Champagne gets top billing but plenty of other sparklers, including pét-nat and cava, can light up the holidays.
From crémant to cava, pét nats and sekt, there’s a dynamic array of sparkling wines from around the world to enjoy this holiday season. But there’s no wine more closely affixed to celebration than Champagne. On New Year’s Eve especially, “it’s always Champagne for me,” says Rebekah Oates, the Reading.-based sommelier and key account manager of fine wines for Breakthru Beverage Group in Maryland. Top Ring Pull Cap
But Champagne’s ever-rising prices and bracing, rather linear style, can be off-putting. Felix Hughes, wine director at the Philadelphia restaurant Vernick Food & Drink as well as the bottle shop, Vernick Wine, “always recommends Champagne for the holidays, but I wouldn’t give it all the spotlight,” he says.
For those seeking wines made in a similar style and production as Champagne but without the hefty premiums, Hughes suggests crémant — a category of French sparkling wines made in specified regions like Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire, Jura, and more. While some crémant share the same varietal makeup of traditional Champagne – mainly the trio of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes — many crémant reflect the diversity of grape varieties common in their respective regions. Unique varieties like poulsard or trousseau can lend a distinctly floral perfume or earthen complexity to crémant du jura. Merlot or cabernet sauvignon can add a bold dose of strawberry or cherry flavor to crémant de Bordeaux.
Stateside, sparkling wine producers based in cool, maritime pockets of Northern California like Roederer Estate, Schramsberg, Iron Horse, and Gloria Ferrer have produced top-notch Champagne-style sparkling wines since the 1980s. Often a touch softer in acidity and richer in fruit profile than Champagne, they are excellent alternatives.
More recently, a bevy of fantastic traditional-method American sparkling wines have emerged in regions of New York, particularly Finger Lakes producers including Nathan K., Hermann J. Wiemer, and Red Tail Ridge.
Cava, Spain’s contribution to the traditional-method sparkling wine category, has has undergone a dramatic premiumization in recent years. There’s an increasingly prominent wave of high-quality Spanish sparkling wine producers to consider today, including many who no longer market themselves as cava. Sharing characteristics with some of the best sparkling wines in the world but at a dramatically lower price point, “you can find fantastic Spanish sparkling, even vintage bottlings, for around $20,” says Roberto Rivera, the spirits and wine buyer at 56 Degree Wine in Bernardsville, N.J.
Beyond the more conventional options available from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the flurry of bottle shops that emerged in the aftermath of the COVID-19 epidemic have injected exceptional, accessibly priced wines to the Pennsylvania market, including many lesser-known sparkling wines made by small producers.
Many Philadelphia bottle shops have also brought pétillant naturale, or pét nats, to the local market. Produced via mèthode ancestrale, an ancient method of sparkling wine production where wines are bottled during their initial fermentation, pét nats – hazy with sediment and unabashedly unfiltered – are antithetical to the precision and refinement of Champagne. Bottled with crown caps like beer bottles rather than corks, pét nats offer an easy, refreshingly casual approach that many wine lovers, particularly natural wine enthusiasts, have embraced.
The hometown favorite among Philadelphia wine professionals this season is Camuna Cellars, the tiny urban winery in Northeast Philadelphia making fewer than 1,000 cases of wine, cider, cyder , and other beverages annually. Mixed Dancing, Camuna Cellars’ dry, lightly effervescent blend of seyval blanc and apple cider, was fermented in bottle with indigenous yeast boosted by a touch of mead. Sourced entirely from locally available resources, the pét nat is a raw expression of sustainability within Philadelphia’s unique ecosystem.
Here are the sparkling wines we recommend for the holiday season.
Oates is particularly fond of Champagne from the great Champagne houses like Taittinger and Bollinger. This particular bottling, a classic Champagne-blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier sourced from over 35 different vineyards, is currently on sale. $53.99 at Fine Wine & Good Spirits.
In contrast to Champagne houses that purchase grapes from growers, grower-producers like Pierre Gimmonet are winemakers who cultivate their own grapes and bottle their own wines. This 100% chardonnay sparkling sourced from the premier-cru village of Cuis is a classic expression of the chalky, intensely mineral character of Champagne’s Côte des Blancs. $52.99 at Fine Wine & Good Spirits.
This approachably-priced French alternative to Champagne that Hughes recommends is a zippy, raspberry-kissed traditional-method sparkling made from 100% pinot noir grapes produced without dosage or added sugar. $48 at Vernick Wine.
Produced by the California outpost of Champagne’s Louis Roederer, this bang-for-your-buck sparkling is often a dead ringer for Champagne when tasted blind. $23.99, Fine Wine & Good Spirits.
Nearly a decade after harvest and 70 months of maturation in bottle, this traditional-method blend of chardonnay and pinot noir is testament to the longevity and grace of wines from one of New York’s finest family-owned and operated producers. $30.19 at Fine Wine & Good Spirits.
This sparkling red blend of aglianico and piedirosso grapes from Gragnano in Campania is a subtly “rustic and herbal” wine that wine afficionados would be thrilled to receive as a holiday gift. $32 at Tinys Bottle Shop.
Certified organic and matured 20 months on its lees, this vintage-declared blend of macabeu, xarel-lo, and parellada represents an elevated departure from cava for Spanish sparkling wines at a fantastically low price. $22 at 56 Degree Wine Co.
“Drink cool and without deliberation” instructs Camuna Cellars regarding this “bright,” “lightly effervescent” bubbly highlighting flavors of Meyer lemon and straw accented with white pepper and notes of tepache, a fermented pineapple brew. $28 available online at Camuna Cellars.
Twist Off Caps For Canning Jars “Pinot meunier often struggles to be taken seriously in Champagne, but at Moussé, meunier is celebrated, making this Champagne unique,” says Rivera. $62 at 56 Degree Wine Co.