Tasting Wine: Summer a fine time to crack open the bubbly

Is it me, or does it seem like celebrations are no longer the sole reason for cracking open a bottle of bubbly? I see so many people — customers, friends and diners in other restaurants — drinking Champagne all the time. Granted, there are some things to celebrate, particularly birthdays. Still, I’ve noticed people ordering Champagne and other sparkling wines with the habitual nonchalance of getting a cup of joe in the morning.

I love my bubbles, definitely much more than coffee. The little problem right now, folks, is that the exchange rate has made an already-expensive commodity out of reach for some. What to do?

In spite of what some of my French friends think, there are great sparkling wines made outside of Champagne. Some are even made in other parts of France. I’ll be the first to admit that Champagne is in a class of its own, but my appreciation for the greatest of all sparkling wines does not hinder my enjoyment of other types of bubbly. Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, can be extremely delicate and fine with a mineral character as unique as Champagne. The same is true of German “sekts,” prosecco and crémants made in Burgundy and Alsace.

The bubble gods were smiling on me last month; I tasted a bunch of really delicious sparkling wines from around the world. Here are three standouts:

Gruet Brut NV (New Mexico): Founded by a Champagne family, Gruet et Fils, Gruet Winery has been making some smashing sparkling wines from the high desert of New Mexico for more than 20 years. Medium-bodied with vanilla, minerals, green apple fruit and a delicate, crisp finish, this is a terrific value. Suggested retail: $13.50

Gramona Cava, Gran Cuvee, 2004 (Penedes, Spain): The Gramona family, who have been making wine in Penedes for five generations, count the Gran Cuvee among their prized offerings. Made from equal parts xarello, macabeo, two of the three traditional Cava grapes and chardonnay, this is a fresh sparkler, with a little dough-like aroma, cream, almonds and minerals. Suggested retail: $20

Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura, 2005 (Jura, France): This wine is kind of like sparkling Normandy apple cider meets Champagne, only it is from further east, the Jura. Made entirely from chardonnay, it has a delicious apple freshness with yeasty notes and a lively mouth feel. Suggested retail: $22

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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