Sparkling wine isn’t exactly associated with the bargain bin. Part of this is because, for many, sparkling wine simply means Champagne. And Champagne, bless its soul, is not so good at the value game. Second, the production of sparkling wine adds another layer to your standard still winemaking process, rendering most varieties of sparkling wine — notably those made in the Champagne method — more expensive in terms of time and effort. That effort is often reflected in price.
But as more consumers begin considering the merits of sparkling wine beyond dumping it into a hot tub (still love you, Bey) or celebrating an anniversary, producers are clearly seeing an incentive to make small amounts of well-made, affordable bubbly on the side. Which is what most of the wines we chose are: side projects from excellent winemakers otherwise focused on still wines. We selected 12 wines under $25 to taste blind, all picked because they represented well on paper (a bit more on our process via our inaugural column), and ended up with six we loved, from a juicy off-dry sparkling gamay from famed Beaujolais producer Jean-Paul Brun to an earthy Crémant du Jura from Tissot to our favorite wine in the tasting, a bubbly wine from beloved Muscadet producer Domaine de l’Ecu.
For this tasting we were joined by Alice Feiring, wine writer and author of Naked Wine and the natural wine digest, The Feiring Line; Christy Frank, owner of Frankly Wines in Tribeca; Ashley Santoro, wine director at Narcissa; and PUNCH’s New York wine columnist, Zachary Sussman.
Without further ado, our favorites:
Domaine de l’Ecu Vin Mousseux de Qualité “La Divina” NV | $20
One of the most beloved estates in Nantes, in the heart of Muscadet country, Domaine de l’Ecu has been farming organically for more than 40 years. This small-production, Champagne method sparkler is a blend of melon de Bourgogne, chardonnay, folle blanche and a touch of cabernet franc and pinot noir, aged on its lees in bottle for one year before release. Earthy, yeasty and super dry, it drinks like a wine twice its price — or more. [Buy] Importer: Polaner Selections
Tissot Crémant du Jura “Extra Brut” NV | $24
The Tissots are without a doubt among the best producers in the Jura region, so it was no surprise that this topped our collective list. Nutty, floral and fuller bodied than the Divina, but just as dry, this Chardonnay-based, Champagne-method wine is about as good a bottle of bubbly as you can buy at this price point — especially if you like your sparklers with a bit more junk in the trunk. [Buy] Importer: Camille Riviere Selections
Jean-Paul Brun FRV100 “Terres Dorées” NV | $22
The definition of adult soda, this juicy, fruity number from famed Beaujolais producer Jean-Paul Brun is basically summer, carbonated. FRV100 (i.e. “effervescent”—the French love a good play on words) is low in alcohol at 7.5 percent ABV, and while the sweetness is certainly perceptible, the acid is high enough that it finishes clean and dry. If you love the off-dry Bugey sparklers from the Savoie (Patrick Bottex is a house favorite), this is your jam. [Buy] Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections
Miotto Prosecco “ProFondo” Col Fondo 2013 | $14
Before the 1970s, most Prosecco — a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy — was made col fondo, an often cloudy, bottle-fermented style of sparkling generally bottled with the lees (col fondo translates to “with its bottom” or “with its sediment”). While the majority of Prosecco produced is still made in Charmat method (i.e. a method by which the wine goes through a second fermentation in tanks, yielding fruitier, often very simple wines), col fondo is coming back. Shake it up to make it cloudy or stand it up for an hour before opening and pour it off the lees to drink it clear. Either way, this has all of the makings — earthy, herbal and bone dry — of the perfect aperitif wine. [Buy] Importer: N/A (available at Astor Wines & Spirits only)
Ca’ dei Zago Prosecco DOC “Col Fondo” NV | $20
Christian Zago, the current caretaker of the Ca’ dei Zago estate, adheres to his grandfather’s methods to make excellent old-school col fondo Prosecco from the family’s 15-acre estate, which has been farmed biodynamically since 2010. Finding a balance between minerality and fruit, this has bit more roundness and body than the ProFondo, allowing it to boldly go beyond the realm of the aperitif and to the dinner table. [Buy] Importer: Jenny & Francois Selections
Château La Tour Grise Saumur Brut “Non Dosé” 2004 | $19
The oldest wine in our lineup, this 100 percent chenin blanc sparkler — made in the Champagne method — is harvested from vineyards that have been farmed biodynamically since 1998. Aged on its lees for seven years, this is all smoke, flowers, mushroom and dried fruits. A very hot date at less than 20 bucks. [Buy] Importer: Wineberry