Putting together a list of the best sparkling wines isn’t easy, especially when you do so with an eye on affordable wines. The world of sparkling wine is so varied and diverse it can make you dizzy even before you’ve popped the cork. And there’s a certain troublesome element to ranking them because they are so incredibly diverse, and we have by no means tasted every vintage of every wine on the globe, so there’s a certain (okay, huge) amount of Your Mileage May Vary factor here.
Some road rules:
Unless there’s a really good reason why it matters, we’re not specifying vintages. Yes, wines all vary from year to year and sometimes they vary so much it needs to be pointed out. But generally, these are Makers of Bubbleage you can count on year after year, so we’ll refrain from nerding out on the often teensy (but occasionally very significant) variations of one vintage versus another. P.S., high quality sparkling wines can age like a French movie star, developing more nuance and glamor than ever with time. We’ll point it out if something probably ought to skip the cellar and go straight to the fridge.
Do not be distracted by price tiers. We have excluded wines (almost all of them Champagnes) in a price tier that suggests you’d be collecting it rather than drinking it: While certain that Dom Perignon “White Gold” is a lovely wine, we happen to think having a $2,500 price tag actually disqualifies you from being the “best!” So you won’t find anything on this list that exceeds about $300. (Many great ones are more like $10, but heck, sometimes it’s your 60th wedding anniversary or the night you took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role; we get that.) So, wines that cost $15 might be listed ahead of wines that cost $150. Our point is simple: price doesn’t equal quality. Sometimes it just equals snob-cachet. Sometimes $400 Champagnes aren’t readily available to writers and we haven’t tasted all of them.
Comparing sparkling wines from uncountably varied traditions and terrains makes comparing apples and oranges a cakewalk. There are over 100 producers in France’s Champagne region alone, and you could drink a different sparkling wine every day of your life and never get to all of them. The “it’s personal” factor is enormous, and this list might as easily be titled “100 Bubbly Beverages We Would Totally Drink (and might rank differently tomorrow).” Some people happen to hate Chardonnay. Some people prefer their sparklers extremely sweet. Some people hate the pink ones. Each of those people would put different wines on this list. We’ve tried to represent a little bit of everything.
Finally, if you are totally distracted by sparkling wine jargon, here is a handy glossary.
100. Villa Maria Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc ($15)
Hey, a screw-cap sparkling wine! Who knew? This one’s gently fizzy and a little off-dry. It’s Sauv Blanc in the typical New Zealand expression—tropical fruit, tropical fruit, tropical fruit …despite which it manages to be quite refreshing and is a great aperitif. Recommend this bottle for summer picnics and casual backyard get-togethers. It’d be a good Mimosa contender but the mousse is so minimal that it’d probably go pretty flat pretty fast, so I’d say Not A Mixer. But a pleasant warm-weather wine especially for those who like the tropical side of things.
99. Ceretto Moscato d’Asti 2015 ($22)
Moscato d’Asti is not everyone’s cup of … juice, but for those who like their sparklies to be dessert-esque, keep an eye out for the Moscato d’Asti DOC. These wines are made from the rather ancient Moscato Bianco grape, in or around Asti in northwestern Italy. They are sweet, fizzy and low in alcohol. Oh, and if you want your hip-hop cred to be unassailable, please know that this stuff has replaced Champagne (Lucky for you, because try finding Cristal for $20 a bottle.) Ceretto’s Moscato is bright straw-yellow with an intense, perfumed nose (fruity/spicy) with a light-bodied, nicely acid-balanced finish.
98. Zucchi Lambrusco di Sorbara ($16)
Lambrusco is another Italian frizzante that can be a bit divisive. People tend to either love or hate it. Lambrusco di Sorbara is the lighter-bodied, less aggressive clone of this grape, often, rendered as a rosato. Frothy bubbles, and intense red berry notes on the nose. In the mouth, the dominant note is cranberry, with lingering mineral and earth elements. Great Rx for a bored palate! Have it by itself, or try it with charcuterie and cheese.
97. Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut NV ($20)
An Austrian sekt made from the Grüner Veltliner grape, which you more commonly find as a still white. Grüner is a “light-bodied” wine in the extreme; in fact it can be a bit watery if it’s not handled well. Not to worry here. Szigeti’s sparkling version is definitely a casual wine, but it’s not lacking in flavor. Tart acidity, large bubbles and a short, almost sharp finish highlight a strongly lemony character. This is a great, equal-opportunity food wine, refreshing and non-overwhelming and plain tasty. I recently had a spicy Vietnamese clay-pot stew that probably would have gone great with this. It will put heavy sauces in perspective.
