NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Is recession making that Roederer Cristal Brut a bit too expensive at $300 a bottle?
If even the Gosset '99 Grand Brut Champagne, which sells for $85 a bottle, or Moet et Chandon '03 Brut at $65 is out of reach, some wine experts recommend that instead of opening their wallets wider, consumers try other sparkling wines.
"Champagne invented brand marketing and they did it 200 years ago," said Ross Wassermann, of Benson Marketing, a leading agency for the wine industry.
The world's most famous sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grapes, but Wassermann recommends several lesser-known varieties such as Samur or Vouvray from the Loire and the Saint Hilaire Limoux from the Languedoc-Roussillon regions.
"There is an argument to be made that a century before Dom Perignon discovered Champagne, the monks at Saint Hilaire were making sparkling wine," he said.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut, which is made exclusively from Pinot Blanc grapes, and Domaine Lucien Albrecht, from France's Alsace region, have also earned high marks from wine experts.
In his latest book "1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die" British wine writer Hugh Johnson lists Italian sparkling wines from the Veneot regions or proseccos, such as Adami and Col Vetoraz and Bellenda and Zonin, along with the finest Champagnes.
The wines, named after the prosecco grape, are a light sparkler. Other Italian sparkling wines include Spumantes and a few sparkling Gavi such as Principessa Perlante, made from 100 percent Cortese grapes from the Piedmont region.
But wine critic Doug Frost prefers cava wine, known as the Champagne of Spain, particularly Gramona Cava Celler Battle.
"For me, this is preferable to all but a handful of great Champagnes," he said, adding people should dig deeper into their pockets for the best cavas.
"They should take a look at spending a bit more money with producers such as Gramona and Agusti Torello, Joan Sarda, Roger Goulat, Mont Ferrant, Paul Cheneau and even Codorniu's Pinot Noir Brut."
Sparkling wines are produced all over the world. Britain's Nyetimber Premier Cuvee, Blanc de Blancs, Brut made Johnson's "list of wines", along with Omar Khayyam, a sparkler from India that is a blend of classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Ugni Blanc, a grape more often seen in cognac.
Australia also has no shortage of sparkling Shiraz. Golfing great Greg Norman and Wolf Blass produce perennial favorites, while in the United States two non-Californian sparkling wines of note are Gruet from New Mexico and Domaine Ste Michelle from Washington state.
Author Robin Goldstein in his book "The Wine Trials" describes a wine tasting consisting of sommeliers, doctors, bartenders, economists and others which preferred a $12 bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle to Dom Perignon Champagne that sells for about $120.
"I think in this economy it's important for people to figure out what they really like ... figure out what's behind the label, instead of being seduced by the label," Goldstein said.
Editing by Patricia Reaney