I have a confession to make: Over the course of the last three weeks I have sniffed, swirled and sipped more than 60 different brands and varietals of champagne and sparkling wine. Yes, you read that correctly: Six. Zero.
Houston, I have a champagne problem.
In any case, the good news is that my bubbly “problem” can become your New Year’s Eve champagne selecting solution. It seems that les Américains can a bit lost or intimidated when it comes to champagne and sparkling wine.
What’s the difference between champagne and sparkling wine? What the heck does ‘extra dry’ mean? How do you figure out which wines actually taste ‘good’?
While I don’t claim to be an expert (although I was recently referred to as a “walking wiki” on the subject), I’m definitely a bubbly-obsessed, sparkling wine enthusiast who is constantly seeking to learn and discover more. All of the aforementioned bubbly tasting and effervescent exploration I do expands my knowledge of trends, brands, varietals and styles, which in turn allows me to share those discoveries with fellow bubbly lovers. That’s right, I, ahem, selflessly do it all for you. Why?
Well, 'tis the season of giving, no?
Without further ado, here are my 15 drink picks for New Year’s Eve sipping:
BUBBLY FOR BEGINNERS
As I mentioned, many Americans typically don’t know a lot about champagne and sparkling wine in general, so for tipplers who are just starting to make a foray into sipping fizz, selecting which bottle(s) to drink can be downright daunting.
Sipping bubbly should be fun and approachable so, for bubbly beginners, Proseccos are a great entry point sparkling wine style. Because of their drinkability and price, they are easy on both the palate and the wallet:
• Adami Prosecco Garbel: A crisp, full-flavored sparkler with ripe peach, melon and balanced acidity. $15
• Cupcake Prosecco: Light, refreshing and little bit drier than your normal Prosecco. Flavors include green melon, ripe peaches and citrus acidity. $12
• La Marca Prosecco: I’m one of those people who believes bubbly isn’t just for special occasions, and La Marca is one of my “everyday” sips. $13
• Zardetto Prosecco: Creamy, floral and fruity with a touch of sweetness. $13
These picks are for the sippers who are ready to delve a little deeper into the world of bubbly.
• 2009 Domaine Carneros Brut: This Napa Valley sparkling wine has deep and creamy flavors with aromas of sweet apples and vanilla. $30
• Berlucchi Cuvee ’61 Brut: This one was a new-to-me option that enchanted me right away with a honeysuckle nose. Easy drinking with fresh baked bread on the palate and a hint of fruit sweetness. $20
• Gloria Ferrer Brut Royale Cuvée: Flavors of nutty almonds and pears complemented by apricot and lemon on the nose. Good acidity $29
• 2010 Schramsberg Blanc de Noir: Made of 100 percent pinot noir grapes, this one is a stunner. Blanc de Noir means “white from black” and the first sniff revealed pinot aromas of cherry and stone fruit. Soft tannins and silky finish. Yum. $40
• Paul Goerg Blanc de Blanc: Lovely, long lasting bubbles with creamy citrus and pear flavors. This is a relatively new champagne, but I really love it. Adding it to my bubby arsenal! $41
“HEY BIG SPENDER” BUBBLES
For the seasoned champagne sipping veterans, these are a few of my favorites from the large, branded French champagne houses (Grand Marques). These are consistent crowd pleasers that you can be confident virtually everyone will be delighted to drink:
• Ruinart Blanc de Blanc: I love the toasty notes of almonds intermingled with pineapple, a bit of green apple and lime blossoms. It finishes with honeyed minerality. Rich and delicious. One of my absolute favorites. $80
• Cristal: This wine has attained a bit of a pop-culture status, but with good reason: It’s heavenly. Round and lush, it’s got tight, tiny and persistent bubbles with flavors of green apple, pear, peach and citrus. Really pleasurable drinking. $220
• 2002 Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc: Aged for 9 years, this is sparkler with a bit of good minerality. Flavors of biscuits and crackers with an herbaceous finish, this is a clean, fresh sip. $115
• 2005 Taittinger Brut Millésimé: aromatic floral notes on the nose followed by rich red apples with a nuance of yeast and lemon. Very supple on the palate. $85
FOR THE CHAMPAGNE PURISTS
There’s a trend in champagne right now towards lessening the sugar content (even in brut wines) called “low or no dosage.” No dosage means the wine has three grams or less of residual sugar per liter, while low dosage wines (also called Extra Brut,” which has half as much sugar as the already dry “brut” wines) have six grams or less of residual sugar.
• Roederer Brut Nature: I attended a spectacular champagne dinner at L’Olivier recently where guests were able to try the coveted Brut Nature. It has pronounced acidity but is still soft and elegant. The sublime moment for me was taking a bite of the chef’s smoked salmon, crab and avocado mousse timbale, followed by a sip of the Brut Nature.
The dryness of the wine perfectly complemented the richness of the salmon and avocado. It was a perfect pairing. This exclusive bubbly, made in partnership with designer extraordinaire Philippe Starck, can be really hard to get your hands on, but a little birdy told me that a few bottles have been spotted at Spec’s. $90
• Champagne Jacquesson Cuvee 737 Extra Brut: Yes, yes, and yes again to this well-made wine. The number “737” denotes the number of times the champagne house has bottled wine since its inception in 1898, a very chic way of identification. As for flavors, it’s very dry but has plenty of fruit including pear, lemon and raspberry, making it well-balanced. It also has lovely rich floral notes on both the nose and palate which makes it super pleasurable to drink. $70
EAT, DRINK & BE BUBBLY
If you’re really a bubbly overachiever, why not go to a New Year's Eve dinner at a restaurant that loves sparkling wine and champagne as much as you do? In addition to having great food, these hot spots have incredible sparkling wine lists that are sure to accommodate your fizzy fix:
L’Olivier: With an entire page of over 40 bubblies — including one of my boutique champagne house favorites Jean Lallement — L’Olivier definitely has my effervescent heart! Chef Olivier is featuring a palate-pleasing multi-option four-course menu that will pair perfectly with wine, especially the sparkling kind.
Think goat cheese salad with pomegranate; butternut squash pasta with lobster; and truffle crusted sea bass with a Nutella brownie for your sweet tooth. Seatings are at 6:30 p.m. ($75) and 9 p.m. ($99), which includes live music and dancing.
Vallone’s: The restaurant is hosting an open-seating, multi-course dinner with several choices per course. A well edited list of grand marque and boutique French champagnes; vintage sparkling wines; and non-vintage selections make for interesting options to pair with your meal. $95 per person.
Backstreet Café: Chef Hugo Ortega is clearly a sparkling lover and connoisseur with close to 30 bottles of bubbly on the menu from all over the world. The New Year's Eve dinner is a $72 per person for four courses, with a complimentary champagne toast at midnight. The menu also has some great options for vegetarians.
You’re now fully equipped to raise a glass and bring in the New Year with a proper cork pop, pour, fizz, glass clink and sip. What will you be drinking in 2015?