Looking for a celebratory sidekick to your Oscar Night dinner-and-divination event? Champagne, which is French for “Party in a bottle” has been the gold standard for toasting people’s achievements since the Widow Cliquot was a bachelorette. But while France might command the big-bubbly-bucks, you don’t have to shell out like an A-lister to get something red-carpet-worthy. Elegant, refreshing, and very refined sparkling wines are available from wine regions all over the globe.
Your humble bubblebard has some suggestions:
Dudes, if the Glera grape was good enough for Imperial Rome, trust me, it’s perfect for the little Imperial Roman moment we call the Academy Awards. Prosecco DOC is often, though not exclusively, made from this northeastern Italian native, which yields a straw-colored beverage with a fresher, less aged-tasting character than Champagne, due to its being aged in the “Charmat” or tank method style, rather than in bottles. Mionetto’s lovely rendition of happy-in-a-glass has a fresh-faced, soft and approachable character, and evokes ripe pears and honey, with a balanced acidity and very crisp finish. Prosecco is a great cocktail wine, but don’t be fooled into thinking that means you wouldn’t want to drink it on its own. This stuff is thoroughly delizioso as an aperitif, and a fine accompaniment to a wide range of foods. Prosecco is an extroverted, sociable beverage and gets along well with almost anything you’d think to pair it with.
Lambrusco: Sparkling red wines are a bit confusing for some people, but lambrusco ranks with the dreaded white Zinfandel among misunderstood-because-sadly-mishandled wines. This grape is generally found in the Emiglia-Romagna region of Italy along with some of its more famous neighbors, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and castelveltrano olives. In other words, think rich, unctuous and full-bodied.
This is one of the heavier-bodied iterations of Lambrusco (it can also be found in rosato form, where it often takes on a dominant cranberry note – try Zucchi Lambrusco di Sorbara, a pale rose-colored wine with frothy bubbles and a lot of intense berry notes). The Manicardi Lambrusco, meanwhile, is intense (though translucent) red with violet reflexes. Forest flowers and plums predominate on nose and palate (wonderful violet note). Pleasantly effervescent and lush-textured. About $10.00.
Cava: The Spanish equivalent of Champagne is usually available at a much more wallet friendly price than the French stuff, but do not be fooled into thinking this means it is bush league bubbly. Great cavas have every bit as much care and tradition behind them, they just don’t have the marketing cachet. That’s ok: more for us.
This small batch artisan cava is made from traditional cava grapes Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. (That’s right, Chardonnay haters! Spain awaits you.) The grapes are fermented separately in stainless steel and then carefully blended, (second fermentation in traditional chestnut barrels) resulting in a finely bubble-beaded wine with a bright buttery yellow hue and a nose of tart apples and fresh bread. Amazing on its own, this beauty will happily pair up with seafood, among many other things. It is sensual, gorgeous, and incredibly drinkable. Yours for a mere $13.00
South African Sparkling Wine: Did you know that the second oldest winery in South Africa has been in operation since 1685? I just found this out. Mind = blown.
This is a beautiful pink NV sparkler that incorporates the time-honored-yet-dreaded “saignee” or bleed-off method that gave Zinfandel a bad name in the 1980s. A blend of red varietals is pressed and some of the juice immediately siphoned off, then blended with Chardonnay. The method is old and it is old for a reason; this early-harvested, cool blend is nothing like a headache-inducing hothead white Zin. It’s fresh, youthful, and lovely, with a salmon-pink tone, tasty light-bodied fruitiness, good structure and fine bubbles developed under “cap” fermentation. It is a very good friend to chicken. It is also very comfortable on its own – and hell, it has earned it, with over 300 years of experience. Yours for a $20. The new new is old, people.
And, if you want to go Californian in honor of El Lay’s big night, my Best Supporting Player pick this year is:
A Chardonnay / Pinot Noir blend from the Northern California Coast, this beautiful wine is structured, elegant and clean, equally at home with sashimi or chocolate – it can stand up to something rich and unctuous but also plays nicely with light appetizers and salads. The 2007 bottling is a rich, layered mixture of cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavors, with ghost notes of mandarin and melon and something faintly yeasty. It will cost you about $40.00, for which you could back 2-4 of most of the wines on this list, but it still beats Champagne on price point and it’s a great value for such a gorgeous aperitif.
France—we still love you. It’s totally not personal.