Bubbles go with year’s end as surely as Thanksgiving and turkey, and Valentine’s Day and chocolates. It’s a tradition and an expectation. But why?
Is it the impression of extravagance that comes with a fine bottle of Champagne? The hope and joy in the pop of a cork? The rush of sparkle and froth that connotes celebration?
All of the above, along with a lot of successful marketing. But the pairing would not stick if people didn’t love it. I know I do.
Rising prices may make many reluctant to pop a Champagne cork this year, but it doesn’t mean people will drink less sparkling wine.
Prosecco, cava, crémants, spumantes, frizzantes, sekts and pétillant naturels are just some of the sparklers made outside of Champagne. Add in the wines produced using the same grapes and methods as Champagne — from the United States, Italy, England, South America, Australia and more — and consumers have plenty of options if, as some have predicted, a Champagne shortage is looming.
I have my doubts about that, just as I’m never surprised when oil companies claim summer shortages require them to raise gasoline prices just as vacationers hit the road. Not that the same supply-chain difficulties impeding the availability of other consumer goods has not affected wine in general. It has, but skepticism is not unwarranted.
After a recent shopping spree for sparkling wines in New York City retail stores, I found 12 bottles I highly recommend, six Champagnes and six sparklers from elsewhere.
Now, singling out 12 bottles is like presenting a lone bubble from among the estimated million or so in a glass of Champagne. I could have selected dozens of other great bottles as well. I tried not to repeat previous end-of-the-year suggestions, although a few of these bottles are old favorites, and among the Champagnes, I stuck with nonvintage and entry-level bottles.
You can find many more recommendations in previous articles, whether about cava, pét-nat, English sparkling wines or Champagne in its myriad forms, whether from big houses or small grower-producers.
Some producers, departing from years of conventional wisdom that Champagne must be a consistent style blended from many terroirs, are making single-vineyard Champagnes. Many, in an effort to reduce the perception of sweetness in their wines have, for better or worse, explored the extra-brut style of Champagne. Sometimes, you just want a rosé Champagne, and sometimes you want a general list of names and terms to know when shopping.
Here are the 12 bottles, from least to most expensive within each category.
Le Vigne di Alice Veneto Tajad Frizzante NV $19
Cinzia Canzian makes this wine as a homage to her grandmother, who, in the days before the glera grape came to dominate Prosecco production, used to blend glera with two other local varieties, boschera (better known by its synonym verdicchio) and verdiso. The wine is dry and flowery, lively and charming. The second, bubble-inducing fermentation occurs in big tanks, as with most Proseccos, but Tajad is far better than any standard-issue bottle. (Portovino, Buffalo, N.Y.)
Raventós i Blanc Conca del Riu Anoia de Nit 2018 $22
Good cava is one of the best deals in sparkling wine. The problem is that a lot more bad cava is made than good. But I’ve been collecting the names of producers to seek out, including Recaredo, Gramona, AT Roca, Mestres, Bohigas, Loxarel, Castellroig, Parés Baltà and Raventós i Blanc, which produces de Nit, a bottle I keep returning to because it’s excellent and a great value. Like many of these I’ve listed, Raventós i Blanc no longer uses the term “cava” in order to avoid its poor connotations. Instead, it uses Conca del Riu Anoia, after a small area in the Penedès, where it has a biodynamically farmed estate. This rosado is made of the three traditional cava grapes, parellada, xarello and macabeu, along with monastrell, or mourvèdre, which accounts for the wine’s pale pink color. It’s dry, nuanced, tangy and delicious. (Skurnik Wines, New York)
Domaine Dupasquier Savoie Perles d’Aimavigne Blanc de Blancs NV $23
I’ve found so much to love about wines from the Savoie region in eastern France. The latest is this sparkling wine, made largely of jacquère and chardonnay, with a little altesse as well. It’s bone-dry and lacy-fine, with lightly creamy flavors. The brother-sister team of David and Véronique Dupasquier is the fifth generation of the family to oversee this domaine, which also makes terrific still wines. Fortuitously, as Wink Lorch points out in her excellent book “Wines of the French Alps,” Aimavigne, the town where the estate is based, means “love the vine.” (Selection Massale, Carmel Valley, Calif.)
Ferrari Trento Brut Metodo Classico NV $26
This wine is made entirely of chardonnay, one of the three main grapes of Champagne, and it’s made using the same method as Champagne in which a second fermentation is induced in the bottle to produce the bubbles. So, isn’t it just a knockoff of Champagne? In a vague sense, yes, but one taste of it and you can tell it’s quite different. It’s made in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy, and it feels entirely Italian in spirit, stylish and graceful with a sheer, elegant texture and creamy, herbal flavors. It’s both delicious and an excellent value. (Taub Family Selections, Boca Raton, Fla.)
