It’s that time of year when we all get to eat, drink and be merry—and then promise to never eat, drink or be merry again starting January 1, no matter what! But for those delightfully hedonistic weeks before the start of the New Year, you deserve the kind of bubbly that doesn’t taste like an obligatory bore. That’s why we consulted Adrian Murcia, a sommelier for the Frankies Spuntino restaurant group and a veteran wine educator, for his expert advice on sophisticated sparkling wines that won’t break the bank. (*Full disclosure: Adrian is my husband, and I’ve never had a chance to pester him professionally until now. Also, he ruined me for ordinary wine and I’m grateful.) See below for his recommendations—there’s something to suit every palate!
1. LAHERTE FRÈRES CHAMPAGNE ULTRATRADITION BRUT NV ($40, FRANCE; UVA WINES)
Rising stars of terroir-driven Champagne, the Laherte family works only with parcels they own, allowing for greater control over vineyard practices. This wine is “lean and racy, and yet simultaneously ultra-expressive and generous: the paradox and miracle of Champagne.” (For the rest of us, that means it’ll have a sharper flavor, thanks to its high acidity, but it won’t be mouth-puckeringly tart.)
2. AYALA CHAMPAGNE BRUT MAJEUR NV ($38, FRANCE)
Cellar master Caroline Latrive turns out extremely elegant, mineral-driven wines at this medium-sized Champagne house in the classic mold—but one that flies a bit under the radar. Ayala’s non-vintage Brut Majeur is the maison’s workhorse and about as lovely as entry level can get: “Ripe pear, lemon curd and biscuit on the nose, terrific complexity and integration on the mid-palate—with extraordinary persistence on the finish.”
3. DOMAINE BÉNÉDICTE ET STÉPHANE TISSOT, CRÉMANT DU JURA EXTRA BRUT BBF NV ($40, JURA, FRANCE; FLATIRON WINES)
Wife-and-husband team Bénédicte and Stéphane Tissot are darlings of the natural wine world and deeply acquainted with every square meter of their vineyards, all located in the hills of Arbois. Their BBF Extra Brut Méthode Traditionnelle is 100 percent Chardonnay and aged for time in oak barrels; the result is “bone dry but aromatically bountiful.”
4. DOMAINE SYLVAIN GAUDRON VOUVRAY BRUT 2015 ($17, LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE; SEA GRAPE WINE SHOP)
Often associated with mass-produced, ho-hum Chenin Blanc, Vouvray has its hidden gems, like this traditional method sparkler from the Gaudron family: “Classic in every way. Ripe pear and honeyed aromas, with the most subdued hint of sweetness; this wine calls out for soft goat cheese or a mild, creamy blue.”
5. LE ROCHER DES VIOLETTES 2014 PÉTILLANT ORIGINEL MONTLOUIS-SUR-LOIRE ($24, LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE; UVA WINES)
One among a growing cohort of Loire Valley young guns making names for themselves in international wine circles, Rocher de Violettes winemaker Xavier Weisskopf is arguably the most fanatical and uncompromising in his approach to viticulture and winemaking. His Pétillant Originel (a variant of pét-nat—where wine is bottled before it fully ferments—but with more demanding requirements) is a gorgeous expression of the greatness of Chenin: You’ll get a mix of “floral, pear and quince aromas co-mingling with a fresh-baked bread character imparted by two to three years of lees contact [aka yeast].” Though the wine is bone dry, it still tastes rich and full-bodied.
6. RAVENTÓS I BLANC ‘DE NIT’ BRUT ROSE, CONCA DEL RIU ANOIA 2016 (FROM $20, CATALONIA, SPAIN; UVA WINES)
The price is right and the quality is spot-on too. The somm says, “A long-time favorite of mine, from one of the oldest wine-making families in Europe: high-toned raspberry character with bready/creamy notes.” It boasts zero dosage, meaning it hasn’t had a sweet wine added to it, like sparkling wines made in the mèthode traditionnelle, or traditional method.
7. ETTORE GERMANO BRUT ‘ROSANNA’ ROSATO 2016 ($29, ALTA LANGA, PIEDMONT, ITALY; FRANKLY WINES)
This 100 percent Nebbiolo, Champagne method sparkler is a side project of Barolo rising star Sergio Germano. Minimal skin contact gives the wine a subtle, pale color, and the flavor profile makes it a crowd-pleaser: “Red fruit aromas and faint biscuity character; light, crisp with great minerality.”
8. LA COLLINA ‘LUNARIS’ MALVASIA SECCO 2017 (FROM $20; EMILIA-ROMAGNA, ITALY)
Made from the aromatic Malvasia grape variety, this biodynamic wine is soft, with notes of candied orange and white flower. Great with salty ham and wild mushrooms and semi-firm goat's milk cheese. It’s also completely quaffable on its own.
9. LE SOT DE L’ANGE ‘LA BOUTANCHE’ PET-NAT 2017 ($22, LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE; FRANKLY WINES)
A good pick if you like to experiment and can handle some degree of weirdness in your wine. Adrian describes it as a “funky, unfiltered and f***ing delicious Pét-Nat Chenin from an uber-natural producer in Loire Valley.” If you aren’t familiar with the lingo, you can learn about pét-nat wines here—but basically it’s like the punk rock of the wine world.
10. DENNY BINI PODERE CIPOLLA LAMBRUSCO DELL’EMILIA (FROM $18, EMILIA-ROMAGNA, ITALY)
“You’ve bought a ton of prosciutto and sopressata, and a whole lot of hard cheese. What to drink? This.” Yup, this sparkling red is the perfect companion to your party platter: dry, earthy, refreshing—basically, it bears no resemblance to that sickly sweet style of Lambrusco.