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Budget-Friendly Champagne Alternatives

Champagne can be relied upon to add an extra sparkle to a special occasion and many of us associate it with toasting those momentous events in our life. Sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region in North-Eastern France. Strict rules and regulations must be adhered to during its production process and the only permitted grape varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne is produced using a process called ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’ (Traditional Method) which means that the bubbles in the wine are created during a second fermentation in the bottle.

Champagne is a very labour-intensive wine to produce and hence it can be an extravagant purchase that we can often ill afford. Luckily there are many more reasonably priced alternatives to try that also use the ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’ to produce their sparkling wine.

A sparkling wine that is made in France, but not in the Champagne region is called ‘Crémant’. Many different regions in France produce their own version of Crémant, including Alsace, Loire, Limoux and Burgundy (Bourgogne.) All these versions of Crémant are produced in the same way as a Champagne, but each region will use their own unique blend of grapes depending on the climate and the terrior in the area. For example, Crémant d’Alsace will mostly use Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris in the blend while Chenin Blanc is the dominant variety used in Crémant de Loire. Crémant de Bourgogne is the most akin to Champagne, as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the dominant grapes used in this style. Like Champagne, Crémant de Bourgogne will exhibit crisp apple notes and a nice brioche flavour due to ageing on lees.

Spain also has its own version of sparkling wine made using the traditional method. This Spanish version is called ‘Cava’. Produced mainly in the Catalunya region of North-Eastern Spain, it is another good alternative to Champagne if you are on a budget. Predominantly Spanish grape varieties are used in its production, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir may also be used. Flavours of apples and pears are common, but as Cava will usually spend less time on the lees than Champagne, there will be less brioche and biscuit flavours.

In South Africa, the ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’ is known instead as ‘Méthode Cap Classique’. Due to South Africa’s warm climate, the best examples are usually produced in the cooler regions of the country, either on the coast or at a higher altitude. However, compared to France and Northern Spain, there is still a good deal more warmth and sunlight, meaning that the sparkling wines produced here will have fuller, riper fruit flavours. Like Champagne, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are commonly used, but other varieties such as Chenin Blanc may also be included in the blend.

Prosecco is frequently seen as Italy’s answer to Champagne, however the lesser known Franciacorta actually has much more in common with Champagne than Prosecco does. Due to the production method used, Prosecco rarely has the delicious flavour profile of Champagne. Franciacorta on the other hand, is made by the traditional method just like Champagne, Crémant and Cava and so exhibits luscious flavours of crisp apple, citrus and brioche and biscuit from time spent on lees.

For me, the most exciting and promising alternative to Champagne is the relative new-comer: English sparkling wine. The cool climate and the chalky soils in the South of England are very similar to those found in the Champagne region and lead to a beautifully crisp and fruity wine with great acidity. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are normally used in the production of English sparkling wine, making it a real contender for the best alternative Champagne.

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