Nothing quite compares to the pressurized pop of a thick, porcini-mushroom-shaped cork shooting from a chilled bottle of sparkling wine. But while the sound epitomizes Champagne celebrations and Gatsby-esque opulence, sparkling wine is a broad category, full of affordable alternatives and pairing options beyond caviar crostinis.
From where to turn for bubbly bargains, to food pairing tips, we spoke with some of the country’s leading wine professionals about the biggest misconceptions surrounding sparkling wine.
“Often times, wine lovers assume that the best quality sparkling wines must only come from Champagne. However, there are some wonderful alternatives that offer great quality at an affordable price. Cava in Spain is better than ever and will satisfy your desire for high-quality bubbly. Also, look out for some great sparkling producers making a category called crémant in France, which are sparkling wines made with the same technique as Champagne, but not from the Champagne region. Crémant is a fantastic budget-friendly option that offers complexity and finesse.” — Yannick Benjamin, Wine on Wheels Co-Founder and Head Sommelier at the University Club, New York, N.Y.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about sparkling wines is that they are not as versatile as other wines when it comes to food pairing. The acid in sparkling wines makes them amazing food companions because it cuts through richness, cleanses the palate, and balances sweetness. Some of my favorite sparkling wine and food pairings are blanc de blancs Champagne with fried chicken, vintage Champagne with a rare steak, extra dry or dry Prosecco with cheesecake, and Cava with grilled artichokes.” — Regine Rousseau, Author and CEO, Shall We Wine
“A myth is that there is only one glass to drink a sparkling wine from. In our opinion, it depends on your personal preference. If you prefer a balance between being able to smell the wine and preserving some of the bubbles, select a traditional wine glass. However, if you enjoy experiencing the bubbles longer, by all means, use a flute.” — Swati Bose and Kabir Amir, Sommeliers and Co-owners, Flight Bar, Washington, D.C.
“The biggest misconception about sparkling wine is that it is not a ‘wine’ per se. When I offer Champagne to guests they sometimes retort with, ‘No, we want wine!’ People forget that just like red and white it can hold a sense of place. At Undercote, for example, we focus on the ‘Special Club’ in Champagne which illustrates small growers and terroir versus the age-old notion of a house style. These wines are vintage-dated and speak of a year, the vigneron, the grapes, and the land.” — Victoria James, Beverage Director, Cote, New York, N.Y.
“The most common misconception is that ‘any ol’ bottle of bubbly goes with dessert.’ Traditionally, Champagne used to be the go-to drink at the end of a meal, when these wines used to be sweet. Today, that tradition seems to have continued despite the notion that everyone drinks drier styles of bubbly. My rule of thumb is: drink Champagne or bubbles all the time, but if it’s for dessert, look for a slightly sweeter style of fizz.” — David Metz, Wine Director and Sommelier, The Jefferson, Washington, D.C.
“Many people associate Champagne with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but one of the biggest misconceptions is that it can only be made from these three grapes. There are actually seven (yes, seven!) grapes permitted to be included in the wines from Champagne, including Petite Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Fromenteau (a cousin of Pinot Gris)… Although often forgotten (and in VERY short supply), the heirloom grapes contribute to some of the most exciting and interesting wines coming out of the region. Some winemakers are also bottling these ‘other grapes’ as single varieties. These wines represent a class of bubbles that deserve consideration when deciding what to drink, as they open up a whole new perspective of what Champagne can bring to the table.” — Erin Healy, Sommelier, Le Coucou, New York, N.Y.
“The biggest misconception is that sparkling wine is just for celebrating. Sparkling wine belongs at the dinner table as much as a Cabernet does. It’s also a shame that people assume that the only high-end sparkling wine worth purchasing is Champagne. There are absolutely marvelous bubbles made all over the world that are worth every penny. Don’t be afraid to branch out!” — Gregory Stokes, Sommelier and Manager, Veritas, Columbus, Ohio
“When it comes to drinking great sparkling wine, guests often feel like it’s feast or famine. Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are not the only games in town. Somewhere in the middle, there are great producers of wine in the Loire Valley, Burgundy, and even Northern California that dabble in the creation of great bubbles. The wines are often made in the same style as Champagne and are incredibly complex, but the prices will feel like it’s Black Friday all year round.” — Tim Rawding, Head Sommelier and General Manager, Marsh House at the Thompson Nashville Hotel, Nashville, Tenn.
“The biggest misconception about sparkling wine is that one must be celebrating to enjoy it. This is so far from the truth as — sparkling or not — it’s just wine and meant to be drunk. Sparkling wine is the most versatile of all wines and is the one that I reach for most often; whether to be enjoyed on its own, or paired with food, its uses abound!” — Alexander LaPratt, Master Sommelier and Co-owner, Atrium Dumbo and Beasts & Bottles, New York, N.Y.
“People usually think that you have to break the bank to enjoy a great sparkling wine. Not true. For less than $80 in restaurants, you can find natural sparkling wine as good as some Grande Marque Champagne. Look for méthode ancestrale (ancestral method) wines like the Domaine Sérol Turbullent rosé from the Côte Roannaise in France. A delicious Gamay-based sparkling wine, with a silky texture, explosive red fruit, and nice persistence. Santé!” — Alexandre Calvi, Head Sommelier, DaDong, New York, N.Y.
“The spiritual home of sparkling wine should be the Loire, as there is an incredible amount of high-quality and exciting sparkling wines produced in the Valley. I’ve never been as excited about the assertive, yeasty style of old-world Champagne as I am about the austere, racy, mineral-driven sparkling wines of the Loire. Aside from more traditionally produced sparkling wines, we’re seeing an abundance of incredible pétillant-naturels (pét-nats) popping up all over the place. Tiny bubbles, high acid, atypical varietals, and production methods make the entire category of pét-nat very exciting and full of possibilities for both pairing with food and as exciting alternatives to the more straightforward sparkling wines that we can offer guests.” — Evan Zimmerman, Certified Sommelier and General Manager, Reverie, Washington, D.C.