By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Nothing makes a New Year's Eve party pop like a steady supply of Champagne. But good luck finding true French Champagne for less than $20. With prices for the real thing reaching several hundred dollars a bottle, you could easily start 2013 with a nasty financial hangover. Luckily a number of other inexpensive sparkling wines can fill everyone's flutes without emptying your pocketbook. They come from places like Spain, Italy, and California, rather than the French region of Champagne, and many have good reputations for quality, taste, and value. Cheapism has rounded up nine bottles that will have you sipping pretty this holiday season, and for good measure, we flagged one that fails to impress.Celebrate New Year's with cheap champagne!
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- Roederer Estate Brut (starting at $20) is a California sparkling wine made from a classic mix of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. It has caught the attention of a number of wine experts and consistently scores above 90 points on their 100-point scales. Reviewers have found the wine rich and lively, with a glimmer of vanilla and a clear apple taste.
- Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut (starting at $13) has scored high marks from outlets including Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, which describe it as bursting with citrus and other fruit flavors, as well as a touch of cinnamon that seems suited to cold holiday nights. The winemaker's tasting notes for this California sparkler suggest serving it with sushi or a cheese plate.
- Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry (starting at $9) is an import from Spain and one of the cheapest sparkling wines on our list. Makers of this wine, known as cava, use the same technique as producers of French Champagne but different grapes. This particular cava is also sweeter than the brut sparkling wines on our list. Reviewers note the apple and lime flavors and refreshing finish.
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- Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut (starting at $16) hails from France, just not from Champagne. Still, it wins with experts and consumers alike for its intensity and taste, surpassing even pricey Champagnes in some reviewers' estimation. Most observe that this sparkling wine combines apple and citrus flavors and goes down smoothly.
- Nino Franco Rustico (starting at $12) is an Italian sparkling wine called prosecco, which is made using a different technique than Champagne and its closest imitators. This wine earns 90-point scores from two critics, who call it clean and seductive. They note the peach flavors (perfect for Bellinis) and mark it as an exceptional example of prosecco.
- Naveran Brut Cava 2010 (starting at $13) is a zesty Spanish cava with a beautiful straw-like color and a citrusy nose. Most often you'll see Champagne labeled NV, or non-vintage, which means it's a blend of grapes harvested in several different years. This is a relatively rare vintage sparkling wine. A 90-point review in wine guru Robert Parker's Wine Advocate newsletter notes aromas of white peach and honeysuckle.
- Mionetto Prosecco Brut (starting at $10) is another Italian prosecco that's light, fruity, and gently fizzy. Accolades have come from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Among consumers, even online reviewers who generally enjoy sweeter wines don't find this crisp sparkler too dry.
- Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (starting at $7) is a Spanish cava described as dry, fresh, and certain to please over the holidays. More than one outlet has recognized the sparkling wine as a terrific value; Wine Enthusiast named it a best buy.
- Gruet Brut Rosé (starting at $16) is made with pinot noir grapes grown in New Mexico and displays a rosé's trademark pink color. This domestic sparkling wine features berry and cherry flavors and has drawn praise from Wine Spectator, which awards it 88 points.
- Korbel Brut (starting at $10) is a top seller, perhaps in part because it's the only wine on this list with the word "Champagne" on the label. The California-based producer uses the term under a grandfather clause in a 2005 trade agreement, much to the chagrin of many in France. If you know to look for sparkling wines other than Champagne, however, you can find better bottles for around the same price. Consumers who have reviewed this one online have called it lackluster, although they do suggest it would suffice for mimosas at a New Year's Day brunch.
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A short note about sweetness: The terms "brut" and "extra dry" refer to the amount of sugar in a sparkling wine and indicate the level of sweetness you can expect. Brut bubblies are by far the most common and contain less than 12 grams of sugar per liter. Extra dry sparkling wines are actually sweeter rather than drier, with up to 17 grams of sugar per liter.
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