96. Masottina Le Rive di Ogliano Millesimato Extra Dry Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG ($20)
Even the name’s a mouthful, but you can just take that as Italian for “this is really, seriously, super high-quality Prosecco.” The designation “Millesimato” indicates a special extra-awesome production run, and the rest of it specifies that this is Official Good Stuff Prosecco from 100% Glera grapes. Personally, I sometimes find Prosecco a little bit … basic. Pleasant but with a limited range. Like it won’t generally disappoint you but it won’t surprise you much, either. This one’s surprising. Rich, straw-colored, with a vivacious and assertive peppery nose, pear and peach on the palate and more herbaceous flavors than many Proseccos, including a minty-eucalyptus note and some hay-like qualities. Great structure, quick finish. Lively and approachable and well suited for parties.
95. Santa Margherita Rosé ($25)
Santa Margherita is better known for Pinot Grigio. They also make this stuff, and it’s quite good. They’re also a good choice for the sustainability-conscious (which should arguably be all of us), with a focus on sustaibable practices in the vineyards and in the winery. Their sparkling pink is not a rosé in the usual sense of taking black grapes and pressing them off the skins—this is prosecco (Glera) to which a small amount of red wine (Malbec specifically) has been added. It’s a lighthearted and free-spirited bubbly with an alpine strawberry character you wouldn’t find in a true Prosecco, and it’s a really beautiful color. The hint of Malbec adds interesting floral dimensions and gives it a longer finish than a pure Glera would often have. I bet it would be great with a white pizza, or roast chicken.
94. Manicardi Lambrusco Grasparossa ($18)
This is the full-blooded red version of Lambrusco and it’s a wines you will either find joyful or off-putting but probably not much in between. Sparkling reds are a bit confusing for some people, and Lambrusco ranks with the dreaded white Zinfandel among misunderstood-because-sadly-mishandled wines. An Emiglia-Romagna native, this wine is dark and rich, very full-bodied and pretty tannic, none of which are things you think of when you think “sparkling wine.” It is kind of fascinating stuff, though. Mysterious and deep, with a clear ruby color and a plummy, black-cherry character. This is a sparkling wine with no problem standing up to grilled meat or aged cheese. Not my first choice for large gatherings because there will be people who plain don’t like it. Great for smaller, more intimate situations with people you already know enjoy experimenting.
93. Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé ($14)
This cava has a cute matte pink bottle that makes it a standout before you even pop the cork. It’s pinot noir-based (considered the best grape for making rosé cava) and strawberry-pink, with berry and apple flavors and a creamy texture. It’s not entirely dry, so those who like a bit of sugar will likely find Anna appealing. This is a great brunch wine but will also happily stay up late. Try it with BBQ or smoked poultry, or chocolate.
92. Cleto Chiarli: “Centenario” Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC Amabile ($11)
Fruity nose, lively mousse, and a great value for a very venerable, high-end name in Italy’s gastronomic paradise, Emilia-Romagna. Deeply colored and a bit—I don’t know … slinky. Generous to intense on the dark red fruit side (I get pomegranate), this is rich and a little sweet. Best served a bit chilled. And maybe paired with other things that come from the same neighborhood, like prosciutto or Castelveltrano olives or cheeses like Parmigiano or Pecorino.
91. Zardetto Private Cuvée Brut Vino Spumante ( $15)
Intense straw color, lovely perlage (that’s French for “the bubbles hang around for a long time”), highly aromatic with lots of peach, pear and green apple on the approach. Floral flipside, with a lemonlike finish. Rich and substantial, but not a drama queen. This one’s a great seafood wine, but again, don’t think you have to restrict yourself to seafood. It’s a team player.
90. La Marca DOC Prosecco Extra Dry, Veneto, Italy ($12)
This is a huge bargain for great quality and it has the added benefit of being kind of ubiquitous, which is Italian for “easy to find at your supermarket.” This is a balanced prosecco, with both a lemony astringency and a malolactic creaminess, a touch of grapefruit, a little honey, a hint of pastry. Like any self-respecting Veneto white, an assertive but not overpowering minerality, and a steal. La Marca’s on the “grab a case of it and pop one any time you feel the need for something fizzy” side of things, not the “rare delicacy to make a huge-ass fuss over” side.
89. Domaine Ste Michelle NV Brut, Columbia Valley, Wash. ($15)
Domaine Ste. Michelle is kind of an anchor of the Washington wine world, and though it’s the only Chateau-esque, parklike, big beautiful tasting room winery in easy striking distance of Seattle, even these relatively old-guard guys do things a little differently—in this case adding some pinot blanc to the usual chardonnay/pinot noir mix, which gives this wine a rounded feel and a strong Granny Smith apple note. Lively acidity, medium dryness. Quaffable, and also a great base for champagne cocktails. Very food friendly—try it with sushi. Apple and citrus dominant on the palate. It’s not the most scintillating wine coming out of Washington state but it is consistent and tasty and won’t let you down.
