Celebrating the New Year

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford
Photos by Wayne Crawford

“My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.”
John Maynard Keynes, American writer

The sparkling wine drinking season reaches its apex from Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration.
Yet, I encourage wine lovers to keep bubbly on hand year-round as an acclamation wine, a complement to meals, an after-dinner aperitif or, more commonly, an essential in celebrating special occasions. This wine is an attractive pairing with both salty and butter-based foods … even potato chips and popcorn are enhanced.

Champagne includes three varietals that help winemakers define these wines: pinot noir, pinot meunier (red grapes) and white chardonnay. While most champagne vintages – juice from the same year or non-vintage juice blended from multiple years – use all three varietals, a Blanc de Blanc is exclusively white juice and a Blanc de Noir is wholly red juice with limited red skin contact.

Outside the Champagne region, but still within France, sparkling wine is called Cremant and uses the same Champagne Méthode Champenoise production techniques employed in making Champagne. Shift to California where, among the host of first-class sparkling wines available, several are produced by leading French Champagne houses using the traditional Méthode Champenoise mastered in France.

Locally, sparkling wines from Spain, Italy, Germany and Australia are available at retail outlets. While I encourage readers to drink what they like, the best bubbly is still produced in Champagne and in France, closely followed by California and Spain. With few exceptions, making great champagne is a challenging process not easily developed in a winemaker.

Consider these tips to better enjoy the bubbly.

  • Serve champagne well-chilled, 40 to 50 F, but not over-chilled. For a quick chill, immerse the full bottle into a bath of half ice-half water for about 20 minutes or refrigerate for two hours.
  • To open sparklers, release the wire band after removing the foil; place a hand towel over the exposed cork and hold the cork and bottle at 45 degrees. Turn the bottle (not the cork) slowly and avoid shaking the wine prior to opening.
  • Use a tall, fluted glass to serve the chilled sparkling wine; don’t chill the glass.
  • Drink in small sips and enjoy.  

A Christmas or New Year’s Day brunch might call for mimosas with orange juice and bubbly. Save money by using a nice cava or a less expensive sparkling wine. I like Faeixenet Brut from Catalonia, Spain. Enjoy the champagne on its own merits.

The annual Big Canoe Wine Group sparkling wine evening allowed the team to taste a broad selection of sparklers; the best are highlighted below.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Gosset NV Brut Excellence, France, $40: Light gold color with nice floral, apple and plum aromas, this wine has crisp, fresh pear flavors on the palate with a spicy finish - well-balanced with nice concentration and structure. Expect nothing less from this Champagne maker, in business since 1584 and the oldest Champagne house in France. Highly Recommended.

Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley, Calif., $20: The wine is crisp and elegant with pear, spice and hazelnut flavors. This sparkler is well-crafted, fresh with fruit flavors within a balanced wine. Best Buy.

Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma, Calif., $15: This sparkler, 85 percent pinot noir and 15 percent chardonnay, is very drinkable with rich flavors of raspberries, vanilla and lime. Best Buy.

Gaston Chiquet Traditions NV, France, $35: In small print on the label are two initials with numbers marking this Champagne as Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) or Grower-Producer Champagne. There are 5,000 growers in Champagne producing on vineyards that share a common terroir. Unlike most large Champagne houses that draw wine from across the Champagne region and blend to achieve a house cuvée, grower wines are more likely to reflect seasonal conditions and winemaker styles. This wine – using all three traditional champagne grapes – is crisp and fresh with a silky, smooth taste on the palate. Look for RM markings on Champagne bottles and try a grower’s wine.

Other sparkling wines to consider: Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, Calif.; Argyle Winery, Ore.; Domain Chandon, Calif.; Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad, Spain; Raventós I Blanc L’Hereu Reserve Brut, Spain; Bisol Crede Brut NV Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Italy; Langlois Brut NV Cremant de Loire, France; Simonnet-Febvre Brut Rose NV and Cremant de Bourgogne, France.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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