Champagne is popular at the holidays, but prices have climbed in recent years and many revelers are reaching for sparkling wines at down-to-earth prices.
"I often look to regions other than Champagne when it comes to satisfying large crowds or a small budget," says Leora Madden of Pearl Wine Company in Mid-City.
Madden stocks bottles from several of France's 11 major sparkling wine regions. Most of the vintners follow the methode tradtionnelle, the winemaking process used in the Champagne region. Cremant is a French name for sparkling wines not made in the region and some make elegant substitutes for Champagne.
Madden recommends Jean-Baptiste Audy Cremant de Bordeaux Brut ($22) and the Loire Valley wines Plouzeau "Perles Fines" Brut Rose from Touraine and Louis de Grenelle Corail Brut Rose from Samur. Both are all cabernet Franc grapes and cost $18.
Brady's Wine Warehouse in the Warehouse District, owner Patrick Brady says he sells a lot of Champagne.
"Champagne gets all the attention during the holidays, but wine growing regions all over the word produce amazing sparklers that are incredible values," he says.
Store manager Richard Ellis recommends Domaine des Baumard Cremant de Loire Carte Turquoise, a blend of 60 cabernet Franc and 40 percent chenin blanc ($20.25).
At Philippe's Wine Cellar, manager Darryl Greiwe recommends another Loire Valley bottling, Alexandre Monmousseau Gaudrelle Cremant, which is made of chardonnay and chenin blanc ($20).
Acquistapace's Covington Supermarket owner Adam Acquistapace suggests Jean-Luc & Paul Aegerton Cremant de Bourgogne ($15), made from the same main grapes as Champagne: two-thirds pinot noir and one-third chardonnay.
Ellis likes Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Blanc Brut as well as Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Rose Brut (both $14).
Acquistapace suggests Gerard Bertrand Brut Cremant de Limoux ($13) and Gerard Bertrand Cremant Brut Rose ($14). He says customers also are fond of Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines: L'Conti Methode Traditionnelle ($12) and St. Hilaire ($13).
Greiwe also is a fan of L'Conti, made of 90 percent mauzac, an indigenous grape, and 5 percent each chenin blanc and chardonnay.
Prosecco from Italy also is popular. Madden recommends Ca' Furlan Brut Prosecco ($12.50). Greiwe likes the more expensive Borgoluce Brut — Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore ($30). Acquistapace likes Bisol Brut Prosecco ($20).
Also on the high end are Franciacorta sparkling wines from northern Italy, where wines are made in the classic method using traditional Champagne grapes.
Philippe's has Berlucchi Rose Metro Classic Cuvee '61 Franciacorta ($25).
"It's rich and unctuous with a bit more residual sugar, since it's an extra dry," Greiwe says.
Brady's Wine Warehouse stocks some high-end Franciacortas.
"We have the Bellavista Gran Cuvee Pas Opere, Franciacorta on our shelves that, at $56, easily measures up to the big Champagne houses," Brady says.
Spanish cavas are made in the methode traditionelle and are another great buy. Both Acquistapace and Greiwe are fans of the Raventos I Blanc d'nit Cava. Madden's favorite is Mont Marcal Brut Reserve Cava ($18). Brady's carries Sigura Viudas Aria ($13).
South Africa is making some impressive sparkling wines. Acquistapace's offers Graham Beck's Brut ($15), Brut Rose ($16) and Brut Rose Vintage ($17).
California also produces high-quality sparkling wines. Martin Wine Cellar offers Roederer Estate from Anderson Valley ($20) and Anderson Valley-neighbor Scharffenberger Brut ($20).
Champagne purists have many options. Acquistapace's offers Nicolas Feuillette Brut Champagne ($27). Pearl Wine has Champagne Charles Vercy Cuvee Brut ($30). Bargain hunters can head to Costco for its house-brand Champagne for $25.