Nothing turns a gathering into a party faster than hearing someone bust open a bottle of bubbly. But most sparkling-wine drinkers are out to find a good bottle at a great price—at least, no one I know regularly keeps a bottle of Cristal on ice “just in case.”
Our staff here at DivineCaroline went through the rigors of tasting some of the most widely available sparkling wines, all available nationwide for $15 or less. Our taste test revealed which sparkling wines had us feelin’ fine, and which ones left us with the taste of sour grapes. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
The Fizzy Winners
Roederer Estate Brut NV
This sparkling wine from California’s Anderson Valley was our testers’ hands-down favorite. It had a bright, citrusy taste with notes of stone fruit, such as peach and apricot. Our tasters also noted its pleasant tartness without being too acidic, and its tanginess without being sour.
Chandon Brut Classic
“It’s sweet and fruity and I love it,” gushed one taster. The Chandon (produced in Napa Valley) had a smoother mouthfeel, with less carbonation than other brands, and a nice, mild flavor, with notes of pear, currant, and spice. We enjoyed the fact that it was easy to drink, with little aftertaste. Some compared it favorably to a drier version of a hard cider.
Our tasters weren’t terribly impressed by this ubiquitous sparkling wine from Sonoma, California. They described it as smooth but also “bland,” and with a slightly metallic aftertaste. Many remarked that it would be a good economical choice to serve in champagne cocktails or mimosas, but not particularly tasty to drink on its own.
Bouvet Signature Brut
This French sparkling wine didn’t have a particularly appealing scent, which one taster described as similar to that of “cat pee,” and another as “meaty and animalish,” but it tasted better than it smelled. Some of us enjoyed it, reporting that it had a good mouthfeel and a fruity, toasty flavor, but others disagreed, declaring its taste unpleasant and “salami-ish.”
Chandon Blanc de Noirs
We thought this Chandon offering (made exclusively from pinot noir grapes) had a nice color and some pleasing blackberry and cherry flavors, but some tasters claimed it had a slightly musky scent and a mildly bitter aftertaste.
Korbel Extra Dry
This wine had a verdant, green scent and a tasty crispness, with hints of spice. The tasters found it well balanced, but we still preferred the Korbel Brut, judging the Extra Dry to be a bit too tannic.
Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée
Despite being labeled “Brut,” the Barefoot Bubbly was actually exceptionally sweet, with heavy notes of citrus and apple. It was one of the most effervescent varieties we sampled, yet it still felt thin and almost watered down.
This California-produced wine was very pale, with almost no detectable bouquet. The taste was minimal, too, but our tasters could detect lots of sugar. There were notes of white fruit, but some remarked that the flavors almost seemed like imitation fruit. One particularly observant taster remarked that it smelled “like shoe rubber.”
Andre Champagne Brut
Although only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France can properly be called champagne, Andre’s label was grandfathered in when the United States started enforcing labeling laws in 2006. Regardless of the label, our tasters complained about the slightly medicinal, sweet taste of the wine; one described it as being “like carbonated Triaminic.”
Domaine J. Laurens Brut
By far the least favorite of all the wines sampled, this French sparkler was described by tasters as “plasticky” and “gross.” One taster remarked that the flavor was reminiscent of dog food’s, and yet another said that she’d rather drink the spit bucket. One member of our staff succinctly summed up the group’s opinion by offering a more understated comment: “I don’t like this at all.”
Since all of these wines are on the low end of the cost spectrum, it seems that with many, you get what you pay for. But just because you’re not splurging on a bottle of Dom Pérignon doesn’t mean that you have to drink swill. There are plenty of tasty, reasonably priced wines out there, and if you get stuck with one of the not-so-tasty varieties, the secret is to just keep drinking—eventually you won’t notice the taste so much anyway.