A Bubbly Primer For New Year's Celebrations

photo courtesy Chat Chow
photo courtesy Chat Chow

This time of year we begin searching for the perfect bottle of bubbly to share with friends and family. The various options can boggle the mind as you stand facing retail wine shelves, staring at pretty labels and contemplating price points from $10 to $100 plus. Before you get all frustrated, just remember Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch when she walks into her neighbor’s apartment and asks, "Hey, did you ever try dunking a potato chip in Champagne? It's real crazy!" That scene always reminds me to keep fun and frivolity in mind while shopping for holiday bubbles.

CHAMPAGNE

The Champagne region of France is incredibly protective of the name; however, it’s nearly impossible to keep people from referring to anything sparkling as “champagne.” The whole sparkling wine world wants to be “Champagne,” it seems. The Queen of all sparkling wines is, of course, true French Champagne typically made from chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier; although, I recently learned that arbane, pinot blanc, petit meslier and pinot gris are permitted but rarely used. “Blanc de blancs” means you are drinking wine made from all white grapes. “Blanc de noirs” means the grapes are all red, even though the wine color is still “blanc” or white.

A quick guide to sweetness levels will help in your search.

Brut Nature/Brut Zero: bone dry with usually no added sugar Extra Brut: very dryBrut: very dry to dry Extra-Sec or Extra-Dry: off-dry to medium dry Sec: medium dry Demi-Sec: sweet Doux: luscious, super-sweet

If you look at a Champagne label closely, you can find in very small print two letters followed by a set of numbers that designate the wine’s official registration. Most of the brands you see on wine shelves are produced by large corporations who buy grapes to keep up with their large volume demand. You can identify these by the “NM” in the registration number.

Moët & Chandon was honored this year by the 2014 New York International Wine Competition as a “Champagne Producer of the Year.” While their non-vintage is to be trusted as tasty and easy to find, their 2006 Grand Vintage Brut walked away as a silver award-winner in this year’s NYIWC.

Moët & Chandon NV Brut Imperial $40

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2006 $60

photo courtesy robyiah69
photo courtesy robyiah69

If you want to find something more rare and special, look for “RM” designating that the Champagne was produced by the person who grew the grapes. My husband proposed to me with a magnum of vintage Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Grand Cruproduced by woman winemaker Nicole Moncuit so I am always a bit partial to her wine. If you don’t’ want to splurge on a vintage dated Moncuit, you can always bet on her non vintage (NV) bottles to be outstanding. While most NV bubbles from the big names are a blend of wines from different years with the goal to make the NV taste the same every year, Moncuit’s NV always comes from just one vintage, making each year’s bottling slightly different and special.

Pierre Moncuit NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru “Delos” $40

Pierre Moncuit NV Brut Blanc de Blanc “Hugues de Coulmet” $35

PROSECCO

Prosecco, Italian bubbly from the Veneto region, is rarely overly complicated in flavor. Because Prosecco’s carbonation is produced by the Charmat method in tank instead of the more time-consuming process of carbonation in bottle required in true French Champagne, the price of Prosecco is reasonable. Prosecco does come in a variety of sweetness levels so look for “Brut” on the label for a sweeter style and “Dry” for less residual sugar. For best quality, look for these designations on the label--Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene", "Prosecco di Conegliano", "Prosecco di Valdobbiadene", or "Prosecco DOC."  If you really want to impress, look for the designation “Cartizze” on the label which designates the grapes came from a limited production area that is a 1,000-foot-high vineyard and is the most expensive Prosecco style you can buy.

NV Adami Prosecco Brut Garbèl $15

NV Adami Prosecco Cartizze Valdobbiadene DOCG Superiore $30-$40

CAVA

Most all cava is produced in the Penedès area in Catalonia, Spain from macabeu, parellada, and xarello grapes; however you will see some winemakers growing Champagne grapes chardonnay and pinot noir. Although the traditional cava grapes are different from Champagne, the carbonation method is similar making it one of the best value bubble options. Look for pink versions as a great way to save money instead of splurging on Champagne rosé.

Celler Vilafranca Cava “Casteller” NV $10

Raventós i Blanc Rosé de Nit 2012 $20

DARK REDS

While sweet lambrusco may have played a role in our partying days of the past, dry lambrusco has become quite trendy in the last several years. One of the best I’ve ever tasted was introduced to me by the late Joe Dressner of importer Louis/Dressner Selections; however, you may have an easier time finding the Chiarli label.

photo courtesy Mondo del Gusto
photo courtesy Mondo del Gusto

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Pruno Nero NV $18

Camillo Donati Lambrusco dell’Emilia I.G.T. $20

The 4th Annual New York International Wine Competition acknowledged a common Australian favorite style of fruity bubbly red as a Gold award-Winner. The Barokes brand that won is surprisingly packaged in a 250ml can.

Barokes Bubbly Cabernet Shiraz Merlot Bin 171 $3

MOSCATO

No matter how some snobby types might balk at the floral sweetness of moscato, it is here and it is here to stay for mass appeal and as a brunch fave. The 4th Annual New York International Wine Competition awarded one brand a gold medal in 2014 that should be very easy for you to find.

Martini Moscato d’Asti NV $13

When I was schlepping wine around NYC as a sales rep, I had the honor of traveling to Italy and meeting Valter (or Walter) Bera who’s passion for this grape exalts a fizzy wine from the Asti region to delicious heights.

Bera Moscato d’Asti 2013 $19

Cheers and here's to a delicious 2015!