88. Chandon Étoile Brut ($40)
Chandon’s “Étoile” brut sparkler would probably have earned a higher place on this list if its pricetag were a little lower. It’s a very nice wine, but so are lots of things that cost less than half as much. Extended sur lie aging lends this wine a layer of nut and caramel tones you won’t find in a younger wine. It’s got a honeyed quality and a lingering spiced apple finish. Decent acidity, too. All in all, it’s a delicious wine and a likely crowd pleaser, but at $40-50 a bottle, you could please a way bigger crowd just as much with a nice cava. But if you come across it, by all means try it. Especially if you happen to have come across a couple of lobsters.
87. Isenhower Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Roussanne Extra Brut ($39)
If you are of an experimental bent, Washington’s a great wine region for you in general and this bubbly Roussanne might become one of your best friends specifically. Made in the “Méthode Champenoise” but using a grape that would get you kicked out of Champagne, this has a gentle perlage and a lot of the aromatics and flavors that make this one of my personal fetish grapes: almonds, pastry, and a juicy, Asian pear type thing. Golden with green reflexes. Lovely acidity. Stands on its own just fine, but as with a majority of the wines on this list, it’s food-versatile. Pair it with chicken or pad thai or curry or nothing at all. Rousanne’s a flexible character.
86. Sokol Blosser “Evolution” Sparkling Wine ($20)
If you’re one of those “Sparkling wine is pretentious and fussy” people, this one’s for you. This is definitely the kind of wine you open because you’re celebrating the fact that you got home from work. It’s fun, maybe even a little silly. Effervescent and slightly sweet, this blend contains Gewürtztraminer and Moscato grapes, so expect tropical flavors to predominate—lychee, primarily, with some citrus blossom and a little bit of something like Meyer lemon. From Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where pretty much anything can happen, this is a patio wine for sure. Tasty, a little eccentric and happy to hang out with some seafood, or just with you. If you are irritated by bubblies that aren’t bone-dry, you might find this one annoying, and because there are plenty of those folks it wouldn’t be my first choice for a large party. For large amounts of spicy food, I recommend it strongly.
85. Zonin Prosecco DOC Brut ($15)
Zonin is most definitely on the “having a large party” list. It’s cheerfulness in a bottle. Maybe it isn’t a wine you’ll be thinking about for days to come, but it’s always a plain old feel-good crowd pleaser. It’s balanced and approachable and will offend no one-it’ll just send them on a trip to Festive City. A true Prosecco from 100% Glera grapes, which are believed to have been around since the days of Julius Caesar. Golden, with a lovely nose of white flowers and mineral notes. Typical aromas and flavors: lemon, orange zest, stone; also hints of stone fruit (peach, nectarine). Clean finish. It’s convivial and friendly and you would have to try very hard to come up with a really bad pairing for it, so open it whenever the mood strikes.
84. Bisol Jeio Cuvee NV Prosecco ($15)
Bisol is an Italian winery with a mere 500 years of experience under its belt-safe to say they know what they’re doing. This NV Brut is a low-key character, subtle and understated, fine-beaded and creamy. Apricot and peach tones along with a sharp citrus note (kumquat or bitter mandarin) and a faint trace of baking spice. A great value, but do not hoard it—Jeio will not age all that gracefully. It will play a gracious sidekick to polenta and mushrooms or any number of veggie dishes, however.
83. Segura Viudas NV Brut Reserva ($20)
A cava from Penedés, Spain. Cavas are made in the same fashion as Champagnes, but with less pronounceable grapes: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Tropical fruit palate with pineapple and lime dominating, but very dry. Complex, with a long finish, and a lightly floral nose. Food-versatile and fine on its own, but to me, this stuff is begging for garlicky prawns. Or pasta.
82. Karma Vineyards Brut ($50)
If you’re looking for something a little more iconoclastic (or if you’re trying to resolve some karmic issues) this small-production-run bubbly from Washington’s Columbia Valley makes a very cool gift. It’s made from the usual Champagne suspects, Chardonnay and the Pinots Noir and Meunier. Dry and bright with a pastry tone on the approach followed by a mix of white florals, mango and pineapple, and cream. Silky and long on the finish. These folks have a dedication to philanthropy and sustainability, so another good choice for folks who want to support the good guys. Food-wise? Pretty much anything goes.
