Cheap, Cheerful Christmas 'Champagne'

Over the past century the great producers of Champagne have invested a terrific amount of time, energy, and money establishing their position as the source of the world's most glamorous, and not coincidentally most expensive, sparkling wine. Now, while the best of them can be outstanding (see last week's column), an awful lot are just plain mediocre.

At the same time, and far less conspicuously, producers from other regions have been dramatically improving their product as they realize it's not good enough simply to put bubbles into second-rate wine and rely on the allure of the signature Pop! to sell the stuff.

Most notable among these other fizz-producing regions are California, Franciacorta in Italy, and my favorite, Alsace. That's where this week's Wine of the Week, the Crémant d'Alsace Brut Reserve François Baur ($20), hails from.

It has a seductively rich, meaty texture that sets it above many sparklers at more than twice the price. Not tongue-curlingly dry, it has a nutty complexity that lingers delightfully in the mouth. I get hints of mushrooms and ripe peaches on the front palate, followed by a bracing dose of lemony acidity on the finish. It also shows remarkable balance and a purity of focus for such an inexpensive wine, and it's a fine example of why Crémant d'Alsace is the not only the most underrated sparkling wine around, but also the one that represents the best value for money.

To find this wine near you, try wine-searcher.com

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Lighter seafood and milder hard cheese

Grapes: 50% pinoit blanc, 50% riesling.

Appellation: Crémant d'Alsace

Region: Alsace

Country: France

Price: $24

Availability: Moderate

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