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Drink like a champ: A sommelier's guide to perfect bubbly


The Spartans are back in the Final Four, and while this feels commonplace over the last 20 years, the recent drought has left fans thirsty.

Winston Churchill put it best: "I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.” His love for the bubbles was commemorated by the French wine company Pol Roger who named a champagne after him called, Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill.

Sparkling wine comes from all over the world, not just from Champagne, France.Is Champagne the best area in the world for sparkling wine? Yes. There is no close second place for sheer volume of quality, but Champagne can often be outside of the price window that shoppers are willing to pay— especially if the wine is for everyday consumption.

Year after year, Dom Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs is a true consistent favorite. The wine is elegance exemplified in presentation and in style. 100 percent chardonnay, the fresh fruits, florals, slight herbaceous and toasty style is worth it every time. Now...for say $70, this can get pricy—making it a special occasion wine. Although I do tend to believe that Cassius making fools out of defenders in the Final Four could constitute as a special occasion.

If you crave bubbles, but you are on a budget, start thinking about Spain.

Some shorthand notes on the Spanish competition: Cava is sparkling wine from Spain, mostly from Catalonia, but sometimes from other Spanish regions. It’s made in the same method as Champagne by law. While Champagne theoretically uses 7 grapes —but almost always only pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier — traditional Cava uses Spanish grapes like parellada, macabeo, xarello and a few others. These wines are usually dry, simple and fresh in style.

Torre Oria Cava is dry and well worth the money. It goes for about $12 at your independent retailers. This might be the most inexpensive representation of balance and quality in Spanish sparkling I’ve had in the last 5 years. Gosh, I’ve had microwaved nachos that cost more than $12.

Northern Italy makes oft-delicious sparkling wine from the region of Lombardy from a place called Franciacorta, probably Champagne’s closest quality rival. Franciacorta wines are also generally dry wines.

Travel eastward from Lombardy to the general vicinity of Venice and Verona, and you’ll find yourself in the land of Prosecco, where oceans of innocuous wines are churned out from the glera grape. 

Corte Fiora Prosecco is floral like fresh flower blossoms and effortless in its fruit profile. Likely about $18 out the door retail, it’s worth spending $3-5 more on this Prosecco compared to most of the others. The style lends itself well to casual drinkers looking for lighter wines that glimmer with nuance.

There are also wonderful highlights of sparkling wine from California, Michigan, Australia’s Tamar Valley and various regions in France.

My failsafe local wine rule: I’ve never had a wine from Mawby I didn’t like (they can range from $15-40). Whether this weekend comes with glorious wins or heartbreaking losses, don’t cheat yourself out of such affordable and accessible chances to drink good bubbles.

Justin King is owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails-focused restaurant in DeWitt, and owner of Bar Mitena, opening on Lansing’s Eastside in 2019. He is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and was named 2017 Wine & Spirits Magazine “Best New Sommelier.”


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