Hey, did you know that Champagne can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France? If it's not, it's just called sparkling wine.
It is one of those painful truths that at every holiday party in which someone opens a bottle of festive bubbles, a guest must declare this "fun fact." This fact is no longer fun, now it is one of those cliche party facts that everyone knows -- like switching your car insurance to save 15 percent or more. But there is so much more to sparkling wine than that one little tidbit of Internet knowledge.
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For example, did you know, that sparkling wine that comes from France but not Champagne is called Crémant? Did you know that Cava comes from Spain? That Prosecco comes from Italy? What's more, did you know that a splash of sparkling wine is a fantastic way to balance out a syrupy cocktail? Or that picking up a bottle of bubbles for a Christmas party is both chic and cheap? Basically, there is a whole world of interesting minutiae that accompanies the big wide world of sparkling wine. There are three main staples of sparkling wine beyond France: Asti, Prosecco and Cava.
Asti: This is your sweet, sugary dessert variety from Italy, and it is made from Moscato grapes--you know, that wine that women on Real Housewives of Atlanta drink when Riesling is not available. Asti is so sweet that it often comes in pre-made fruit-flavors like peach or strawberry, but this is not recommended. If you're looking for flavors, balance out the sweetness of an Asti with fresh juices! Try the naturally fruity Villa Alena Moscato d'Asti at Trader Joe's for $7.99 or good ol'fashioned Marchesini Spumante for the budget price of $6.99 at Total Wine
Prosecco: Also Italian, this is probably the second best-known variety of sparkling wine after Champagne. For some reason, any explanation of Prosecco usually includes a long list of Italian provinces and terms, or a repetition of how much like apples it tastes. "It's crisp... Like an apple." "It's refreshing... Like an apple." "It's dry, but not too dry... like an apple." "It's red and the bottles grow on trees... Like an apple." Just kidding. Prosecco is well balanced, sweet but not too sweet, dry but not too tart. Prosecco is the Goldilocks of sparkling wine. Botter Prosecco Spumante is a wonderful departure from the usual "apple crisp apple apple pear" descriptors, and is actually quite creamy and aromatic. Found at Total Wine for $12.99.
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Cava: From Spain, this is easily the driest variety of sparkling wine and exhibits flavors from "floral" all the way to "briny". This is one of those white wines that can walk the line from dry to salt, but that doesn't mean it isn't tasty! A typical brut--a fancy word for dry--Cava can make a great base for a sparkling cocktail like a Royal Kirs which includes simple syrup and Creme de Cassis, which is a neutral and sweet liqueur. Hands down, the most popular sparkling wine by sales is Rondel Brut Cava which is great alone or in a mix and at Total Wine for $8.99.
And if you're really, really, really looking for an actual Champagne, Korbel Champagne Brut is currently $12.99 for the holiday season at Trader Joe's. Pick up a bottle and show off your new found knowledge at a holiday party!