And all this time, you thought (like everybody else) that Champagne was the queen of sparkling wines, with all that name recognition that storms into mainstream life around the holidays. It's true Champagne has left its mark on history—heck, a lot of northeastern France's economy lives and dies by this signature export, and that area's 13th-century drink-fests are legendary, sometimes lasting for months.
Tell all this to an Italian, and he'll likely stifle a yawn at the prospect. He's heard the same story too many times before, only with a different setting, namely the Rome of the third century B.C. That's where Spumante, the archetypal sparkling wine, first took hold—the Romans found that shorter fermentation meant less acidity and dulling of the flavors particular to the region's fruits, and they built their practices around that accordingly. As sparkling wines go, Spumante sports an ideal blend of the familiar festive fizz and the fragrant bouquets that make it so popular.
Ballatore Gran Spumante, which in 2005 won the California state wine fair competition in its category, is a case in point. Fruit vendors, not vintners, should sell this entry—such is its profusions of apricot, peach and apple, which don't quit after the bubbles burst. The coolest thing is that it's only $8 a bottle wherever better wines are sold.
Champagne's stock in the public mind is all well and fine, but the thought of the stuff may wear a little old around this time of year. Take heart and be on your merry way knowing there's a viable alternative around the corner.