World innovations to create this California sparkling wine.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut, about $12. A full-bodied cava from Spain, the exceptional taste of apples, pears and citrus belies its reasonable price.
Borgoluce – Rive di Collalto, Valdobbiadene, Prosecco Superiore DOCG, about $21. Borgoluce is dry, yet harmonious, with a fragrant bouquet of wisteria and acacia.

ELEGANCE FOR UNDER $100
Moet & Chandon Rosé Imperial, about $50. A romantic and sensual French champagne that is fresh and fruity.
Veuve Clicquot Non-Vintage Brut Yellow Label, about $50. Refreshingly smooth and creamy, this French champagne is not too sweet for the wine connoisseur nor too dry for the novice wine drinker.
Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut, $40 to $50. Highly rated by both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines, this full-bodied and classic champagne is composed mostly of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes from the region around Reims, France.

LUXURY BUDGET
Dom Perignon, current average price is $198; higher for some vintages. Considered the “champagne of champagnes,” Dom Perignon is a classic that is highly coveted and only produced from certain vintages. Some vintages can be cellared for many years. Wealthy parents have been known to buy a vintage from the year their child was born to serve at a wedding years later.

hampagne Trivia
Wedding cake pairs best with sec and demi-sec (sweet and semi-sweet) sparkling wines. The brut and extra-brut are better as aperitifs or throughout the meal.
All champagne was sweet until about 1850.
A bottle of champagne contains 45 to 50 million bubbles.
The late Marilyn Monroe drank and breathed champagne “as if it were oxygen,” according to her biographer George Barris. She supposedly once took a bath in 350 bottles of champagne.
Vintage champagne must contain 100 percent of grapes from a single vintage year.
Non-vintage champagnes are blends from several years of harvests; more than 80 percent of champagnes produced are labeled non-vintage.
Drink non-vintage champagne right away; vintage champagne can be kept 10 to 15 years.

TRIVIA SOURCE: “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” by Kevin Zraly. Publisher Sterling Epicure, Copyright 2014.

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