‘Tis the season for bubbles in your glass, but navigating the various shelves of sparkling wines out there can be daunting. When to buy Cava? Prosecco? Champagne? What’s the difference? Should you splurge? Save? And what’s up with pét-nat, again?
To avoid buying the wrong bubbly and letting it go to waste, ask yourself these questions first: Where will you be enjoying this bottle of bubbles? An intimate dinner party? A raucous New Year's Eve rager? A festive brunch? Few things depress like a bottle of Champagne languishing in an ice bucket while your friends crack can after can of Bud heavy. We’ve all made that mistake. Don’t do it again. Follow our tips to make sure you pick the right bottle for your celebration, whether it's big or small, posh or casual.
In general, the more people in attendance at an event, the less you want to spend on bubbles. Sure, you want to make a good impression, but it’s better to find an interesting bottle of Cava and call it a night. Office party? No one is paying attention to anything except not humiliating themselves in front of your boss. Brunch with your best gals? Pét-nat time! The goal this time of year should be to bring something delicious and unique, not to blow your money on one bottle. Find something fun, ask your local wine shop to give you a few cool facts you can spiel, and go confidently to that party with something you don’t feel a moral obligation to fuss over. The one exception? An evening with the in-laws. That calls for Champagne, every time.
And no matter which bubbly they choose, some folks think sparkling wine is for toasts and oysters only. Those folks are dead wrong. Champagne and its brethren are some of the world’s most versatile wines for food pairings, since sparkling wines’ higher acidities and cleansing bubbles keep your palate refreshed and elevate food the same way a squeeze of lemon would. In fact, bubbles have long been an ace up the sleeve of sommeliers everywhere, whether with pizza, duck a l’orange or General Tso’s. My gift to you this season? Make sure you eat while you're drinking sparkling wine, especially if your meal involves Thai, Indian, Chinese, or spice-laden influences.
Overwhelmed with choices? Fear not, bubble-lovers. What follows is a quick-and-dirty guide to help match you with the best bubbly for your celebration, so you can focus on what's really important: the party.
“Champagne” gets tossed around much like “Band-Aid” and “Kleenex”; it’s become a catch-all term for sparkling wine of all provenances. But real Champagne is a sparkling wine that must be made in the Champagne region of France, most often from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier and following a strict method of production. If a sparkling wine comes from anywhere else in the world or doesn’t follow production guidelines, it can’t be called Champagne. That rule is meant to protect the integrity of sparkling wines coming from Champagne, and that region has a vested interest in its brand identity; just like Band-Aid and Kleenex, Champagne producers know that some folks are willing to pay extra for the “name brand” bubbles. If you’re not in the market for the real McCoy, there’s a whole world of non-Champagne bubbles out there.
Cava is a sparkling wine from the Penedes region in Spain, made from a base blend of the native grapes xarel-lo and macabeo. Cavas range from fresh and fruity quaffers to rich, umami bubbles that cry out for cured ham. In general, Cava is often the most Champagne-like for short money.
Prosecco, which hails from the Valdobbiadene in northern Italy, is made from a base of the glera grape and tends toward a powdery, orchard fruit expression. Mimosas in your future? Reach for the Prosecco.
Crémant wines are a category for sparkling wines made in France outside the Champagne region. They could be made in the exact same method, from the exact same grapes, as Champagne (and often are), but they get relegated to crémant status if they’re considered geographically second-tier. Crémant wines are some of the greatest values on the market, though, often with the same razor-sharp mineral snap of great Champagne. Look for wines from the Loire Valley and Jura regions for the most bang for your buck.
And now, for something completely different: Pét-nat wines (short for pétillant naturel) are wines made the old-school way via bottle fermentation. Rustic with a soft bubble, they’re so hot right now (and since they often have a kiss of sweetness, they’re the ultimate mimosa substitute). Ready to explore some of the delicious Pét-nats around right now? Check out this handy guide. And whatever you decide to drink to toast the new year, or any night of the year: Cheers!
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