It's that magical time of year, the time when it's OK to gorge on sticky-sweet cookies, sentimental kitsch and, of course, plenty of bubbly. Though Champagne is the go-to choice for New Year's Eve toasts and brunches with the in-laws, a decent bottle doesn't come cheap. Like Camembert cheese or Prosciutto di Parma, Champagne has a protected designation of origin, meaning that the grapes must be grown in the Champagne region of France in order to call it Champagne. While such exclusivity carries plenty of clout, it tends to carry a hefty price tag as well.
Fortunately, there are options a bit easier on your wallet. "I tend to look for things made in the style of Champagne," explains John Wabeck, beverage director at Spoon. He cited cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, and Franciacorta, Prosecco's lesser-known, more refined cousin, as two good bets.
Dreadnought Wines' Rob McCaughey echoes Wabeck's sentiment. "If you see the words ‘Méthode Champenoise' or ‘Méthode Traditionnelle' on a bottle, it means it is made in the Champagne method, so these are generally going to have those bready, toasty notes that people enjoy," he explains. Crémants, Champagne-like wines made in other regions of France, offer similar flavors at an outstanding value. Look especially for those from the Loire and Limoux regions, two of McCaughey's favorites.
Of course, not every holiday meal calls for bready, toasty notes. For something versatile and crowd-pleasing, Narcisi Winery's Nicolette Chilton recommends a rosé. Made both still and sparkling, Chilton explains that a good rosé is "dry but fruity, refreshing and crisp with a lot of rose and cherry flavors." As she points out, pink does not always equal sweet, and a drier rosé could complement a range of rich winter foods.
Though none of these may have the pedigree of Champagne, you'll be able to afford more than one bottle. And that ought to get everyone in the holiday spirit.