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Sparkling wines that shine don't have to cost a lot

Celebrate the holidays with one of our recommended sparklers

Consumer Reports magazine: January 2013

Photo: Thomas Northcut

It’s not easy for sparkling wines to excel. Their flavors are subtler than those of still wines, and even slight off-tastes can be noticeable. Yet our expert tasters found several to recommend, including a CR Best Buy for $16.

To make the grade, a sparkling wine should be:

  • Complex, with flavors that are toasty (as in toasted nuts or bread) and yeasty (as in baker’s yeast) and may include fruit such as apple or pear. In general, the longer the wine is in contact with the sediment from yeast fermentation (known as lees), the stronger the bouquet.
  • Harmonious, with no overpowering flavor. Acidity (contributed in part by the bubbles) should be balanced with light fruit flavors, but the wine should be tart enough to end with a crisp finish.
  • Free of corked flavor and bitterness.
  • Smooth, with a creamy “mouth feel,” not coarse like seltzer water, with its prickly large bubbles. And sparkling wine should have a medium to full “mousse,” a foaminess from the bubbles.

As if that weren’t enough, there are goals for bubbles (lots of them, small, and forming continuously) and color (from pale yellow to slightly copper or salmon). And a true Champagne (two are in our Ratings) must be from the Champagne region of France and meet other requirements.

Bottom line. The recommended wines are crisp, with citrus and apple notes. The others have fewer yeasty notes, are less complex and less balanced, or have flavor drawbacks. Yeasty/toasty wines pair well with savory foods including stuffed mushrooms, crab cakes, sautéed or fried fish, and caviar with toast. More tart and fruity choices go well with fruit, salads, sushi, and spicy Asian food. It’s best to drink these wines within a year or so.

And for dessert

Our expert tasters also tried seven moscato wines and judged Yellow Tail very good. At $6 a bottle, it’s also a CR Best Buy. Moscato, from one of the oldest winemaking grapes, is rising in popularity (witness its mention in several rap songs). It’s usually sweet, with a low to moderate fizz from carbon dioxide. Moscatos go well with light appetizers and sweet desserts.


Editor's Note: A version of this article appeared in the January 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Sparkling Wines Shine."
   

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