You Need to Drink this Budget-Friendly Alternative to Champagne

Drink Lists sparkling wine
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You Need to Drink this Budget-Friendly Alternative to Champagne

If you’re looking for the right celebration-libation for your next big occasion, it’s worth noting there are lots of sparkling wines from France that aren’t in the right postal code to be called Champagne but are sincerely every bit as good. One region you need to know about if you want to be bubble-literate is Alsace, the magical wine-producing area near the French-German border. Alsace is not the only place where Crémant sparkling wines are produced (you’ll also see Crémant from Bordeaux, Limoux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley for example), but it is where you’ll find some of the best ones.

A Crémant is a sparkling wine made by the same method as Champagne, but with slightly lower effervescence (it’s closer to Champagne-level bubbly than it is to pétillant, which is a just-barely-effervescent style). This slightly lower atmospheric pressure contributes to a silky, rounded mouthfeel that’s a little different from the sometimes bracing “pop” of Champagne. Crémants won’t cellar as long as Champagnes, generally, but the beauty of their user-friendly pricing is that you will never feel pressured to save this stuff for when you win the National Book Award. It’s entirely weeknight-friendly. But it’s more than special enough to be your special occasion sidekick.

Crémant d’Alsace is often Pinot-based but can also include Chardonnay, Riesling and Auxerrois. It is most often white; occasionally pink.

Six Bottles to Try

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Albert Mann Extra Brut ($22)

Delicately balanced, with more richness than many of the wines on this list. It has complexity and a full-throated quality, with a lot of buttery pastry notes and a strong apple-peel character. Lemon and mandarin on the finish, which has pronounced salinity. Expressive bubbles. I’d be tempted to pair this with seafood, or with goat cheese or brie. And if I happened to be eating something else I’d be fine pairing it with whatever that happened to be.

Camille Braun Brut ($20)

Apple, butter cookies, lemon curd. Ultrafine mousse, lots of bready or yeasty notes on the palate, excellent balance. A high-finesse wine, balanced, elegant and fresh.

Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé ($18)

One of my favorite sparkling wines in the world and generally available for under $20. Bright, soft coral tone, echoed in bright, tart red fruit notes (rhubarb, sour cherry, redcurrant, strawberry) with some pastry notes to give it gravity. Exuberant mousse, very pleasant texture. This wine is a great friend for salmon, but as with most great bubblies you have a ton of options. Elegant, approachable, and completely delicious.

Meyer-Fonne Brut Extra ($20)

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Lemony and refreshing, with brisk acidity and bubbles to match. Some apple notes and a decent ration of wet stone. This is a straightforward wine, and not the most layered, but honestly, “layered” isn’t everything. Sometimes you just want an upfront, what-you-see-is-what-you-get team player type, and that’s what you get when you pop the cork on this stuff. It’s refreshing and playful and amiable. It will hold up well on its own or be a good foil for rich foods.

Valentin Zusslin Brut Zero ($30)

Like many Alsatian wines, this one scores high on the sustainability scale (biodynamically farmed grapes, unsulfured). Bone-dry with prominent orchard fruit notes (I get apricot and apple). There’s a quartz-y kind of minerality to it and a tangy finish (tangerine?) Incredibly food friendly, brisk, clean, and very tasty.

Vignoble des 2 Lunes “Poussiere d’etoiles” ($30)

Bottled strawberry shortcake, but no dosage so the finish is dry and lean. There’s a slightly feisty thread of redcurrant and peppercorn behind the strawberry/pastry/cream notes. Good stoniness, creamy perlage, excellent aperitif wine.