81. Pere Ventura Tresor Rosé ($15)
A beautiful Penedés cava with an almost tangerine color in the glass, fine, snappy, persistent bubbles. Nose of berries and roses. Long finish with a raspberry and cherry character and elegant, lingering woodsy notes. This is a substantial pink that will stand up to heavier foods (though it doesn’t require them). Complex minerality and a lot of panache. This wine’s dream date is turkey; in fact large amounts of it might make a huge improvement to Thanksgiving with your Aunt Millie who criticizes absolutely everything and that one sibling who doesn’t bring anything and complains all day. Sparkling wine is a miracle for taking the edges off that stuff.
80. Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut ($35)
Franciacorta is more of a “champagne” type sparkling wine than Prosecco, in that it’s made in the Méthode Champenoise—grapes specific to this DOC are generally Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. In fact, if French Champagne is what you think you like the best, but you don’t like what it does to your wallet, this is the stuff you want. It’s more like champagne than any other sparkling wine I’ve tasted and the price/quality ratio is just way more reasonable. This one’s pretty dreamy, with apple and pear fragrances and a velvety texture, displaying lovely depth and a zesty acidity. Lingering spice notes, great richness, a lingering citrusy finish. It pairs well with… well, everything. But try it with dishes from the same region (Lombardy)—think risotto, osso bucco, polenta or pumpkin ravioli with some brown butter and sage.
79. Jaillance Crémant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé ($15)
Be warned: This wine is a total freaking flirt. If you feel like it’s trying to seduce you, it probably is. An unabashedly fruity pink from Bordeaux. Since true Champagnes are generally blends, it’s always fun to see what happens with varietal bubblies—this one, made from Merlot grapes, is fresh and approachable and juicy, with a beautiful bright pink hue and lots of berry and sour cherry notes; earth and chalk on the nose as well. Elegant, high-finesse, nice long finish with a lingering hint of vanilla. It’s firmly in the “tastes like it would be a lot more expensive” category and the kind of wine that will intrigue the person in your life who carries on ad nauseam about their wine-savantism. It’s a wonderful aperitif, party-friendly, and probably pairs most seamlessly with poultry dishes, but I can’t say it enough times: Sparkling wines are absurdly food-versatile and situations where you can go badly wrong with a food pairing are relatively rare.
78. Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore ($18)
This is a rounded, balanced bubbly from the venerable house of Santa Margherita. Clean, fruit-forward, with a lot of peach blossom on the nose. Plays nicely with food. In fact, it might be the wine you go to for pairing with the unpairable. It can stand up to ingredients (most of them vegetables) that are notoriously hard to work with, wine-wise, like beets, artichokes, salads with vinaigrette dressings. Also definitely a friend to salmon, crab, and blue cheeses. I’d also happily cocktail this stuff-brunch mimosas or kir royales, or evening concoctions involving bitters and citrus zest. It’s not a wine that will induce gasping, moaning, and lengthy discussion but man, is it a workhorse. This is high on the list of general problem-solver bubblies.
77. Castillo de Feliciana Brilliante ($30)
Chardonnay is a nemesis to many people. Often this is because they’ve only tried one style from one place (and that place is probably Napa Valley, where some viniferous crimes occasionally get committed). Thing is, Chardonnay ranks at or near the top of the list of shapeshifter grapes: Terroir and handling are everything. Washington is an interesting place, winemaking-wise, and this sparkling Chard’s a good example. Made in the traditional Champagne style, this bottle is balanced and tasty, with brioche and apple notes dominating. Vanilla and something like bread dough (almost like fresh buttermilk biscuits with honey?) are layered in, as well. Very bright acidity and a smooth finish. If you are someone who eats pork, try this as a pairing. If you are someone who eats only plants, good news: This wine will work for you too. Though I wouldn’t pair it with asparagus. Mushrooms, though? Perfecto.
76. Graham Beck Brut Méthode Cap Classique ($15)
I almost don’t want to put this in writing too often due to More For Me issues, but it has to be said. South Africa might just be the most overlooked wine region in the world. And wrongly. This means the flavors of the Cape and centuries of craft are yours for a sliver of something of equal quality that happens to be French. Take Graham Beck’s Brut yummybomb for example. An almost 50-50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine is complex, vibrant and fresh, with a brioche note leading on the nose and an array of tropical fruit notes including mango and layers of citrus peel. A hint of apricot, too. There is a pleasant creaminess and a short, but pleasing, finish. Graham Beck wines are rock-solid and environmentally conscious as a lovely bonus, so put this on your “keep several bottles of this around in case of a spontaneous dinner party, picnic, or … the sudden onset of 5:00 PM” list. It’s definitely on mine.