Finding a well-crafted, dry sparkling wine in the $10 range can be difficult.
There are plenty of good Italian Prosecco and Lambrusco wines in the range, and I tried a number of them this year in an effort to discover an inexpensive sparkler for New Year’s Eve celebrations, a wine that wouldn’t start 2016 off with a boiling stomach or a splitting headache.
However, I find the affordable Italian sparkling wines to be a little on the sweet side, which is not to my taste. And generally, they’re fermented in vats — not in the bottle like Champagne — which gives them larger bubbles and a more gaseous feel than wines made using the traditional bottle fermentation method.
I wanted to find something crisp, fresh and exciting, but while I found a couple of wines that I liked, I also returned to an old friend Jaume Serra Cristalino, a dry Spanish Cava I’ve written about in the past that keeps me coming back year after year as the best buy on the shelf.
For the money, I’m partial to Cava, which mostly comes from the Penedes region, the biggest wine area in Catalonia and the second largest in Spain behind Rioja. Penedes is a long, narrow region just south of Barcelona, sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains in the northeastern part of the country.
The region is pitted with micro-climates, which contribute to a variety of flavors from grapes grown in different areas. Therefore, not all Cava from Penedes is the same, and I was delighted to find a second one that I might like even better than Cristalino, although it costs a little more.
Like Cristalino, Mistinguett Cava Brut is a bright, refreshing wine, but with a slightly more acid or tart aftertaste, perhaps accountable to the portions of the three grapes used in the wine’s blend as well as where the grapes are grown.
Cava is made primarily from a blend of three white wine grapes, Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada, and about 95 percent of Cava comes from Penedes and the rest from other parts of Spain.
Both Mistinguett and Cristalino are made using the traditional method by initially fermenting in vats and then at least 12 months more in the bottles in which the wines are sold. The traditional method requires three or four more steps than the vat method used in Prosecco and is more costly.
Cristalino is 50 percent Macabeo, a grape that adds floral and apricot flavors, 35 percent Parellada with apple and citrus flavors and 15 percent Xarel-lo, (pronounced shah-rehl-lo), which adds acidity. Mistinguett is more balanced with Xarel-lo taking the lead at 40 percent and the others 30 percent, perhaps accounting for its tartness.
Mistinguett takes its name from the pseudonym of Jeanne Bourgeois, a famous French singer and actress who performed from 1885 to the 1940s and was known for her great legs, according to her fan page on the waybackmachine.org.
“She had a way of moving, which was the pinnacle of grace, but she was more than loveliness alone — she was Paris, the symbol of gaiety and good humor and courage and heart.” her longtime lover, Maurice Chevalier, is quoted on the website as saying.
The makers of Mistinguett note on the company’s website that they hope you’ll feel the same way about their sparkling wine, which is produced by the Vallformosa Group, a family-run business that is one of Spain’s largest, oldest and most distinguished Cava makers. The group, owned and managed by members of the Domenech family, also is known for its environmentally friendly farming and for its foundation that supports the fight against cancer and poverty.
Cristalino is no newcomer to winemaking either. Creator Jaume Serra Guell started his winery in 1947, and he established a long history of producing excellent wines. The J. Garcia Carrion family, one of Spain’s largest and oldest winemaking families, bought the company in 1997 and extensively renovated the winery, upgraded the technology and employed modern winemaking methods.
There are a number of excellent Cavas on the market, and many are in the $10 range. In addition to Mistinguett and Cristalino, the most widely available in the Upper Valley is Freixenet, with its distinctive black bottle. Freixenet costs a couple of dollars more and is not quite as good as Mistinguett or Cristalino, in my opinion.
Cavas go well with a variety of foods, including Asian, Middle Eastern, Spanish and Mediterranean. They are OK with meat, but really good with chicken and a full range of cheeses. The clean taste cuts through the spices. Try them with chili or fish tacos.
Or, you can just raise a glass to bring in the New Year.
Both wines are available on both sides of the Connecticut River. You may have to ask for Mistinguett at the West Lebanon store, but Lebanon and other area state liquor stores have it, as well as Norwich Wine and Spirits.
Note: For those of you who really love Prosecco, I have previously recommended Mionetto Prosecco Brut, which sells in the $10 range. It’s still a favorite.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.