If you’ve got a celebration coming up, you know you need a bottle of champagne to toast the big day or to spray over someone’s head. But finding a respectable bottle of bubbly can be a big challenge when you’re working with a budget.
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Champagne on a Budget
Many bottles of “champagne” can be had for as little as $4 to $6, making it seem like cheap sparkling wine is easy enough to find. But true cheap champagne can offer a far more pleasing flavor palette than those bottom-of-the-barrel brands.
Adjust your expectations, know what to look for with respect to marketing, and pick up a few different bottles to make your next celebration an impromptu tasting party.
It Probably Won’t All Be True Champagne
It’s not truly champagne unless it was made in the Champagne region of France. Whether you adhere to the rule of regional production or not, you need to be aware of labeling limitations when shopping. Don’t be afraid to give sparkling wines made in other regions a try to get similar experiences at different price points.
While you can find even true champagne on a budget, don’t expect it to be affordable enough to enjoy regularly. There are plenty of “champagnes” that you can afford on a weekly or monthly basis, however, even if they weren’t produced in France.
Go with Prosecco for Brunches and Mixing
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine that is sweeter and has slightly larger bubbles than traditional champagne. Yet for brunches where it’s consumed in large quantities and cocktails where the flavor is blunted, it’s often the best and most available choice.
Prosecco is sold in many grocery stores and almost all wine shops, making it easy to find anywhere. Stick to a dry variety for a more champagne-like experience on a budget.
Try Franciacorta for a More Classical Champagne Experience
For under $20 a bottle with a true dry champagne flavor, look for the sparkling wine known as Franciacorta. Also made in Italy, this variety has a more developed taste than prosecco with only a slightly higher price tag. It’s best enjoyed on its own, so it’s not usually worth splurging on for mimosas. However, it can also get as pricey as low-end French champagne.
Look for lesser-known brands with vintages at least a few years old for budget sparkling wine that no one will guess isn’t champagne.
California Sparkling Wines Are Worth Sipping
When serving a sparkling wine on its own for sipping, whether with dessert or for toasting, it’s important to choose something light and not too dry. Many people are less than enthused about an entire goblet of champagne being thrust into their hands because it’s a bit mouth-puckering.
Sweeter and smoother California sparkling wines that are worth serving for this purpose are available for $10 or less. They may not be true champagnes, but they may be more popular with your guests than the real thing.
Sparkling Rosé Deserves Respect Too
Another sweeter option is sparkling rosé. Whether it’s Spanish blended Cava or something from Italy, European sparkling wines tend to offer a more robust flavor profile than domestic ones.
Don’t expect to spend much less than $20 in this category, or you may end up with something too syrupy or flavored. Check for a brand that lists the grape varietals used in the blend on the label to ensure it’s made from a specific recipe and not just flavored after blending.
What to Expect to Pay for Real Champagne
Real, brand-name champagne imported from France tends to start at around $20 to $25 a bottle. However, these products can be too dry or harsh on the tongue. You can get better tasting and more well-rounded champagne for as little as $30 to $50 in most cases. The best brands command thousands of dollars per bottle, so getting something good at $25 is a steal if you think about it. For a more affordable weekly drink, try a champagne-inspired sparkling wine instead.
There are lots of champagne options for every budget, even if some of them don’t come straight from France. Check out California sparkling wines, Italian varieties like Franciacorta, and rosé, to get the bubbly sensation with a slightly different flavor profile. When only true champagne will do, you can still find a good deal for under $50.