What makes a good sparkling vino? Is it the creamy mouthfeel cut by acidic bubbles, or when an unexpected red grape produces a surprising and inventive brut? For decades, the gold standard of good sparkling wine was simply asking, how close is this to Champagne? And that’s still a question that dominates the sparkling wine industry. Some of the best wine regions, from the Western Cape of South Africa to Italy’s Franciacorta, purposely utilize a similar aging process to Champagne. However, in addition to the classic sparkling wine preparation models, the best producers have moved into making bubbles with a little more funk, coming up with pet-nats or using unexpected local grapes in their frizzantes. For the world traveler who can never get enough bubbles, these are the best sparkling wine regions that still fly somewhat under the radar:
Western Cape, South Africa
The Western Cape of South Africa is home to the wine regions of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and the more off-the-beaten path coastal wine region of Hermanus. The whole area is making phenomenal sparkling wines, and because they, of course, can’t call it Champagne, they refer to their bubbly as Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). Affectionately referred to at the South African wineries as “Cap Classique,” the bubbly is made in a very similar style to Champagne—with at least 12 months of aging. They make Cap Classique with the usual suspects—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—in South Africa, but also with local grapes like their world-famous Pinotage. Be sure to sample Delaire Graff Estate’s Delaire Graff Sunrise Brut MCC when in Stellenbosch.
While, by law, Cava can be produced anywhere in Spain, it’s specifically from Catalonia. Just outside Barcelona, Penedès is considered prime cava country. Not only is it an easy trip from Barcelona, but in this region, you can find bubbles to accommodate nearly any wine drinkers palette. Spanning the full range of dry, acidic cavas to the sweeter bubbles, there is a perfect bubbly for everyone in Penedès. You’ll want to use the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia as your home base while in cava country, and taste at Raventós I Blanc.
An hour east of Milan, the Franciacorta sparkling wine region known not only for their 100-plus award-winning wineries, but also their Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star wellness centers. The luxurious, artisanal sparkling wines of Franciacorta are all produced in the traditional method (like Champagne) where only specific grapes are harvested by hand with natural bottle fermentation. The bottles are aged from 18 to 60 months. You’ll find many varietals of Franciacorta sparkling wine, from classic brut to fan-favorite sparkling rosé to Satèn, a silky smooth bubbly exclusive to Franciacorta. Tour any of Franciacorta’s 20 organic and biodynamic wineries, like 1701 and Corte Bianca.
Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley is the third biggest wine producing region in France (and considered the country's most diverse wine region) with more than 24,000 acres of vines and appellations. And that’s not to mention that the Loire Valley is the largest producer of French sparkling wine outside of Champagne. Major sparkling wines produced in the region include Crémant de Loire, Sparkling Saumur and Sparkling Vouvray. Vouvray is also a major wine producing region, which dates back nearly 2,000 years, and starts just outside of the major city of Tours.
Adelaide Hills, Australia
There is much debate over the best sparkling wine region in Australia, and the bubbles market is rapidly expanding in both Australia and New Zealand. While Tasmania has carved out a name for itself in the sparkling wine space, the cooler climates of Australia are the original bubbly producers. Adelaide Hills, in South Australia, is not only one of the old-school producers of sparkling wines in Australia, but they also continue to release revelatory frizzantes that keep wine lovers coming back to the area.