Here’s a New Year’s resolution you should adopt right now so you’ll have plenty of practice before January 1:  Drink more sparkling wine.

It’s fun to see the look on people’s faces when you pour them a glass of sparkling wine on an otherwise quiet evening or lazy Sunday afternoon. And there’s no other wine that’s as easy-going around food, ready to take on anything from eggs Florentine to grilled shrimp, roast chicken to takeout Chinese.

We’ve been conditioned to view sparkling wine only as a celebratory drink, and an expensive one at that. But it is so much more. You can find wines made the same way as those vaunted bubblies of Champagne—fermented a second time in bottle, left to age for a long time to develop flavor complexity—all over the world. There’s also a host of terrific sparklers made in faster, less expensive ways. Here are nine to get you started, from light and white through rosy and red, all under $30 and ready for dinner tonight. If you can’t find them in your local wine store, they’re available online.


Domaine Spiropoulos Ode Panos Sparkling Moschofilero

Greece is the word these days: The country is bursting with great wines, thanks to a new generation of winemakers who are rediscovering the country’s ancient vines and vineyards. This sparkling wine is made in Mantinia, a high, cool spot in the Peloponnese where the moschofilero grape thrives. Lightly floral and peachy with crisp lemony acidity, it’s a terrific choice for aperitifs and seafood appetizers like shrimp cocktail or crab cakes. (Gallery photo #1)


Gruet Blanc de Noirs

New Mexico may seem an unusual place to find a fine sparkling wine, but the high plateaus just outside of Albuquerque get downright chilly, allowing the grapes to retain bright, zingy acidity. The Gruet family, expats from Champagne, have been growing grapes here since 1981 and making wines as they would in France: vinifying the classic Champagne varieties chardonnay and pinot noir in the “méthode Champenoise,” with the second fermentation in the bottle. The Blanc de Noirs gets its slight salmon cast from the preponderance of pinot noir in the blend, and its rich, toasty pear flavor from two years of aging in bottle before release. At $17, it’s a steal.  (Gallery photo #2)


Bisson 2014 Trevigiana Glera Frizzante

Prosecco has become madly popular in the U.S., bewitching drinkers with its gentle bubbles and slightly sweet flavors. But not all versions are sweet. This one is bone dry, more mineral than fruity, with lemon and herb notes that make it particularly mouthwatering. It’s also only about 11% alcohol, meaning you can enjoy a glass before dinner and still have your wits about you the rest of the evening. So why doesn’t the bottle say Prosecco? Because it’s bottled with a crown cap—the sort used on beer bottles—which is against the Prosecco region’s rules, but keeps it fresh and easy to open. (Not Pictured)


Patrick Bottex Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille

The “it” wine right now, loved for its bright, hazy red hue, slightly sweet strawberry flavors, and terrific acidity. Patrick and Catherine Bottex have been making wine along the Ain River since the early 1990s, crafting a sparkling wine from gamay as well as the local poulsard. During vinification, the wine is bottled partially fermented and continues to age within the container; creating a spritzy, refreshing wine full of berry fruit. Pull out a bottle at a holiday table: The color and fizz are festive, and the slight sweetness makes it compatible with everything from stuffing through sweet potato pie.  (Gallery photo #3)


Cleto Chiarli 2014 Lambrusco di Sorbara Fondatore

Lambrusco used to mean Riunite on ice, a candy-sweet bubbly red that stormed the U.S. market in the 1970s. Now we have a lot more Lambrusco to choose from, including the sort you’d be served were you dining in Emilia-Romagna, the birthplace of the wine (not to mention the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham that go so well with it). Cleto Chiarli’s Fondatore cuvée is particularly elegant, with delicate bubbles matching the wine’s rosy hue and red-berry flavors.  (Gallery photo #4)


Jansz Tasmania Brut

Tasmania is pretty cold for growing grapes, but that’s an advantage when it comes to making sparkling wine, which needs high acidity for success. Jansz, the first company in Tasmania to try making bubblies, is owned today by the Hill-Smith family, who play an important part in making Tasmania a dynamic wine-growing region: Keep your eye out for light and racy pinot noirs as well as sparkling wines like this one.  Made with near-equal parts chardonnay and pinot noir in the classic Champagne method, it balances creamy apple flavors with brisk, fresh-feeling acidity, an elegant combination.  (Gallery photo #5)


Caves Naveran 2014 Cava Brut

Cava is the smart man’s alternative to Champagne, made exactly the same way. As with many of the best wines in Champagne, Naveran is made by a family that grows its own grapes rather than buying them, giving them full control of the process. The only difference is the grape varieties: this is a blend of the local macabeo, parellada, and xarello. Yet the overall sensation is similar to a fine French sparkler: the bubbles are fine; the scent is smoky and yeasty; the flavors are rich and creamy, tasting of stones and crisp apples, of chalk and brioche, with an uplifting streak of acidity. Pour it with the main course; it can stand up to roast chicken or pork loin.  (Gallery photo #6)


Domaine La Grange Tiphaine 2014 Montlouis-sur-Loire Nouveau-Nez

As part of the interest in “natural wines”—no chemical fertilizers or insecticides on the vines, no added yeasts in the wine, etc.—we are seeing more sparkling wines made by what’s referred to as the “méthode ancestrale,” the old-school way of putting partially fermented wine into bottles and letting it finish fermentation there. The gas produced is trapped in the bottle, resulting in a slightly cloudy, lightly sparkling wine. This one comes from a region in France’s Loire that excels with chenin blanc, a grape that boasts both rich marzipan and stone fruit flavors and bright, zingy acidity. With its fine bubbles, it’s one of the most charming, food-friendly wines you can find.  (Gallery photo #7)


Jean-Luc Joillot Crémant de Bourgogne

Jean-Luc Joillot makes mostly still wines in Pommard and Puligny-Montrachet, two of Burgundy’s most vaunted appellations, but he reserves some grapes for Crémant, what the French call sparkling wines that are made just like Champagne but outside of that region’s borders. The result is a similar balance of fine bubbles and toasty richness—but very affordable. (Not Pictured)


Tara Q. Thomas is Executive Editor of  Wines and Spirits Magazine.

Photography by Terry Allen




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