There are few things more synonymous with the holiday season—especially New Year's Eve—than popping a few bottles of bubbly, toasting with fluted glasses, and celebrating with friends and family. But while bona fide Champagne will usually be on the pricey side, a bottle of great sparkling wine doesn't have to break the bank.
For a bottle to bear the name “Champagne," it has to be made in a specific region of France, usually from grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. More importantly, the wine's highly prized effervescence gets in there via the traditional Méthode Champenoise (Champagne method), when it undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, and the yeast naturally produces those beloved bubbles. The process yields delicate flavors of nuts, orange zest, and even buttered toast.
But top-notch sparklers are now made all over the world, using various grapes and methods. That means you can save lots of money by going with a Champagne alternative, especially since these bottles don't have to meet such stringent regulations. These days, some of them can even rival the real stuff when it comes to quality.
Here are a seven varieties to seek out.
Cremant: These sparkling wines are the perfect alternative to Champagne since they're also made in France using the same method as the premium stuff. Some of the best are made in the neighboring region of Burgundy, but you'll also find great bottles from Loire, Jura, Alsace, and more. The grape varietals, typically Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Blanc, depend on the region, and the flavor profile ranges from white peach to buttered bread, typically with smooth bubbles.
Prosecco: This sparkler from Italy might be the most well-known Champagne alternative. It hails from Northern Italy near Venice and relies on the Glera (sometimes also known as prosecco) grape. It's not made using the Champagne method, however. Instead, the secondary fermentation happens in a tank, and this less expensive and less labor-intensive approach results in a much more reasonable price tag. The resulting wine is also lighter, sweeter, and the bubbles are more aggressive. You'll also detect some floral elements as well as hints of apple and pear.
Muscato d'Asti: Those looking for something on the sweeter side to pair with dessert should consider these frizzante wines made using Moscato grapes from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Like Prosecco, they're also made using the tank method. There are also a few variations—Asti Spumante has more bubbles and is slightly sweeter, while Brachetto d'Acqui is made from Brachetto grapes and is a rosé. All of them, however, have peach-like flavors with a soft finesse.
Other Italian Sparklers: Less well known are the Italian bubblies made using the traditional method, but they're a higher-quality alternative to Prosecco. Look for Franciacorta from Lombardy, made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc grapes. Also noteworthy is Trento DOC, made in the Alto-Adige at the base of the Alps, made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Some of these are so good they can even hold their own against a bottle of true Champagne.
Cava: Spain's sparkling wines are also made using the traditional Champagne method, and a few are aged even longer than the real thing. Most come from Spain's coastal northeast region of Catalonia, but some hail from other regions of the country. The grapes are usually Xarello, Macabeo, Parellada, and sometimes Chardonnay, producing a fresh, dry wine with flavors of apple and sometimes smoke.
Sekt: Named after the German word for sparkling wine, these bottles come from Germany and sometimes Austria. Most of these wines are made using the tank method, but a few are made using the traditional process. Grapes tend to be Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Zweigelt. These wines vary widely but many have a higher minerality with a silky finish.
American Sparkling Wine: Some of the more popular regions for American sparklers include Northern California, upstate New York, and New Mexico. Grapes are typically Chardonnay, and flavors err on the acidic and dry side with hints of apple and white peach. Expect velvety bubbles. The United States doesn't have as many regulations dictating the production of sparkling wine, so some are made using the traditional Champagne method while others are not. Always check the label carefully if you're looking for something particular.