For my 21st birthday, I had a “Champagne” party. I asked people to bring cava or prosecco or any other type of inexpensive sparkling wine, and we spent the evening dancing to a lot of Robyn. It seemed appropriately grown-up, and like just the kind of twinkly, fun thing to kick off my years of legal imbibing. And it was! But that night, I also learned the hard way that not all sparkling wine is created equal. There is a very wide range of cheap bubbly—from truly disgusting to very good.
So, in honor of all those parties you're hosting, parties you’re going to, and random Wednesdays that deserve a little cork popping, I tasted 12 bottles of sparkling wine under $15 and ranked them from worst to best. This way, you can celebrate whenever—and whatever—you want, for the price of a fancy sandwich.
12. Stellina di Notte ($14)
My tasting notes for this one say “Bad. No.” But if you need more, this is an artificially bittersweet bubbly with a sour, dirty feet aftertaste. Don’t do this to yourself.
11. Cook’s Extra Dry California Champagne ($8)
With a slight fungi-like undertone, you could describe Cook’s as “funky,” but decidedly not in a good way. Bubble-free and chemically, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
10. Cupcake Prosecco ($12)
Cupcake Prosecco has the same kind of tartness as Spree candy. It makes you pucker, and sort of makes your mouth hurt. It’s not unlike a very-off Limoncello. The effervescence is the kind that gets in your nose and makes you sneeze and then totally disappears. You should pass on this one.
9. Andre Extra Dry ($7)
When I popped this bottle, I was immediately hit in the face with canned pineapple: Syrupy sweet with a hint of aluminum. Yum! Going down, it tastes deeply of apple—more like barely-effervescent apple cider than anything close to Champagne. There’s a reason this is the sparkling wine teenagers are most familiar with: It’s Champagne for babies.
8. Celene Brut ($10)
This smells exactly like a loaf of honey-wheat bread from a neighborhood bakery—very yeasty and quite sweet. Fortunately, the sparkling wine tastes more tart than it smells. It wasn’t a showstopper, but if you wanted something to bring to a party, this is a solid option.
7. Santa Julia Blanc de Blancs
Take the best white grape juice you’ve ever had and add bubbles, and you’ve got Santa Julia. It’s nice and crisp, with a pleasant, foamy effervescence. It’s not particularly interesting, but you could do a whole lot worse. This would be good for a mimosa topper as well as a low-key toast.
6. Barefoot Brut Cuvee ($10)
This sparkling wine—from a brand that has a reputation for overly sweet offerings—was surprisingly balanced. With a tart, apple-y taste up front, and a honeyed aftertaste, this popular winemaker made a solid bubbly. Avoid if you like your faux Champagne super dry, but it’s a good option.
5. Blu Prosecco ($13)
An Extra Crispy editor took a swig of Blu Prosecco while I was doing my tasting and proclaimed, “It doesn’t fail because it doesn’t try.” This is correct. Blu is airy and inoffensive, with a pleasant amount of bubbles and no strong flavors. What does come through is a pleasant herbaceousness. It isn’t terribly exciting, but as a result, it’s just the thing to top off a brunch cocktail.
4. Mille Prosecco ($11)
Similar to Blu Prosecco, Mille was inoffensive and not wildly flavorful, but pleasant all the same. It’s light; it’s bubbly. You should drink it in your mimosas.
3. Bravino Prosecco ($10)
With lots of fine, sharp bubbles and a near-perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, this is a very solid sparkling wine to have in your arsenal for any occasion. So many proseccos are heavy on the apple flavors, and this one tasted more like pears to me.
2. Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut ($12)
This earthy, tart bottle boasted some true bubbles—not just that foamy effervescence most Champagnes have. There’s also, to me, a hint of chlorine here—perhaps something to do with the slightly sour note—which I actually kind of liked. Freixenet has very little sweetness at all, so if sugary Champagne gives you bad college flashbacks, this will make you feel all grown up.
1. La Vendemmia Prosecco ($9)
With a ticklish effervescence—that’s a good thing—and a pleasant tartness, this bottle was one of the surprisingly great ones. There’s a good kind of funkiness here—a little bit like kombucha, I’d say—that makes for interesting, fun sipping. At under $10, this is a steal.