A really outstanding bottle of champagne, like Dom Perignon, will run you about $150 a bottle. But what about those bubblies a couple (or five) tiers down the social strata, say the under $25 range you can get at most liquor stores? Are they even worth buying or would your guests barely know the difference if you popped open a 6-pack?
With New Year's Eve right around the corner, The Stir was determined to find out. We performed our own cheap champagne taste test for the connoisseur on a budget.
We selected 7 champagnes based on popularity and price. We tried to keep it somewhat classy -- with nothing under $9.99. And of course, we wanted you to be able to find these bottles in a crunch. Fear not, you'll have no problem locating these brands at your local liquor store or outlet.
Our serious sippers were briefed on the basics. The task at hand: to sip and analyze the champagnes without having any knowledge of what was in their glass. The categories: Smell, taste, carbonation, and estimated price. And an important note -- none of our distinguished tasters knew this was a "cheap" taste test. First up, our most expensive bubbly.
Perrier Jouet Champaigne Grand Brut, $25.99
What the ad says: "In the Grand Brut blend, delicate Chardonnay and strong Pinot Noir blend harmoniously with the Pinot Meunier, a complex variety that reveals all its qualities when selected with care. White flowers, white fruit, pineapple, and grapefruit. The light, delicate Grand Brut offers a wide range of flavours."
What we say: "This tastes like apple juice."
"It's a little bland. With no strong highlights, it's left me bored."
"This tastes like really sweet and syrupy grape juice with a really bitter almost soapy after taste. No thanks."
"I think this is good for a champagne virgin -- tastes pretty basic."
"NO. They should be paying me to drink this."
Mionetta Sergio Rose, $15.99
What the ad says: "This sparkling wine is produced by the soft pressing of selected Raboso grapes from the Piave and Trentino’s Lagrien area. The bright color is peach pink with delicate deep red glimmers. It has a delicate perlage and the foam is rich and persistent. The aroma is reminiscent of pink grapefruit, raspberry, and blackcurrant with a hint of wild roses. Its taste is intense with adequate acidity, well-balanced and fresh with notes of raspberry."
What we say: "This tastes like medicine I would give to my sick child."
"I love rose, so sparkling rose is definitely okay by me. I'd drink this in the summer."
"Oh ick! Tastes like bad juice. You know, like when the ice melts your cranberry vodka soda cocktail and it gets too watered down."
"Bitter and ... ick."
"This tastes like something that's been sitting out for eight to 12 hours."
"Um ... I'm tasting prune juice. Yuck!"
Korbel Brut, $12.99:
What the ad says: "America's favorite bottle-fermented champagne, Korbel Brut is light-tasting and crisp with a 1% dosage for a balanced medium-dry finish. Excellent with chicken or seafood dishes, also with Asian foods. A wonderful choice with fruit and mild cheese."
What we say: "I didn't realize Sprite was included in our list."
"This sort of tastes like a champagne that was popped two days prior."
"Tastes like a soft white wine with no real aftertaste. I don't love the smell though."
"It has a fruity taste that I like."
"Bleh. This is sour. I need a cracker."
Barefoot Brut Cuvée Bubbly, $9.99
What the ad says: "Celebrate with the Champagne that tickles your toes! Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée is a dry bubbly that opens with the delightful aromas of Chardonnay and flavors of green apples and jasmine. Savor the hints of kiwi and peach while you enjoy the crisp, lingering finish. With fruit-filled aromas and flavors, our most traditional, great tasting Chardonnay Champagne will be an instant favorite for any occasion without breaking your budget!"
What we say: "Subtle flavor, somewhat dry, great taste."
"Really light, borderline too sweet but getting better. I think this would work well as a mixer, and has mimosa written all over it."
"Don't think I'd be able to stomach an entire glass."
"The first thing I noticed was the funky smell."
"Leaves a bitter after taste."
Yellow Tail Sparkling White Wine, $9.99:
What the ad says: "Ripe tropical fruit flavors create medium sweetness and a light, crisp finish in this fun and fragrant Sparkling White wine. Enjoy on any occasion."
What we say: "Almost like an apricot fruit basket -- I can see this paired with yummy cheeses."
"This would cause a really bad hangover."
"Flat, light, smooth, would be the perfect pick if you plan on overserving yourself on New Year's Eve!"
"Tastes soft, a little bit like a dessert wine."
"This is my style."
"It burned my throat, but I liked the sweet taste."
Pink by Yellowglen, $9.99
What the ad says: "A delicious sparkling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from South Eastern Australia. It displays strawberry aromas and refreshing fruit flavors of sweet berry & lime. Or put simply, yum. It's the perfect way to start any occasion whether it's out with the girls, at the bachelorette party, celebrating the end of the week, or just because."
What we say: "Beautiful rose color -- but no smell was a little disappointing."
"Light and fruity. I think this would get me in trouble."
"Not too much in the bubble department."
"I think I'm partial to this one because of the color. It's peachy tasting ... or is that just fruity?"
"I love this one -- it has a slight aftertaste, but in a sweet-not-too-long-to-linger way."
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut, $9.99
What the ad says: "Freixenet’s most popular cava, often referred to as the 'Black Bottle Bubbly.' Cordon Negro Brut is crisp, clean and well balanced. The dosage is very dry, but the acidity is lower than most champagnes for a softer, smoother flavor. It is medium-bodied with apple, pear, and bright citrus flavors and a moderately long and crisp, clean finish."
What we say: "Full-bodied. Would love this with a strawberry dropped in it."
"Pretty standard champagne."
"A nice taste with just enough bubbles."
"Tastes like the cheapest champagne in my grocery store. Reminds me of college when I was trying to be fancy."
"My favorite of the bunch. Slightly dry with a great fizz."
"Blech. Tart and tasteless."
So, after crunching all this insightful data, our results:
Yellow Tail Sparkling White Wine
That's right, it's not even a champagne! But tasters savored the fruity flavor. When told which one was a clear favorite -- one of our samplers said, "Wow, and I usually don't even like Yellow Tail!"
Best Standard Champagne:
Friexenet Cordon Negro Brut
Looking for a standard champagne for a simple toast? This is definitely your best bet. With a standout flavor that tastes much more than it's worth -- this Brut is the best choice for a simplistic crowd pleaser. Pair it with some fruit or sliced cheese to spruce up your party fair.
Best Rose Champagne:
Pink by Yellowglen
Yellowglen looked like it was straight out of a scene from Sex and the City. Sip like Sarah Jessica Parker with this attractive bottle of champagne, with an even more appealing pink color. If you like rose, then there's no question this is the right choice for your New Year's bash.
Bottom line: Price doesn't guarantee taste. Only one of our tasters actually enjoyed our "expensive" $25 99 bottle. Buy cheap, and you may end up with a happier (and tastier!) celebration. Also, be wary of the word champagne. Our favorite sip was actually a sparkling white wine!
Will you be celebrating with champagne this holiday?