Auld Lang Syne Language: Let’s Talk Bubbly!
Welcome to your year’s-end mission to celebrate in style. If you’re like me, you look forward to times like these to cast austerity aside for a few days, and treat yourself and others to the finer things. Sometimes though, there is apprehension in deciding just what those finer things are. With New Year’s Eve, sparkling wine comes to mind, of course, but if you feel intimidated or even daunted by the task of choosing the appropriate bottle of bubbles, you’re right back to square one.
As you may have reckoned, Deborah and I haven’t singled out New Year’s Eve as the exclusive opportunity to pop the bubbly. Not a week goes by wherein we don’t find an excuse to indulge in arguably our favorite wine category. All of this exposure perpetually refreshes our knowledge of what’s in our market, and which of it is worth your coin. Let me ease your trepidation by surrendering that knowledge, and arming you with the bubbly requisites for marching into the wine shop with confidence this holiday season. Much like with my Thanksgiving offering, I’ve broken the subject down for you by level of adventure, linking you to the website of our strategic partner Suburban Wines & Spirits for some specific picks.
For The Frugal Host
We all have affordable Italian Prosecco to thank for seducing us wine lovers over to the sparkling side of life. But now that you’ve made the transition, consider drinking and serving something more distinguished, and even site-specific, without necessarily costing more. In retail, it was my mission for a time to convert Prosecco drinkers to Spanish Cava— Spain’s traditional counterpart to French Champagne, resulting in eureka for any open-minded customer who would accept my advice. If you want to provide equal nirvana for your NYE guests, stand clear of the commercial Cavas, and take advantage of the more hand-crafted, sometimes single-estate bottlings newly available. Properly chosen Cava blancos, when composed of the native Catalonian grape varieties, can be complex and illogically compelling in their price range (typically $11-$16), while Cava rosados add some toasty richness and definition into your bubbly experience, while remaining dry, and only a few bucks higher.
As I often say, “it’s a big market and I love it”. With so much to choose from, it’s almost criminal to stick with the familiar. If you can be easily lured over to bubbly’s “mysterious side”, reward surely awaits. From the lean, mean, and strikingly clean, to the bold and biscuity, to the luscious and off-dry, sparkling wines from all the tiny corners of the globe can undoubtedly find their place at your NYE celebration. Important categories to consider, some of which were scarce in the US just a decade ago, include Austrian Sekt, Loire Chenin, Italian Franciacorta, Savoie Rosé, New Mexican Blanc de Noirs, Italian Lambrusco, Moscato d’Asti and even Canadian Sparkling Apple Wine. Each is guaranteed to be a conversation starter once it’s in the glass.
For The Fancy Pants (AKA: The Big Spender)
When you have a bigger wine budget, and you want to experience how compelling sparkling wine can get, look no further than the king of regional bubbly, the category that needs no introduction— Champagne. But when choosing from the finest of sparkling wines on the planet, keep in mind that price doesn’t always correlate with quality. My advice on the quickest and simplest way to sort out the Champers scoreboard without over-spending is not necessarily by sub-region, or style or brand; it is according to a new paradigm: Commercial House vs Grower. Let’s face it, all styles and brands that emerge from this special French region can exude brilliance. Just as long as you realize that you’ll always pay a premium on a bottle from one of the big recognizable houses, and that “Grower” wines, which are usually more distinguished in flavor, are available in greater numbers than before, your decision should be clear. Some favorites from the “Farmer Fizz” movement include Chapuy Tradition, a doughy, toasty and intense blend, Gimmonet-Gonet, a detailed and wonderfully-chiseled blend from an area associated with ultra-elite bubblies, and Christian Etienne Brut ’04— an extravagant and super-refined vintage Champagne from an estate that strives for excellence. For more details on discerning grower wines from negociant juice, see the section in Deb’s recent blog post about decoding Champagne labels.
Consult with the Real Experts
Suburban Wines— that WAC strategic partner I mentioned? I was on their staff for many years, and my former colleagues are some of the best in the field. Their buying approach is based 100% on tasting, and they are famous for championing the blind tasting format. Always thoughtfully topical and seasonal, they have continued the tradition this year of executing a blind sparkling wine taste-off, yielding dozens of brand-new discoveries in the category, all under $40/bottle. To view the top 6 placers complete with background notes, and acquire some for yourself, link here to their newsletter. Order soon and your bounty will hit your doorstep before the ball drops.