GLORIOUS SPARKLERS: Explore an array of bubblies to discover one that fits your fancy.
With the holidays upon us, my thoughts turn to sparkling wine. The king of sparklers is obviously Champagne. But all sparkling wine is not created equal, and real Champagne only comes from that particular region in northeast France centered in Reims and Epernay. Because of the cool northern climate, these wines made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are high in acidity and extremely crisp and dry, with tiny pinpoint carbonation. Most of the bubbles that you are familiar with are produced as non-vintages — meaning the grapes are blends from different years. Each well-known Champagne house produces its own style so that what you buy from year-to-year has a similar taste, unlike most wine, which will vary due to the growing conditions for grapes during a particular season.
Real Champagne from France is going to set you back around $40 (give or take) for popular U.S. brands, including Veuve Cliquot, Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët. I happen to also be a fan of Mumm Cordon Rouge (with the distinctive red stripe on the label) and Lanson Black Label. They both have yeasty notes that remind me of great vintage champagnes like Dom Pérignon. The key is to try a range and see what fits your personal taste. The bubbles help cleanse your palate between bites, so Champagne goes with a wide range of foods, but most notably caviar, lobster, smoked salmon, oysters and fried foods.
The U.S. also produces excellent sparkling wines in the same méthode traditionnelle (fermented in the bottle) as France. The wines at the same price point are, in general, less complex than true Champagne. However, there are some excellent bargains like Domaine Chandon, which is, as you might guess, a branch of the French Champagne house. Its brut rosé is under $20. I love pink bubbly because of its greater body, and the color is oh-so lovely and romantic.
Sparkling wine is also produced in Spain (mostly in Catalonia), where it’s called cava. It’s usually more frothy, with dense lemon notes that are very different from the creaminess you find with Champagne. One affordable and reliable brand is Segura Viudas; try it with tapas or sushi.
The Italians produce spumante (which means sparkling); sweet Martini & Rossi Asti is made from the moscato grape and is quite popular and affordable at around $15. It matches nicely with biscotti or fresh fruit desserts.
There’s also Prosecco (named after the town and grape) from a region near Trieste. It’s a light-bodied sparkler that’s nice with prosciutto. It’s mixed with two parts wine and one part peach purée to make a Bellini cocktail. Again, the price is right with many options between $10 to $15.
While you get what you pay for, you just can’t go wrong drinking more bubbles. Buy the best bottle that fits your budget, but please don’t ring in the new year with a bang. Ease the cork gently from the bottle to preserve the glorious fizz.