Top 5 American Sparkling Wines (Under $20)

Since my personal motto is “If it doesn’t sparkle, it doesn’t matter” we drink a ton of sparkling wine (and champagne) at the Drunken Cyclist household. During the average week, we will likely have sparkling wine at least twice, pairing it with everything from oysters to spaghetti carbonara. The bubbles are great with most Asian cuisines, which frequently make the rounds on our dinner menus.

We also enjoy the occasional Kir Royale (a splash of crème de cassis or Chambord liqueur, topped off with 4-5 ounces of bubbly) as an apéritif and nothing beats movie night with a bowl of popcorn and a nice bottle of Brut (dry) or Demi-Sec (slightly sweet) sparkling wine. What you will never see, however, is a mimosa (orange juice and sparkling wine). I guess I am a bit of a purist since I don’t really understand the allure of drowning out the bubbles with a ton of OJ. If I am going to drink in the morning, just give me the sparkling wine straight up–I am not trying to fool anyone into thinking that I am really not hitting the booze well before noon. You might disagree, and that is fine, but never let me know that you make your mimosa with “real” champagne. Dropping $30-40 or more just to add a little fizz to your breakfast beverage is outright insanity.

And I might have to smack you.

For the most part, sparkling wine is not cheap. It is a rather expensive process (when done right) and therefore can put quite the dent in the wine budget. Almost all champagnes and an increasing number of domestic sparklers require you to drop $30 or more a bottle. Luckily there are a few other options here in the good old U.S. under $20. Notice that “few” is not only in italics but also underscored. In recent years more domestic sparklers have been produced, but the average price has soared well over $20. Here are five wines that are relatively high on quality and low on cost:

N.V. Gruet Brut Méthode Champenoise: Retail ~$14. This is the sole wine on the list from outside of California, this sparkler is produced in New Mexico. Like three others on the list, Gruet has its roots in Champagne–the New Mexico winery was started by Gilbert Gruet, the owner of the Gruet Champagne house in Béthon, France. Therefore they should know better than to continue to put “Méthode Champenoise” on the bottles, since the people of Champagne get their culottes in a bunch whenever the term is used. The wine has fine bubbles and a vibrant mousse, great apple and citrus on both the nose and the palate, a bit of nuttiness on the finish. Great with shellfish, roasted turkey, or anything with a pesto sauce. Very Good. 85-87 Points.

N.V. Mumm Cuvée Napa Brut Prestige: Retail ~$18. Mumm is another domestic producer that was started by a Champagne house, but they are now out of the picture altogether. This was one of the first wine clubs that I joined and although they are a bit of a big corporate behemoth now, but the wine is good and the tasting room has beautiful views of the valley. They make several different sparklers, but this is their “flagship”. Clean and crisp with stone fruits and melon, this wine would pair nicely with grilled pork chops, pad thai, or even pizza (as long as you go easy on the sauce). Very Good. 87-89 Points.

N.V. Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs: Retail ~$16. The third of the four wineries started by their Champagne brethren, Domaine Chandon is not only known for their wine, but the excellent restaurant they have on the premises in Napa Valley. The wine is made solely from black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and has a slight salmon hue. Great strawberry and blackberry give the wine considerable heft and texture. Pair this with grilled salmon, chicken and mushrooms, and even a veal burger. Very Good. 86-88 Points.

N.V. Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley: Retail $20. OK, so I cheated a bit. This wine is right at $20 (and about $24 in PA), but it is one of my favorite domestic sparklers and the price is close enough. The winery is up in the Anderson Valley and I have never actually visited, but I have visited the Roederer Champagne house (maker of Cristal for those of you who know what that means). Since many of the reserve wines are aged a bit in oak barrels, this wine has a bit more spunk to it. Certainly more muscle than the others on the list, this wine can hold up to practically anything you can throw at it: Oysters, seafood risotto, and my wife’s bulgogi (Korean barbecue). Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.

N.V. Korbel Blanc de Noirs American Champagne: Retail $12. I know what you’re thinking: “Korbel?!? Really?” Yes. Really. OK, for a long time I thought they were awful since, well, Korbel seems to have this “tacky” connotation to it. It does not help that they call it “American Champagne” and have the “Méthode Champenoise” term on the label. A couple of years ago, I went to the tasting room and I have to say that I walked away somewhat impressed. The place was a zoo, but they had several wines that I would not mind drinking. Stay away from the Brut–it is just a bit too sweet, but the Blanc de Noirs and the rosé are both solid efforts. This is a wine that is OK to use for mimosas, but really it is not all that bad on its own. Good to Very Good. 84-86 Points.