Iruai California May Queen Brut Nature 2020 $33
Iruai is the winery formerly known as Methode Sauvage. When founded in 2013, it was an urban winery in Berkeley, Calif., but it has since relocated to the far north of the state, near Mount Shasta and the Klamath National Forest. Fittingly, the proprietors, Chad and Michelle Westbrook Hinds, are focusing on varieties that would be at home in Alpine terroirs. This sparkling natural wine is made of equal parts savagnin and chardonnay, which is seemingly at home anywhere. It’s playful and joyous, with breezy fruit flavors, better for a party than an evening of quiet contemplation. May Queen may not be easy to find, but California is producing a lot of great bubbly. Other producers to seek out include Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer, Cruse Wine, Under the Wire and Hammerling.
Peter Lauer Saar Riesling Brut 2018 $40
For years, I had a rather low opinion of sekt, German sparkling wine. Much of it seemed harsh, lifeless and uninteresting. But in the last few years I’ve been forced to revise my thinking. This bottle is a perfect argument for that re-examination. It’s light, crisp and captivating, with energetic acidity, a lip-smacking texture and pure, stony mineral flavors. I’ve long thought that Lauer was an excellent producer of still rieslings; I will now say of sparkling rieslings as well. (Vom Boden, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
A.R. Lenoble Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Chouilly Brut Mag 14 $54
Lenoble is an unusual, experimental house run by the brother-sister team of Antoine and Anne Malassagne. For the last decade, they have been storing reserve wines in magnum bottles, believing that it improves the freshness of the older wines. The label on this blanc de blancs, Mag 14, indicates that the base wines were from the 2014 vintage, supplemented by the wines in magnum. The result is a creamy, vivacious, fine-textured blanc de blancs that is stony and resonant. (Massanois, New York)
Huré Frères Champagne Brut Invitation NV $56
I first tried Huré a few years ago at Le Coucou in New York and have been intrigued ever since by these rich, energetic Champagnes. Invitation is the entry-level brut, 40 percent pinot meunier, 40 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay. It is savory, dry and refreshing, with underlying suggestions of red fruit flavors. (Becky Wasserman & Company/Selection Pas Mal/U.S.A. Wine Imports, New York)
Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Collection 242 $65
The Champagne house Louis Roederer recently changed its entry-level, nonvintage bottle. What used to be called Brut Premier is now Collection 242, with the number appended indicating the number of blends it has produced since the house was founded in 1776. Not only did Roederer change the name, it altered its method for making the wine. In 2012, it established what it calls a perpetual reserve, a little like a sherry solera in which new wine is added to the reserve each year, theoretically growing in complexity over time. To make the Champagne, wine from the perpetual reserve, stored in steel vats, is blended with wine from a base vintage, in this case 2017, along with other reserve wines stored in oak. The result is a lovely, lacy Champagne of great freshness, energy and finesse. It’s a little more expensive than Brut Premier, but it is superb. (Maisons Marques & Domaines, Oakland, Calif.)
Dosnon Champagne Récolte Noire NV $66
Davy Dosnon is an exceptional producer in the Côte des Bar region of the Aube, the southernmost Champagne region. He trained in Burgundy and brings a Burgundian approach to Champagne. He aims to make wines that express their terroirs and ages them in neutral barrels before the second fermentation in the bottle. Récolte Noire is made entirely out of pinot noir. It’s full of energy, with dry, refreshing, stony, creamy flavors that linger. (European Cellars, Charlotte, N.C.)
Ruppert-Leroy Champagne 11, 12, 13 … Brut Nature NV $67
Ruppert-Leroy is a tiny, husband-and-wife producer of natural Champagnes, also in the Côte des Bar. They farm biodynamically, and add nothing to the wine, not even sulfur dioxide, the widely used preservative and antioxidant. Like the Roederer, this Champagne is made using a solera system. It was started in 2011 and wine has been added each year since, hence the name 11, 12, 13 …. This bottle, half pinot noir, half chardonnay, is lean, pure, focused and refreshing, with savory saline, citrus and herbal flavors. (Paris Wine Company/MFW Wine Company, Brisbane, Calif.)
Agrapart & Fils Champagne 7 Crus Extra Brut NV $70
Agrapart is an excellent grower-producer in Avize, in the Côte des Blancs. The grapes for this entry-level bottle, all organically farmed, come from seven villages, leading to the name, 7 Crus. It’s 90 percent chardonnay, 10 percent pinot noir, robust and deep, yet fresh and lively. It has a richness to it I wouldn’t expect in a blend dominated by chardonnay, with a stony minerality and an herbal tinge. I would enjoy drinking this with shrimp or scallops. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
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