Sparkling wines, easier on the budget than Champagne

NEW YORK Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:10am EST

A bottle of Champagne (L) stands next a bottle of Prosecco in a wine shop in the Valdobbiadene valley, northern Italy, July 4, 2008. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

A bottle of Champagne (L) stands next a bottle of Prosecco in a wine shop in the Valdobbiadene valley, northern Italy, July 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Manuel Silvestri

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Krug Champagne, which sold at auction for nearly $5,000 a bottle earlier this month, may be a bit too pricey for many holiday budgets, but wine experts say there are more affordable alternatives on offer.

Sparkling wines, from France, Spain, Germany and the United States, are a good substitute for Champagne and won't break the budget.

"Prosecco is definitely an alternative, but it must be the real thing," said Ed McCarthy, author of "Champagne for Dummies."

McCarthy suggested buying Prosecco made in the original Italian region of Valdobbiadene-Conegliano, about a 90-minute drive northwest of Venice, where the grape is grown. A bottle from the area sells for $10-$20.

Most non-vintage Champagnes cost about $40 a bottle or more in shops in New York and London. The prestige "tete de cuvee" Champagnes, range from $120 to $300 or more a bottle, depending on the producer and vintage.

Krug's top of the line Clos du Mesnil Champagne, made from the Chardonnay grapes of a single vineyard, is priced at $850 to $900 a bottle, even at the Chateau's cellar door, according to McCarthy. Sotheby's sold a case of 12 bottles of the 1990 vintage for $58,188 on December 1.

For wines from France's Loire region, he suggested bottles from Gratien & Meyer, who have been producing sparkling wines for more than a century. Their Brut Saumur Anjou averages about $17 a bottle.

He also praised Bouvet-Ladubay, another Loire producer, whose wines average about $13 a bottle.

Spanish Cavas are another alternative to sparkling wine.

"They are also in the same price range as Prosecco and maybe even $2 or $3 less," McCarthy said, adding that Codorniu or Juve y Camps would be good choices.

California sparkling wines, made by some of France's top Champagne houses, can also be a good substitute for Champagne.

"My favorite is Roederer Estate," said McCarthy. "It's totally reliable." It sells for $18-$22 a bottle in the United States and at about $30 in the Britain and Germany.

British wine critic and author Stuart Pigott casts his vote for Sekt, the German sparkling wine. His favorite is Van Volxem 1900 Riesling Brut Sekt, made in Mosel.

"It is a rich and complex sparkling wine that is less creamy and less acidic than Champagne," he said about the wine that is available in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland for about $34 a bottle.

But a man who buys millions of dollars of sparkling wine each year thinks most people really would prefer something sweeter to drink.

Guido Battipaglia, the sparkling wine buyer for New York's Gotham Wines & Liquors, said that instead of Champagnes most people would prefer Cantine Riondo Pink Prosecco, which costs less than $10 a bottle in the United States and Germany.

"There's a lot of fruit in it," said Battipaglia, who also likes the French rose from Marquis de la Tour, which can be found for less than $10.

If Champagne is a must, McCarthy recommended Nicolas Feuillatte, which costs about $25 a bottle. For slightly more money, $40 a bottle, Charles Heidsieck would be his choice.

"The price is not high for the quality," he said.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)

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