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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27 Responses to Top 5 American Sparkling Wines (Under $20)

  1. talkavino says:

    May be I need to try Korbel, as I’m not a fun. I’m somehow indifferent to Gruet (it is not bad, but doesn’t speak to me), but I would gladly drink the rest of the sparklers on your list – any time. And I think if I would build that type of list, I would only replace Korbel with Chateau Ste Michelle Brut, which is exactly in the same price category ($12), and I like it very much as well.

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    • Beth says:

      I agree with your recommendation of Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, as well as the Brut Rosé, both of which can be had for around $8-$12. Excellent price-to-quality ratio.

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    • I hear you. By no means would I ever buy a case of Korbel just to have it on hand, but it is not nearly as bad as I thought it should be given all the derision by wine geeks. I considered Chateau Ste. Michelle, but I honestly think is a bit thin, even compared to Korbel.

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  2. I saw the title on twitter and thought: “if he doesn’t include Roederer Estate in that group, he’s crazy”. Good choices! Do you count sale pricing? We can usually get the basic Argyle Brut for under $20 on sale. The Chandon and Gruet are pretty good, too. More sparkling wine for everyone!

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    • Glad to hear I’m not crazy 😉 I did not consider discount pricing and if Argyle were even a bit closer, I would have thrown it in there. I am a huge fan (and usually get it for about $12-15, but that is by no means retail). The Gruet has certainly grown on me the last few times I have had it.

      I love your last sentence!

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  3. What a great motto to live by!

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  4. Stefano says:

    Excellent recommendations, Jeff: I also like Gruet, especially their Blanc de Noirs which seems to have a little more structure and aromas than their base version. I think for the money it is really pretty good value and have even been planning on writing a review about it some day! Well, I trust you on Korbel, but am not going to try it out based on my personal boycot of any sparkling wine outside the Champagne region that markets itself as such. 🙂
    Thanks for a great post!

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    • It is still really hard getting over the “American Champagne” thing. Even typing that caused me some angst. I was out in Albuquerque a few years ago and was so disappointed that I could not make it to the winery….

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  5. seetinarun says:

    Fellow sparkling wine lover here, and a kir royale is my favorite way to start off an evening. Love the recommendations!

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    • I think we should be besties….

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      • seetinarun says:

        I remember buying a big bottle of Chambord for a dessert recipe once, many moons ago, thinking that it would take me years to finish. I then discovered the Kir Royale and that was the end of the bottle of Chambord. Especially since I don’t like hard liquor, sparkling wines are my go-to for cocktail hour, unless it’s a beer kind of night.
        You and your wife know how to kick off cocktail hour right! Bravo!

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      • There are few cocktails that I will chose over a Kir Royale. Having that bottle of Chambord on the counter is oh so nice….

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  6. Beth says:

    I’ve had the Mumm and Roderer, but not the Chandon or Gruet, so I need to remedy that. As to Korbel, well, I’ll stick to Domaine Ste. Michelle.

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  7. Joe Becerra says:

    I go with the Gruet. Sometimes it is on sale at my local Safeway for $12.59. Both the Brut and the Rosé are very nice. Even Jancis Robinson likes Gruet and says it more like a French Champagne. This what she said at the Commonwealth Club. http://www.winecountrygetaways.com/napablog/american-wine-jancis-robinson-and-linda-murphy-at-the-commonwealth-club/

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  8. Great post…my favorites would have to be the Chandon and Mumm…and I love a great Mimosa…LOL

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  9. I buy 4 out of 5 of those sparklers routinely . . . I just haven’t tried the Korbel Blanc de Noirs, but I’ll fix that! Salud!!

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  10. Pingback: Pairing Fish Tacos & Budget Bubbles | The Armchair Sommelier

  11. Kim says:

    I stumbled on this from the Armchair Sommelier just now… must have missed the original post. I love your motto and think I need to start incorporating more sparkling wine in my week! Thanks for the suggestions… can’t wait to try them! 🙂

    Like

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