Wine of the Week: An Under-$25 Fresh, Clean Sparkler

Whenever it comes to sparkling wine, the comparison to Champagne is inevitable.

Together with Bordeaux and Burgundy, wine regions that the British embraced as benchmarks for fine wine in the 19th century, the Champagne "brand" is so powerful that it pervades nearly every discussion of sparkling wine. This is due in part to the brilliant marketing strategies employed by Champagne growers and producers for hundreds of years. Thanks to their efforts, Champagne became the wine of choice for British and Russian aristocrats by the mid-1800s.

And in more recent times, product placement for Champagne brands in film and television have inexorably linked the brand with luxury and elegance in the minds of consumers. What wine does Bond always open after he's killed the villain and seduced the girl? The label that you see on the screen is there because the producer or importer paid for its prominence in the frame. (Product placement for wine in film or television is big business and extends far beyond Champagne, although Champagne, historically, has enjoyed a unique relationship with the entertainment industry. Was that a bottle of Moët on Brad Pitt's table at the Golden Globes?)

The only thing that I didn't like about the non-vintage Laetitia Brut Cuvée from California that we took over to my parents-in-law's house the other night in Orange, Texas, was the fact that it reports méthode Champenoise (Champagne method) on the label.

While it's true that the wine was made using the same method used in Champagne (i.e., double fermentation in bottle as opposed to double fermentation in pressured vats, a method known as Charmat), the designation is misleading and, frankly, untrue.

In Europe, outside of Champagne (the place), sparkling wine producers are not allowed to write méthode Champenoise on their labels. They can write traditional method or classic method to distinguish their wines from Charmat. (Most commercial Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method, by the way.) California producers are not legally bound by European Union laws and so they can write anything they like on the label.

Made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc grown in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA (San Luis Obispo County), the Laetitia Brut Cuvée was bright and fresh, with clean white and stone fruit flavors, bright acidity and balanced alcohol. It's one of those go-to wines at our house when we want approachable food-friendly, refreshing sparkling wine at a reasonable price (you can find it at Spec's for under $25). And it paired beautifully with a tuna fish salad sandwich that my mother-in-law made me (I love that she puts hard-boiled egg in her tuna fish salad).

But the fact that they write méthode Champenoise will always bug me: Why write something misleading on the label for the sake of duping uninformed consumers? I reserve our Champagne consumption for meals where I want the intense acidity and minerality of wines raised in Champagne. I love the Laetitia Brut Cuvée (the French designation, brut cuvée, is so much sexier than low-to-zero dosage blend isn't it?) for a Friday night visit with family. But Champagne, it ain't.

Beyond Champagne, what's your favorite sparkling wine?

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