If I could have any wine I wanted for Valentine’s Day, I’d want real Champagne. There’s nothing that can compare to that unique toasty taste of the elegant bubbly wine from France’s Champagne region.
But let’s face it: Even if you’re buying at a wine or liquor store – rather than at a restaurant, where the price will at least double – a bottle from a well-known Champagne house will cost about $40. And how many of us are going to spend that much on one bottle of wine?
But even if you’re on a budget, you can find some good substitutes. In fact, some of the parent companies of famous Champagne labels – such as Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer and Piper-Heidsieck – own U.S. wineries that make affordable sparkling wine. These sparklers are made following the Méthode Champenoise or Méthode Tradicionelle, the same process as true Champagne in which the sparkling wine goes through a second fermentation in the bottle in which it’s sold.
While some of these domestic sparklers can run close to $20 a bottle, you can sometimes find them being promoted at $15 and less. So when I saw Piper Sonoma Brut priced at $13.99 at The Wine & Cheese Place, 7435 Forsyth in Clayton, I grabbed a bottle. The company that makes Piper Sonoma is a subsidiary of Rémy Cointreau, which also owns Champagne Piper-Heidsieck.
This California sparkling wine is made of the same varietals that are used in a true Champagne. It’s a blend of 60 percent Chardonnay, 15 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Pinot Meunier. This is a dry, crisp sparkler with elegant pinpoint bubbles. It has an inviting yeasty smell and refreshing citrus notes. While this is not a true Champagne, it’s a wonderful substitute for the price. This bubbly makes for a lovely apéritif. Or even better, pair it with lobster. It even goes with chocolate.
Those who prefer a fruitier sparkling wine might want to try Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, a popular wine from Columbia Valley in Washington State that is widely available at supermarkets and wine shops. This sparkler, priced at $9.99, comes from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which owns such brands as Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest. (Domaine Ste. Michelle’s Brut is not as dry as the Piper Sonoma; the Washington winery also makes a sweeter bubbly that is labeled “extra dry,” the term for off-dry sparkling wines.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle, which was founded in 1934, pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington State and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the Ste. Michelle label since 1967.
The Domaine Ste. Michelle doesn’t have the same finesse as the Piper Sonoma, but it’s a well-made sparkler – also made following the Méthode Champenoise – and inexpensive enough you won’t feel guilty having some fun with it. Try pairing it with popcorn, French fries or Indian cuisine, or blending it with orange juice to make mimosas.