Every reputable restaurant beverage program has its fair share of Champagne options. Thought of as a festive option and a must-have for any celebration, wines from the Champagne region have become iconic simply for the festive joy they bring. Over recent years, Champagne has even become a brand in and of itself and just mentioning the region evokes a feeling of lighthearted sophistication.
However, while a number of restaurant wine lists may feature a wide variety of fantastic offerings, for many consumers, the higher price points can make drinking Champagne on a regular basis unattainable. As such, a growing percentage of sommeliers and beverage directors have started introducing other sparkling wines that can fulfill their customers' search for bubbles, while at a fraction of the cost.
Below, we explore three excellent bubbly options that will liven up any wine list or bar program.
For those beverage programs looking for the closest equivalent to Champagne, Cava offers an excellent replacement at a great value. Whereas many cheap sparkling wines are mass produced, receiving their effervescence with either force-carbonation or tank fermentation in the Charmat method, Cava production is made utilizing the same method that is used to produce Champagne. This method, known as the Champenoise method, involves individual bottle fermentation, a much more labor intensive process that requires a great deal of personal involvement.
Cava can be produced in a number of regions throughout Spain, but the best known area for Cava production is in the Penedes, an area just outside of Barcelona in the Catalonia region. Cava can be either white or rose, depending on the varieties utilized. The primary three grapes utilized in white Cava are Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo, with Trepat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha being blended in to make rose wines.
Much like Champagne, Cava can offer a variety of levels of sweetness, ranging from the syrupy all the way to the austere, bone dry expressions. Additionally, like Champagne, due to the fermentation in bottle, at times many different Cava’s mouthfeel can resemble the flavors presented by the yeasty, brioche, tree fruit driven Champagne wines. Yet while Champagne and Cava share their similarities, there is one staggering difference: the price. While decent bottles of Champagne range between 50-75 dollars, fantastic Cava’s can be found on the market for anywhere between 10-15 dollars, making the wine an excellent by the glass option for a number of restaurant programs.
Another fun Champagne alternative would be Prosecco, a sparkling wine that hails from the Veneto region in Italy. Prosecco is made with the Glera grape and can be made fully sparkling or merely frizzante, or slightly fizzy. Not just relegated to an excellent by the glass option, Prosecco is often a great cocktail topper or a fun alternative to making Mimosas and other sparkling cocktails. The main ingredient in Bellinis, Proseccos are also amazing on their own and can offer fruit forward aromas and a softer, while still fresh palate.
In addition to the more generally known styles of Prosecco that are made on a larger scale utilizing the Charmat method that incorporates tank fermentation, there is also a style of Prosecco known as Col Fondo which are wines that have been bottled with the yeasts to maintain flavor profile and complexity. While these wines could potentially be a bit hazier than their counterparts, the addition of the yeasts within the wine only help to further enhance the unique, flavorful profile that make these wines so special.
A bit of a newcomer to the sparkling wine scene, Pet-Nats, short for Petillant Naturel, are actually the oldest form of making sparkling wine. Known also as Method Ancestrale, with Pet Nat wines, there is only one single fermentation to make the wines sparkling, unlike with both the Cava and the Prosecco that saw double fermentation. Instead, Pet-Nats are bottled before fermentation has completed allowing the pressure and CO2 thrown off by fermentation to build inside of each bottle. As such, the wines become naturally sparkling without the need for any other form of manipulation or intrusion.