Finding the best Champagne under $25 can involve a search for both Champagne and sparkling wine. You don't need a wedding or a New Year's Eve celebration to uncork a bottle of bubbly. In fact, Champagne, or sparkling wine, can put a bounce and swagger in your step on any humdrum day.
Only Nonvintage and Méthode Champenoise Will Do
Start your search with a few points to use as guidelines to pick your Champagne:
- First, it will be improbable to find vintage Champagne for less than $25. Champagne in this case refers to the bubbly liquid from the French appellation. Otherwise, the correct term to use is sparkling wine. And vintage won't apply unless you double or triple your ante for a bottle.
- Second, avoid any of the Charmant selections. It's the faster, lower-cost method for making sparkling wine and most of the time will be discouraging rather than encouraging. Instead, look for Méthode Champenoise the traditional production method as accomplished in the French Champagne region. This method is more labor intensive and expensive, and produces the better effervescent sparkle and structure.
Best Champagne Under $25: France, United States, Spain and Italy
As a general rule, you may have look under a few rocks to find a French Champagne less than $25, but it is not an impossible task; just don't expect a Dom Perignon. The best Champagne under $25 will be sparklers from California or Washington, Proseccos from Italy, Cavas from Spain, and even some of the Crémants from various French appellations. Choices will not necessarily be limited to a particular style either, one can still find their favorite Brut, Blanc de Blanc, or Rosé and still have a festive time.
This is a tough category to crack for true sparkers from Champagne. The toughest deals to find are from the "grande marques." These are the big boys like:
- Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin
You may be able to grab a special on these big names or on the cooperatives like Nicholas Feuillate that sometimes may sneak in under the $25 price wire. The ones that offer the best hope are in the 'grower-producer" variety, the family cellar that grows, produces, and sells its own Champagne. The problem is the limited volume and distribution for these grower-producers, but look for a direct export to a wine retailer and you're in business.
The alternative if you want to do French is to look to the Crémants from other appellations that still use Méthode Champenoise. Try Crémant D'Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, or Crémant de Limoux for good values that, although they do not have the depth of structure or character of a Champagne, still deliver a sparkling party in a bottle.
In recent years, wine prices from France have risen. This makes it difficult to find French Champgnes for under $25. One way to do this, however, is by shrinking your bottle. Smaller bottles such as splits allow you to enjoy French Champagne, with the added benefit of not having leftovers.
- Pommery, Champagne: Champagne Pops, NV. This Champagne comes in small (187 mL), individually-sized blue bottles. It is a smooth, extra dry Champagne.
- Nicolas Feuillatte, Champagne: 1/4 Brut NV. Wine Spectator recognized this Champagne as very good (89 points) with vanilla, toast, and nuts.
- Saint-Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux: Blanc de Blancs, NV. This one will surprise you. The sparkling wine has been made for centuries in a Benedictine Abbey (Saint-Hilare) in the hills of Limoux, a small and interesting appellation south of Carcassonne close to the border with Spain. The Blanc de Blancs is primarily made of Mauzac with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Apple crisp with a gentle, floral, creamy, and fizzy body.
There are many, many options for excellent bubbly under $25 coming out of California and Washington. Many people believe that sparklers from these two states don't measure up to the gold standard set in Champagne. While flavors may be slightly different, style and production methods are essentially the same as in Champagne. What California and Washington miss in their sparklers is that trademark Champagne biscuity-yeasty-doughy character. Just chalk up the variations to a difference in terroir, notably the unique chalky soil in the Champagne region that is tough to duplicate. Many of the foreign Champagne houses from France own and operate the sparkling wine cellars in Napa, Sonoma, and California. One bit of advice is to stick with the producers that focus strictly on sparkling wine.
California and Washington Bubbles
- Domaine Carneros, Napa Valley, California: Brut Cuvèe, 2002. Domaine Carneros is owned by Rheim's Taittinger. Their Brut is worthy of their Taittinger heritage. The 2002 Brut is sparkles with pear and apple crispness, a touch of hazelnuts, and closes with fresh dough and French finesse. The Domaine Carneros' Château is perched on a hill overlooking appellation and makes a great place to stop on a wine tour either to Sonoma or Napa Valleys.
- Domaine Chandon, Napa Valley, California: Reserve Brut NV, Brut Classic NV, Blanc de Noirs NV, Domaine Chandon is another French-owned Sparkling Wine cellar, Moët-Chandon. They produce consistent quality and tasty sparklers at a good price. The Reserve Brut can be found at less than $25 and the Brut Classic and Blanc de Noirs can often be found in the $15 to 18 price range. The Blanc de Noirs is a gorgeous salmon-pink and is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. It vibrates with cherries and strawberries and has a delicate creamy denouement.
- Domaine Ste.-Michelle, Columbia Valley, Washington: Brut Classic Cuvèe NV, Blanc de Noir NV, Blanc de Blancs NV. The best thing about Domaine Ste.-Michelle is the sparkling wine mileage one gets from $10 to $12. Produced in the Mèthode Champenoise way, Domaine Ste. Michelle's sparklers are consistent, pleasing, and very affordable.
- Gloria Ferrer, Carneros, California: Sonoma Brut NV, Blanc de Noirs NV. Gloria Ferrer is part of Catalan's expansive Freixenet Group. It's got the worldwide clout of the Freixenet family to give them financial, technological, and distribution advantages. Gloria Ferrer is located in the Carneros region wedged at the entrance of Napa and Sonoma valleys. The Sonoma Brut is made from Pinot Noir, 87 percent and Chardonnay, 13 percent. It's a lively treat with pear-apple-citrus brightness, almonds, creamy toast, and effervescent. The Blanc de Noirs is also a winner, with a touch more of Pinot Noir than the Brut. The result is a more delicate balance of strawberries and black cherries with citrus and bouncy bubbles in the creamy finish. Has a lovely and feminine copper color for a tad of elegance.
- Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley, California: Anderson Valley Brut NV, Brut Rosè NV. Either Roederer's Brut or the Brut Rosè is a no-doubt-about-it choice for a sparkling wine less than $25. Roederer Estate is located up in Mendocino County's cool and oft-foggy Anderson Valley where conditions are not that different than France's Champagne. In fact, one of Champagne's premier cellars, Louis Roederer is the owner and as much as any other California sparkler, Roederer Estate's most closely resemble Champagne's heritage and character. Both the Anderson Valley Brut and the Brut Rosè are winners. Prices are usually listed higher than $25 but you may be able to find them at prices as low as $16 for the Brut.
Spain's Cava and Italy's Prosecco
You can't leave the Champagne category without a brief mention of the Cava from Spain's Penedès region and Italy's bubbly Prosecco. Both Cava and Prosecco have similarities to Champagne; but, they generally don't rise to a good Champagne's heights. They do offer an excellent value with racy quality for a cancion or a canzone.
To be Cava, the sparkling wines by Spanish law must be made in the traditional French way. Look for Cavas from Freixenet, Cordiníu, Cristalino, and Segura Viudas.
If you feel Italian try Prosecco. They are made with the Charmant method and they can be fizzy fun in a pinch. Check out Santa Margherita or Folonari. Prices are all over the place; but, a Cordon Negro from Freixenet can be found for around $10, the same follows for Prosecco.
Difficult to Find but Not Impossible
It's difficult to find a good quality Champagne under $25, but not impossible. Consider broadening your search to include domestic-made sparkling wines, which offer the elegance of bubbly without the higher price tag. While a true French Champagne is expensive, it may also be worth the splurge to celebrate a special event.