Every year folks ask for recommendations on great wines suitable for gift-giving or an extra-special occasion. For me, few things are as elegant and celebratory as sparkling wine.
That said, it’s important to remember that all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.
True Champagne blends three grapes: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red), and Pinot Meunier (red), all from the Champagne region of northern France (about a 11/2-hour drive northeast of Paris).
However, sparkling wine is made all over the world—from the United States to Italy to Spain (and practically everywhere in between). As a general rule, Méthode Champenoise (“the Champagne method”) is the phrase you’re looking for on the sparkling wine’s label. This tells you, among other things, the wine has undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, producing millions of tiny bubbles.
Spain’s easy drinking Cava (KAH-vuh) is made in the Champagne method and may just be one of the best values around—it can often be found for less than $12. The most notable Italian sparkler, Prosecco (Pro-SECK-oh), is a fun-loving wine with loads of fruitiness, a touch of sweetness, and soft bubbles.
New Year’s Eve Picks:
The market is loaded with terrific sparkling wines from all over the world—here are a few of my favorites:
Using the traditional Champagne method, but a blend of Spanish grapes, creates a rich, mid-weight wine with plenty of complexity. Two years of bottle aging adds a layer of richness to this creamy sparkler without the added price at checkout.
Blanc de Noirs
Blanc de Noirs (“white from blacks”) is made from the clear juice of red grapes (typically all Pinot Noir). While there’s no pink tint to the wine, it’s fruitier and more full bodied than regular Brut. Like the still wines under their Chateau label, Domaine Ste. Michelle knows how to deliver quality and value.
The traditional Christmas wine in the Piedmont region of Italy, Moscato d’Asti is more like a sparkler-lite (with less bubbles than it’s peppier cousin spumante). However, the fresh, fizzy (frizzante), lightly sweet qualities of this frothy, low-alcohol wine make it one of the most festive sippers around.
Made using the Charmat method where wine quickly undergoes a second fermentation in large tanks, rather than the slower, in-bottle Champagne method. This speedy step creates a refreshing, easy-drinking sparkler that’s loaded with ripe fruit flavors. No brunch-time Bellini is complete without it.
Non-vintage (NV) Brut is by far the most popular, food-friendly style of sparkling wine. With ripe apple and citrus flavors, this California offshoot of French Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck has a touch of elegance usually reserved for pricier offerings.
When French sparkling wine is made outside of Champagne, it’s called Crémant. But we’re talking the same classic production method, the same high quality grapes, and often at a fraction of the price. This crisp, all-Chardonnay sparkler from Burgundy delivers real bang for the buck.
This is the hot, new category in the world of Champagne, epitomizing the notion of keeping it local. Often referred to as “farmer fizz” by those in the know, these top-notch wines are handcrafted by small, family-owned wineries—and Aubry is one of the best. You pay a few bucks more, but the craftsmanship is unmistakable.
Blanc de Blancs
Blanc de Blancs (“white from whites”) is 100% Chardonnay and the lightest style made in the classic Champagne method. With green apple and melon flavors, Schramsberg is a few bucks more than non-vintage Brut (which blends in Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), but it’s a well-crafted wine and solid value if you’re looking for something a bit more refined.
Don’t confuse this rich, full-bodied sparkler with a sweet blush wine, because they’re light years apart. With regal Moët & Chandon parentage (of Dom Perignon fame), étoile uses a small amount of Pinot Noir for its rosy hue. You pay for the limited production and extra bottle aging (in this case, five years). But it’s worth the splurge.
True vintage Champagne is rare, which is always reflected in the price, but it doesn’t always translate to superior quality over its non-vintage brethren. Gaston-Chiquet is a tasty exception delivering both a delicious wine and a great value.
I don’t sell wine.
I pour out my wine knowledge for you.
BOOK YOUR EVENT NOW: Tastings run the gamut from employee team building events to holiday parties to more targeted marketing functions for prospective clients and vendors (and everything in between). I also work with individuals hosting special occasions—think birthdays, holiday gatherings, bunko night & charitable events.
Click HERE to learn more.