Champagne, by any other name, is typically a blend of of vibrant, high-acid wines blended down to create a house style that shouldn’t vary from year to year. While that is comforting when you’re looking for the old stand-by, smaller grower/producers are creating some vintage releases that are unique, vibrant, and still won’t break the bank. Look for champagne that is labeled RM (Recoltant Manipulant) and don’t be afraid to spend a couple dollars more than you might have on one of the big name Champagnes. The larger houses and distributors offer special incentives to retailers to offer these wines at small-losses, just to establish themselves as the champagne of choice. The return when buying RM wines should be two-fold; the retailer and the grower are getting paid, and you’re getting a wine that is hand-crafted and unique. Look for the vintage “Special Club” releases for wines that are typically affordable and are drinking well above above their price.
When looking outside of Champagne, there are terrific wines and terrific values. Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Moscato are all great options from Italy. Spain has their Cava, but beware the lowest priced bottles as they tend to be headaches waiting to happen. The Loire Valley has some incredible Samur Mousseaux, which is a Chenin Blanc perfect for seafood. Domestic wines are producing some excellent contenders, and offering them at very (very!) reasonable prices. Oregon and New Mexico (yes, really) are making some of our favorites.
So as you celebrate the New Year, think about exploring the versatility of these wines on a more regular basis. The bright acidity will cut through fats, and the toasty notes will come through in the finish. With bubbles becoming increasingly affordable, you can try them all and celebrate your way through the year!