Sparkling wines and the holidays go together like pomp and circumstance.
They add elegance and power to any celebration.
While French Champagne still supplies the most impressive sparkle for any occasion, there are now more choices on the market to create the same spectacular sizzle at one-third the price of Napoleon’s beautiful bubbly.
Here in the states, California, Oregon and Washington state vintners are
turning out top-notch sparklers, including Brut Rosé made from Pinot Noir. Several California producers are so confident of the quality, they’ve added “Champagne” to the label in defiance of France’s centuries-old fight to retain exclusive rights to the name.
Elsewhere, Italy is capturing more of the global market with its Prosecco, and Spain is doing the same with Cava.
So, before I list my holiday suggestions, here’s a brief tutorial on sparkling wines.
Champagne: It’s a region in France, located east of Paris and slightly north. Three grapes — Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir — are used to make French Champagne. Nonvintage Champagne is a cuvee — or blend — of different vintages that yields consistency in quality and taste from variations in growing seasons. A vintage bottling is from the single year it was produced. If you see Blanc de Blancs on the label, it signifies a 100 percent Chardonnay product; Blanc de Noirs is a mixture of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, both red grapes. (FYI: The smaller the bubbles in any sparkling wine, the higher the quality.)
Prosecco: Italy’s knockout sparkler is made from the Glera grape in two regions: Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. The top level of Prosecco wines are designated DOCG — as opposed to DOC — and named Prosecco Asolo and Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. If you see “Cartizze” on the label, there’s magic in the bottle. It is a small vineyard zone where the most elegant, perfumed Prosecco wines are made.
Cava: Spain’s top sparkling wine is made from three local grapes — Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. The best Cava is produced similar to France’s distinctive methode traditionelle process for Champagne, undergoing two fermentations and aging periods before release. Most are dry wines.
There are seven sweetness (residual sugar) levels for Champagne, which also carry over to other sparkling wines. These levels can be found on the label. The list ranges from “most dry” to “sweet”:
1. Brut Nature (Bone dry)
2. Extra Brut (Near bone dry)
3. Brut (Very dry)
4. Extra Sec (Extra dry)
5. Sec (dry)
6. Demi-Sec (Medium dry)
7. Doux (Sweet)
My selections are as follows:
■ Tattinger NV Folles de la Marquetterie Brut, $95: A Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend of crisp, bubbly, tasty extravagance.
■ Moét & Chandon NV Imperial Brut, $44: Wonderful golden color, fruity concentration, and drinkably dry. There’s even a limited edition “Festive” bottle.
■ Verve Cliquot Brut Yellow Label, $45: Peach, pear and brioche flavors emerge from this Pinot Noir-driven bubbly.
■ Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs, $47: The California “champagne” producer makes a classy, 100 percent Chardonnay sparkler, loaded with green apple, lemon and toasty traits.
■ Charles Heidsieck Champagne Rosé Millésime Vintage 2006, $149: The pale raspberry color, combined with light-streaked bubbles, create an appealing buzz prior to the sensational strawberry and cinnamon spice flavors. Velvety smooth and elegant. A memorable experience. If the price is too steep, try the nonvintage Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé now on sale in New Hampshire for $76.99.
■ Bisol Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, $33: Top of the line from a superb Italian producer. The creamy texture and Spumante dry finish are the heart and soul of this elegant, aromatic and tasty Prosecco. For half the price, the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Brut ($14.99) is lively, fruity and smooth.
■ Mionetto Extra Dry Prosecco DOC Treviso, $19: The bottle’s got sex appeal with its golden-yellow ribbon label, and it carries through with crisp, dry, honey and peach sensations.
■ Valfonda Prosecco DOC, $9.99: OK, there are a lot of Proseccos in this price range and some are good representations. This one, however, stands out for its vibrancy, stone fruit flavors. and restrained sweetness on the finish.
■ Cava Vilarnau Brut Reserva, $10: Pop the cork of this funky, art-deco bottle, pour, and a bright universe of straw-colored bubbles streams to the top of the glass. Nice, smooth mouthfeel with citrus flavors.
■ Anna de Cordorniu Cava Brut Rosé, $15: It comes in a handsome, pink Champagne bottle, and delivers delicate raspberry and cherry tastes in a lively, effervescent core. Lovely, satisfying finish.
■ Segura Viudas Brut Cava, $9: An everyday sparkler that’s fun to drink and maintains a good balance of crispness and fruitiness throughout.