Champagne is a time-honored stand-in for celebratory drinks. It has a creamy texture with a refreshingly crisp punch. The problem is that the cost of champagne can be a bit lofty. The value is in being the go-to drink for toasting special occasions. But did you know that champagne isn’t the only option? European winemakers use the same fermentation process as champagne to make other, less expensive alternatives.
First, What Exactly is Champagne?
Champagne is a specific type of sparkling wine produced in the champagne region in northern France. Champagne is typically made from three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and Pinot Meunier. Sparkling wine made from these grapes outside of the champagne region is simply called sparkling wine. That means that there are many different varieties of sparkling wine that make a suitable stand-in for this iconic celebratory wine.
The cost of champagne is directly related to its exclusivity. Since champagne only comes from a specific region in northern France, it cannot be produced around the world. And, as you might imagine, higher-quality champagne brings a higher price tag, and this price tag leaves many people looking for something a little more budget-friendly.
Our Top Picks for “Same” but “Different”
Now that we have established that champagne is just a specific type of sparkling wine, let’s take a look at what other sparkling wines are out there and how they measure up as a stand-in for champagne. Remember that each type of alcoholic beverage comes in tiers that represent good, better, and best quality.
You will pay premium prices for higher qualities, so a top-shelf cremant could still be more expensive than lower-shelf champagne. Ultimately, the right choice comes down to deciding how closely you want to mimic the look and taste of authentic champagne.
Prosecco is champagne—well, not really. But it is an Italian alternative that is very similar. Technically prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine and closely resembles the bubbly of champagne. Side-by-side, prosecco has stronger floral and fruit notes and tends to be a hair sweeter than champagne. Prosecco, in its own right, is the perfect pairing for charcuterie boards.
Prosecco is made from glera grapes using an affordable tank method instead of the traditional method of fermenting champagne. In a good glass of prosecco, you will find notes of green apple, honeydew, pear, honeysuckle, and cream. By comparison, champagne features citrus, white cherry, peach, almond, and toast.
If you get too picky about breaking down the flavor profiles, the two beverages are distinctly different. But if you need something tasty and fizzy that the average party guest will enjoy, we love it.
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Another sparkling wine that serves as a solid stand-in for champagne is espumante. The best espumante comes from Portugal. The cool coastal climate produces perfect arinto grapes that produce a sparkly, acidic espumante. The acidity is perfect for pairing with meats.
Espumante is often overshadowed by neighboring Spain’s delicious and bubbly Cava (another good stand-in for champagne). But in Portugal, there is a local take on the bubbly tradition that pairs well with their varied cuisine. Espumante is a little undiscovered gem. You’re likely to find some familiar flavor notes in espumante like citrus, apple, and almond.
If you are familiar with Lambrusco, you might imagine an overly sweet and somewhat unrefined sparkling beverage. The good news is that things have changed for the better. There is a wide variety of Lambruscos on the market made with deep pomegranate hues that appeal to red wine lovers.
Don’t get us wrong, a good glass of red is classy. But when it comes to toasting a special occasion, and you want something with a little more pizzazz, this sparkling red wine is a versatile stand-in. This Italian sparkling wine comes from Lambrusco grapes and tends to feature lots of floral and fruity tones. We like Lambrusco because it is sparkling without being too obnoxious about it.
When you don’t want to splurge for champagne, get the very next best thing. Cremant is a sparkling wine made in France, just outside the coveted champagne region. Cremant makers boast that 99% of wine drinkers won’t even be able to tell the difference. Cremant uses the same fermentation process as champagne, with an added secondary fermentation to create a creamy texture. Also, unlike champagne, cremant can be made from a variety of grapes. You will find chardonnay and pinot grapes along with others.
Related: 10 Second Margarita Recipes
Final Thoughts on the Best Champaign Alternatives
At the end of the day, champagne is just an exclusive version of a sparkling wine. If serving authentic champagne is not your priority, skip the expense and opt for a less expensive and equally delicious alternative. For those who don’t like the bitterness of champagne, prosecco can offer a sweeter compromise. And for those looking to stick as close to the real thing as possible, cremant is basically the same thing for a little less money. We’ve rounded up a list of alternatives that include everything from a fruity sparkling wine cocktail to champagne-look-alikes to help you celebrate in style.
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