Bargain bottles top bubbly brands: Burlingame expert recommends affordable sparkling wine for holidays

Gerald Weisl, owner of Weimax Wines and Spirits in Burlingame, opens a bottle in his tasting room.

When it comes to effervescent alcoholic libations commonly consumed to ring in New Year’s, revelers have a variety of options, ranging in style and price.

But for laymen unfamiliar with the intricacies of the bubbly industry, experts warn against referring to all sparkling wine as Champagne.

Champagne is specifically the drink produced in the region of France that shares its namesake, with which other sparkling wine types such as cuvee, prosecco, sekt from other regions of the globe are commonly confused.

Perhaps even worse than obscuring the proper name of one’s fizzy fermented fruity beverage during a holiday party though is the harm that can be done to a bank account by falling victim to the price gouging commonly associated with sparkling wine shopping, said Gerald Weisl, owner of Weimax Wines and Spirits in Burlingame, 1178 Broadway.

He said as more commonly known brands such as Veuve Cliquot, Mumm and Moet have thrived by jacking up prices based on their growing notoriety, many smaller makers are offering better products for less money.

“The price has increased, but the quality hasn’t increased enough to justify it,” said Weisl, of the larger, notable companies. “Most of that money is going into packaging and marketing, but you can’t pour labels into a glass.”

Weisl specializes in offering what he calls grower’s Champagnes, which are less recognized labels that make a product comparable or superior to the brand names.

Despite the lack of widespread recognition, Weisl said lots of independent wineries produce an excellent sparkling drink that is affordable for those looking to spend roughly $20 per bottle.

Weisl likened many of the sweetened bubblies offered by household names to a meal at Olive Garden, which can be reliable and inoffensive, but perhaps not the right taste for a more sophisticated and daring palate.

“If you want to try something more interesting, maybe branch out,” said Weisl.

Makers such as Drusian, Ferrari, Allimant Laugner, Vitteaut Alberti and Capdevila Pujol are some examples of small producers which offer a quality bubbly for the right price, said Weisl.

Weisl, who took control of the store years after his father and uncle opened it in 1961, is a connoisseur and expert of wines, sparkling or not.

He has contributed to international tasting competitions and hosted experts in the wine industry from across the globe at his home in Burlingame.

But even when opening a bottle to share with the most knowledgeable drinkers, Weisl said he remains unafraid to pour a brand which is accessible and affordable.

“Good bubbly is a marvelous treat that doesn’t have to be expensive,” he said.

Nor does it necessarily have to be considered a treat, he added.

“It’s not just for celebrations, but for days that end in the letter Y,” he said.

And though offering a cheaper bottle to a person with a sophisticated and trained palate could be intimidating to some, Weisl said he knows a true connoisseur can appreciate a bottle at any cost.

“If people are really experts, they pay attention to what is in the glass and don’t listen to the song and dance,” he said.

Sparkling wine sales have skyrocketed, as they are wont to do, during the holidays, but they remain a popular choice in Burlingame throughout the year, said Weisl.

While watching a faithful customer pull two reasonably priced bottles of sparkling wine from a cooler which he recommended long ago, Weisl beams with pride.

“That is why you come to a good local wine merchant who is passionate about wine,” he said.

Rather than rely on the bottled wisdom of a traveling retailer who sells wines to large chain shops throughout the region, Weisl prefers to visit the wineries himself and get to know the maker.

He said he appreciates the opportunity to understand the personality of the wine maker, and attempts to identify their character quirks when consuming their craft.

At the ready, he keeps a photo book detailing his global travels, and pictures show him meeting with wine makers throughout Europe and further abroad.

And though he said he believes many should be able to wander into his store and find a bottle they will enjoy, relying on the depth expertise of those at Weimax can be an effective means of finding the right choice for New Year’s Eve — Champagne or not.

“Getting tips from a good wine purveyor always helps,” he said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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