Drink of the Week: Know Your Sparkling Wine

dotw-sparkling2_byLouBustamante.jpg
Lou Bustamante
Glass of Cremant d'Alsace with pomegranate seeds
The end of the year brings many things: family, parties, and lots of sparkling wine. While we love cocktails, it's this time of year we simply give in to any and all excuses for bubbly. It's like wine that got bedazzled.

While our mental image of sparkling wine mostly stays fixed on Champagne, the renowned French region responsible for some impressively amazing wines, enjoying a glass of something festive doesn't require a load of cash.

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If your mind is set on France, try Cremant, the name for sparkling wine made outside of Champagne appellation. While it may not carry the same prestige, the quality can be exceptional and the value at a level Champagne can't be. The Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace Brut NV ($24) we tried last night had plenty of elegance, fruit, and great effervescence. Over at the Chron, wine editor Jon Bonné has a great breakdown of Cremant from the Alsace, and some of his picks.

Italy and Spain also provide great sparkling value. Italian Prosecco has changed in the last decades, moving away from the sweet profile to drier styles. While the production methods, like the secondary fermentation that produces bubbles happening in stainless steel tanks, may not be as romantic, this allows most bottles to be priced below $20. Spanish Cava prices hit that same level, but can use more traditional Champagne methods of production. Just be aware of the sweetness levels, which range from brut to dolsec (sweet).

If you want to stay local, you'll pay more, but you also get the benefit of having the tasting rooms nearby for a visit and some great selections. In Napa, check out Gloria Ferrer, Mumm, Domaine Chandon, and Schramsberg for tastings and pick up a few bottles of your favorites. Over in more quaint, less touristy, and rustic Sonoma, both J Vinyards and Iron Horse Vineyards offer flights of sparkling wines and plenty of fresh air. If you feel like heading out father north, Mendocino's outpost of the famed Champagne house, Roederer Estate makes a great stop, along with Scharffenberger Cellars in Philo.

Enjoying a glass is as easy as opening up the bottle, or dress it up with a float of liqueur, or a handful of pomegranate in a glass of brut for a lively combination of bubbles and the sweet-tart pop of the seeds. May 2013 offer more reasons to pop a cork and enjoy sparkling wine.

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