As Valentine's Day approaches and this giant sucking sound that passes for our economy these days drones on, I thought it appropriate to mention some values on the sparkling wine front. No true Champagne will appear here as there are no values in that region, at least not according to my wallet. If you can afford, and want to purchase, Champagne, by all means do so. There will be lots of other articles written about them. Send me a check to buy five or six bottles of Champagne and I will happily, and I do mean happily, review them here.
The following bubblies offer quality beyond their price and are not exactly household names so your Valentine won't have to know you acted in a responsible fiscal manner when it comes to matters of love. If you are spending the evening alone, get some sushi, Epoisses cheese, mousse pate, or even fried chicken and enjoy some sparkling wine while proudly knowing you have not blown the budget for the week.
One quick note, these are all Brut, or dry, wines. If you want bubbly with some level of sweetness, try Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2007 - a fantastic quaff with lovely fruitiness, moderate sugar level and an excellent pair with fruit for dessert. It is fizzy or frothy, more than bubbly, so it goes down easily; it is low alcohol, so do not worry if the bottle is suddenly empty. Importer Dalla Terra, $14-$18
Louis Bouillot Rose Cremant de Bourgogne - A pink wine is wonderfully evocative of the day itself and this is a rare,well-made example for less than $20. Made from 100% Pinot Noir with the color coming from short skin contact. this wine offers a delicate, but lovely salmon hue - slightly beyond pink. Rose petal and a slight hint of Pinot Noir earthiness mingle with strawberry on the nose and palate. The entry is round and juicy, while the finish is dry. There is a hint of the chalky dryness from the limestone soil but the juiciness persists on the finish as well. Imported by Boisset Family Estates, $13-$15.
Gruet Blanc de Noirs - This French family searched for years to locate a suitable site to best recreate the terroir of their native Champagne. That region? New Mexico, outside of Albuquerque. They mitigated the heat by planting at 4,300 feet. The blend here is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. The wine sometimes has just the barest hint of pink hue to it, but the Pinot Noir shines through on the nose and palate. A slight earth tone with bright berries on the entry, and the finish, speaks of it's mostly red grape blend. There is a richness and broadness that make this an excellent wine with many foods. Fish, even tuna and salmon, chicken, pork, cream sauces, and all manner of cheeses work beautifully. They also make a straight Brut with the exact opposite blend that is pure and racy. This works better with lighter fish and shellfish, think raw oysters, but the Blanc de Noirs is more hedonistic. $13-$15.
Marques de Gelida Cava 2004 - Yes, Cava. This is one of the few I can recommend. Most Cavas have a metallic flavor, to my palate, and I can find that inelegant flavor for much less money should I desire it. Too many of these Spanish sparklers are not produced by the traditional method of making sparkling wine, secondary fermentation (producing the bubbles) done in the bottle. Carbonation is added by some producers in tank by pumping in CO2 which leads to much larger bubbles (sometimes called toad's eyes) which can be harsh and aggressive on the palate. Enough about what this wine is not...what is it all about? The grapes are traditional, Macabeo, Xarel-Lo and Parellada (yes, it's okay you don't know any of them) and some Chardonnay, produced in the traditional method. The aroma features crisp citrus and a hint of nuttiness. There is a zippy freshness about it and just a hint of creaminess on the palate. Admittedly, there is also a touch of inelegance, but the depth and character outweigh this for me, especially at this price. The package is fantastic and makes quite a statement...baby Veuve anyone?
Importer Fine Estates From Spain (Jorge Ordonez). $13-19