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Don't break the bank on bubbly — lots of sparking wines are affordable

It looks like sparkling wine, but it’s beer: Infinium comes in a Champagne-style bottle with the traditional popping cork.


It looks like sparkling wine, but it’s beer: Infinium comes in a Champagne-style bottle with the traditional popping cork.

Adding a little sparkle to your life is a fashion "do" this holiday season. But you don't have to suffer in sequins to be trendy — you can choose from a host of sparkling wines (and a beer) to add a little effervescence to the season.

You don't have to spend a fortune to do it. More bubbly is available at more price points than ever before, says Wilfred Wong, cellar master for the Beverages and More! chain.

"It's all about the dollars," he says. "People still want to enjoy wines, but they don't have the means to spend the money. More importantly, they know that there are deals out there."

Deals like cava, a sparkling wine from Spain; prosecco and Asti spumante, Italian bubblies; and sekt, an effervescent riesling from Germany. Also gaining popularity is sparkling muscat, a sweet wine.

The packaging of sparkling wine also is changing a bit. In Champagne, the region of France that produces the only sparkling wine that can be properly called "Champagne," authorities are requiring use of a lighter bottle starting with the 2010 harvest. Those bottles won't show up on shelves for a few years because the wine's still aging, but they are expected to save shipping costs and make less of an environmental impact.

There are a few changes on what's inside the bottles, too. Gary Westby, champagne buyer for San Francisco-based K&L Wine Merchants, has noticed an increase in Champagnes made entirely from the pinot meunier grape.

Pinot meunier is one of the three traditional grapes of Champagne; chardonnay and pinot noir are the other two. It's cheaper to grow, being indigenous to the area, and has been considered sturdy but not particularly distinctive.

But now, some producers are growing meunier with an eye toward quality, controlling yields and planting in prime growing areas, producing wines for around $30 a bottle, a bargain for Champagne. One to try is Michel Loriot Pinot Meunier.

On the American side, a new entry in the bargain sparkling wine lists this year was Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Brut Sparkling.

This is a charmat wine, meaning the wine is first fermented in stainless steel tanks, then put into small, pressurized tanks along with yeast imported from Champagne for the second fermentation that makes the bubbles. (For Champagne, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, a more labor-intensive and expensive process.)

Woodbridge sparkling wine is light and crisp with flavors of apple and citrus. And it retails for about $10 a bottle.

Just not into grapes? Not to worry. There's a new brew for you, too — a "champagne" made of beer.

A collaboration of Samuel Adams and Germany's Weihenstephan brewery, Infinium comes in a Champagne-style bottle with a foil cover and the traditional popping cork. It's even partly fermented in the bottle, though not in exactly the same way as Champagne.

Infinium, which costs about $20 for a 750-milliliter bottle and is available on a limited basis for the holidays, took more than two years to create.

"We set out to do something that had never been done before," says Jim Koch, brewer and founder of Samuel Adams beers.

Beer has a little more in common with Champagne than you might think. Both beverages have yeast as an ingredient and beer comes with bubbles, though not as many as the sparkling wine.

Don't break the bank on bubbly — lots of sparking wines are affordable 12/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:45pm]
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