Whether you’re entertaining friends and co-workers this season or simply welcoming the New Year with a celebration Ã deux, nothing says “festive” like sparkling wines. Bubblies are superb with all types of appetizers, from cheeses to caviar to raw oysters, as well as many entrÃ©es – lobster and other shellfish, sushi, smoked salmon, poultry, and all kinds of ethnic foods – and even desserts. They turn any dinner (and even a soak in the tub!) into a special occasion.
While many people tend to call all sparkling wines “Champagne,” that label only applies to those made in the Champagne region of France by a demanding and complicated process. In general, the smaller the bubbles (which are determined by the length of the aging and temperature of the cellar), the finer the wine. Almost all Champagnes are made from three grapes: Chardonnay (Blanc de blancs), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (Blanc de noirs); RosÃ© Champagne may be a combination of them. My favorites include Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” (about $35), Louis Roederer “NV Brut” (about $35), MoÃ«t & Chandon “White Star” (starting at $25), Taittinger “Blanc de blancs” (about $140) and Mumm (about $80). I hear that Oprah favors Cristal (starting at $300), but if were splurging, I’d go for Veuve Cliquot’s “La Grande Dame” (starting at $150).
Not wanting to be outdone by the French, countries Italy, Spain, and the United States do a very respectable job with sparkling wines, many for a fraction of the price of Champagne. My domestic picks include California’s Domaine Carneros ($20-25), Mumm Cuvee Napa (about $35), Domaine Chandon ($17 up), Gloria Ferrer “Brut” (about $18), Piper Heidsieck (about $35), Shramsberg “Blanc de noirs” (about $35) and Roederer (about $20).
Spanish cavas (meaning “cellar”) are made from all-white grapes by the same method as French Champagnes, and also range from bone-dry to sweet. I like Segura Viudas, which comes in an impressive bottle with a carved metal base and is a great bargain for around $20. More fruity and less dramatically crisp than Champagnes are the approachable Italian proseccos, which are made by a slightly different process in which the wine undergoes a second fermentation in pressurized tanks, rather than in individual bottles. Top prosecco producers include Zardetto ($15-23), Bartenura (about $15) and Mionetto (about $12).
- A Champagne cork should be eased out, so that it makes just a light hissing sound.
- Wait until there’s about one sip remaining to refill a glass of Champagne or sparkling wine, to ensure it’s properly chilled.
- Should you ever need to, you can preserve the bubbles in an opened bottle for a day or so using a Champagne stopper (leftover sparkling is great for mimosas at brunch).
- Fluted Champagne glasses fit perfectly upside down in the silverware holder of your dishwasher.