WHILE WINEMAKERS in Champagne are renowned for their sparkling wines, they're even better at something else: branding. The word "champagne" is synonymous with luxury and extravagance (and snobbery), and it's the French wine region known throughout the world, even to those who don't know it's a wine region. But that's all it is—a geographically defined region in Northern France with a set of rules on how to make sparkling wine. No magic, no pixie dust. There are excellent Champagnes, but there are a lot that are mundane and overpriced. Sadly, its cultural dominance means that other types of bubbly are overlooked or regarded as inferior, even though many are far more interesting and offer better value for money.
Creation myths are always murky, but Champagne can't claim to be the first sparkling wine; wines made in the ancestral method most likely date back to the 1530s, predating Champagne by at least 100 years. Other sparkling varieties include Spanish cava, Italian spumante and Lambrusco, Sekt from Germany, and Crémant, a regional French sparkler (if some of those names conjure up nightmares of family functions drinking sickly sweet muck, quality versions are more abundant these days). Most other major wine regions—Australia, South Africa, US, Chile—produce versions. English sparkling wine is highly rated and there are even award-winning Welsh examples (yes, from Wales, FFS).
Patrice Colin Perles Rouges Brut, from Corkscru, 339 NW Broadway, $21
From the Loire Valley in France, this is a light sparkling red made from organic Gamay grapes. Naturally fermented, it has fine bubbles and an exuberant red cherry taste matched by a hint of tartness. Good with charcuterie or spicy foods.
Minimus Petillant Naturel, 2015, from europawinemerchant.com, $21.50
An intriguing example of an ancestral wine produced in the Willamette Valley using Müller-Thurgau grapes. Winemaker Chad Stock is known for his experimentation ("This wine has been produced solely for fun," reads the label). The result is distinctive: Apricot and pineapple flavors combine with a mineral undertow and slight yeasty funkiness.
Pinord Brut Nature Reserva, from 1856, 1465 NE Prescott, $12
A great value cava from a family-run winery in Northeastern Spain, it's made organically from three traditional varieties—Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo. Light, fruity, and refreshing, it makes an excellent summer patio sipper, and it also pairs with chicken and fish.
Hild Elbling Sekt, from europawinemerchant.com, $16
Elbling is an ancient but little-known varietal from the Mosel Valley in Germany (which is more famous for its Riesling). Fresh, with good acid, it rolls through the mouth like a lemon drop, and has a long, creamy finish. Elegant as well as an excellent value.
Tenuta Santomè Prosecco Extra Dry, from 1856, 1465 NE Prescott, $16
Produced north of Venice in the world's only solar-powered winery (or the only one making prosecco, anyhow), this makes an excellent everyday apéritif. Made from Glera grapes, it's fresh and light, with balanced acid and appealing apple notes.
Domaine de Martinolles Le Berceau, Blanquette de Limoux, from New Seasons, $14.99
Limoux in the French Languedoc is where sparkling wine was first produced (by monks from the local abbey). Made from the local Mauzac grape, this is a graceful dry wine with notes of green apple and pear.
Sadly, Europa Wine Merchant is closing the doors on its downtown store to focus solely on online orders. However, the business is remaining in the area and free delivery is available in Portland for orders over $100. europawinemerchant.com