A number of decades ago, sparkling wine was either pricey champagne or sweetened, effervescent plonk made by bulk winemakers in California, such as Gallo or Italian Swiss Colony. For those of you old enough to remember, Andre and a sweet sparkling red wine called Cold Duck should bring back a smile or a bad memory.
Today, the sparkling wine opportunities are much broader with availability from most winemaking regions of the world. But the giants of value bubbles come from Italy and Spain.
Although real French champagne still reigns supreme in the premium sparkling wine category, bargain-priced bubbly such as Italian prosecco and Spanish cava in the $10-$20 range dominate imported sparkling wine purchases.
However, according to the wine trade magazine Shanken News Daily, sparkling wine is less than 7 percent of total U.S. wine consumption. It is projected to grow by 8 percent while total U.S. annual wine consumption is expected to grow only a little more than 1 percent.
A significant portion of this growth comes from prosecco and cava.
Prosecco is most commonly a sparkling wine made from at least 85 percent glera grapes grown in the Veneto and Friuli regions of northeastern Italy. Most typically it is fermented in stainless steel tanks utilizing the bulk charmant method. This economical way of making prosecco as opposed to the premium in-bottle fermentation contributes to prosecco’s reasonable price.
Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore, made from grapes grown on hillsides in the Treviso district between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, is generally considered superior to wine simple labeled "prosecco," and is a bit more expensive.
Cava is most commonly made from three indigenous Spanish grapes: macabeu, xarel-lo, and paralleda. Like champagne, it is fermented in the bottle. Cava tends to be drier (with less calories) than prosecco, and also comes in a rosé version created by adding red still wine to the blend.
We recently tasted some reasonably priced sparklers from Italy and Spain as well as two from Argentina and Chile. Following are our impressions.
Ca’ Di Rajo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry Millesima DOCG 2016 ($18). While most prosecco is a blend of several vintages, this sparkling wine is entirely from the 2016 vintage. The wine exhibits a delicate floral nose, medium body and apple and lemon flavors. Very elegant and refined.
Tenuta Degli Ultimi Biancariva Rive Di Collato Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG ($20-25). Full bodied with yeast elements in the nose and bright orange and tangerine flavors. A very nice package.
Masottina Conegliano Valdobiaddene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($22). A very light, elegant style of prosecco with floral and vanilla notes.
Ruffino Prosecco DOC Extra Dry ($15). From a wine producer better known for its Tuscan still wines, this affordable and quaffable prosecco is very satisfying. Baked apple and almond elements dominate in a full-bodied sparkler.
La Marca Prosecco DOC ($16). This is widely available and wildy popular. A pretty simple style of prosecco with apple and citrus elements. Quaffable and pleasant.
Vilarnau Brut Reserva DO Cava ($17). A pretty complex sparkler for the price. Yeast and apples in the nose with crisp lemony citrus flavors. A great introduction to Spanish cava and a great value.
Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé ($17). Crafted from the red grape varieties trepat and pinot noir, this pink sparkler is a delight. More body and flavor than its cousin reviewed above, this wine delivers abundantly bright cherry and strawberry fruit flavors. A delight to drink by itself or to pair with lighter meats, salmon, tuna or chicken. Delicious!
Anna de Codornu Blanc De Blanc Brut Reserva ($15). Another amazing cava value. In a departure from traditional grapes, Codornu blends 70 percent chardonnay with the three traditional cava varietals. The result is a full-bodied and rich, tropical fruit-driven wine that delivers a great deal of pleasure.
Toso Brut Mendoza Argentina ($15). From the producers of the very good Argentinean Pascual Toso malbec, this sparkling wine over delivers in the quality department. Elements of elegant toasty oak, ripe fruit and honey dominate. Crafted by legendary American wine maker Paul Hobbs, this 100 percent chardonnay is a winner.
Valdivieso Brut Rosé Chile ($15). Although a bit on the sweet side despite the brut designation, this sparkling wine delivers pleasant strawberry and cherry flavors with a nice dose of yeast. Pretty simple, but pleasant.
Ruca Malen Argentina Brut ($28). This 75 percent pinot noir, 25 percent chardonnay bubbly presents lovely pear and apple fruit notes with a bit of a brioche nose and flavor, and a long, creamy finish. A world- class sparkling wine.
Rodney Strong Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($35). This easy-drinking cabernet, blended with a dash of malbec, is always reliable for the price. Deep color, ripe plum and blackberry flavors with hints of mocha and spice.
La Crema Arroyo Seco Chardonnay 2015 ($30). Exotic flavors of extracted papaya, apricot and tangerine make this a delicious quaff for seafood dinners or just sipping.
Columbia Winery Red Blend 2015 ($14). This is a good value from Washington's Columbia Valley. Merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec combine to deliver a forward, soft mélange of berry fruit flavors and hints of vanilla and spice.
Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc Napa Valley 2015 ($31). This producer takes sauvignon blanc to a new level with a complex palate of layered tropic fruit and mineral flavors.