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Cheap and Bubbly

July 3, 2011

Greetings from Providence. Here I am back in The Ocean State where the motto is simply, “Hope.” I’m here with the Fussy Little Children and once again Mrs. Fussy has managed to find a way to stay behind in Albany. That means I’m flying without a net, and my commas are free to flow from my fingertips with reckless abandon.

So if this post isn’t quite as polished as what you’ve come to expect from the FLB, feel free to blame her absence.

It’s wine day, and that is a very good thing, because I can take care of two critical issues with one post. One is what wine should you serve for an Independence Day cookout. And the other is about finding a good, but cheap, sparkling wine. Although I suppose by telling you the second topic, you have already guessed the answer to the first. Oh, well.

Actually, the origins of this post were inspired by ashallann but it has been so long since the original event, I can’t even remember if it was something she tweeted, or if she posted it to her blog. But I noticed she was drinking a bottle of some Barefoot sparkling wine, and I thought I could help her find something better.

Not that all Barefoot wines are bad. They are not. Their Pinot Grigio is actually simple, bright and refreshing, just as a good summer quencher should be. You might doubt me, but I was led to it by no other than John and Dottie.

Anyhow, getting back to the subject at hand, I do enjoy a nice sparkling wine.

One reason is that it goes great with everything. Well, almost everything. I do prefer my caviar with vodka rather than Champagne. But for cookouts sparkling wine is fantastic. Don’t think of it as some fancy French wine to be sipped out of glass slippers. That’s not all-American. Instead, think of it as the beer of wine.

It’s not the malt or the hops that make beer taste so good with burgers and hot dogs. It’s the bubbles. It’s that cold refreshing, mouth cleansing swallow of carbonation. And sparkling wine has got that. Plus a good cheap bottle of sparkling wine isn’t going to set you back more than the cost of a six pack. You can even drink it out of red plastic cups.

If we are going for the all-American thing, I’d have to recommend a domestic brand. For my money, the best price to value ratio of the inexpensive domestics is Domaine Ste. Michelle. They make a brut and an extra-dry. For those who are newer to this nomenclature, brut is the drier of the two. And yes, I know it’s confusing that something called extra-dry is actually a bit sweeter than brut. There is an even dryer classification of sparkling wines, but it’s so uncommon it is not even worth noting.

While the name sounds all French and frilly, the wine actually hails from Washington state.

What puts DSM ahead of the other brands in the domestic cheap sparkling wines is the fineness of its bubbles. Damn, those wines have small bubbles, and lots of them too. When you start paying attention to these things, you will notice that not all bubbles are created equal. Some wines have large clunky bubbles, that have a mouth feel more akin to seltzer. But thousands of tiny bubbles give a wine an almost creamy texture that is simply delightful.

In Albany, you have to pay a king’s ransom of $9.99 for this bottle at Empire Wine. I say that because I used to get this identical wine at Trader Joe’s for six or seven dollars. It’s been a while, so perhaps it has gone up in price across the board.

I do understand though, that this is a bit of a hefty premium over the Barefoot bubbly.

If you are less committed to the idea of drinking America’s finest cheap sparkling wine, and okay with looking around the world, there are some additional options. The biggest payoffs will be in Spain and Italy with cava and Prosecco respectively.

For inexpensive cava, I reach for Cristalino. When I first clued into this great wine bargain in the late 1990’s I could find a bottle of the stuff for four to five dollars. If you were to buy it in Albany today (again at Empire) it would cast you $7.95. Still, that’s a bit more than Barefoot. But I believe even the Frexinet cava in its trademark black bottle (at $6.95) is still a better wine than the Barefoot.

I have not put the two back to back in a tasting, but that would be a lot of fun. Although I would encourage you to add two additional bottles, just to round it out.

In all honesty the wines of Italy are a weak spot in my wine knowledge. So I do not have any bargain Prosecco brands to give you. But I have yet to be sorely disappointed by any entry-level (aka less than $10) bottles of the stuff.

These are my suggestions, but I’m curious to hear what you will be drinking on the fourth. I’ll be driving home, so nothing for me. Tell me, and at least I can live vicariously though the comments.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2011 7:35 am

    This is a great post. I am at my ILs this weekend for Independence Day festivities, and she’s NUTS about champagne. She usually goes for the expensive French stuff, but my husband and I have been buying her bottles of other stuff.

    If you feel so inclined to spend a bit more, in the $20-30 tier, you can get some really amazing bottles. Argyle from the Willamette Valley runs $19.99 at All Star and is really fantastic. A little harder to find in Albany, Hermann Wiemer makes an excellent sparkling for around $25, which is what we had at our wedding. (You had to know I was going to throw a NY wine in here, didn’t you?)

    I’ve found that the $10-20 tier isn’t all that much better than the $10-and-under tier for champagne, but going up to the $20-30 tier really significantly ups the quality. Having said that, now I’m quite curious about that $10 Washington State champagne and may see if I can find a bottle for tomorrow. :)

  2. July 3, 2011 4:17 pm

    Nah, I disagree. No bubbly just beer. Drink beer until you crap hops, it is the only acceptable manner of celebrating the 4th.

  3. Ewan permalink
    July 4, 2011 10:42 pm

    I bought a bottle of Sam Adams sparkling beer, in fact , this weekend; but have not yet opened it.

    US sparkling wine, though, we have a clear favourite: Schramsberg.

  4. Stevo permalink
    July 5, 2011 4:53 pm

    I love Barefoot Pinto Grigio! It’s a perfect summer wine. And at $8 for a magnum (at Empire) it’s a steal.

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