Let’s talk about New Year’s resolutions, shall we? While I could resolve to lose 10 pounds, eat fewer French fries or exercise more, I’ve chosen a resolution that’s, how shall we say it? – more fun! More rewarding! And frankly, more achievable. My resolution for 2018 is to drink more sparkling wine! Champagne! Prosecco! California Sparkling! Franciacorta! Cava! Crémant de Loire! Weird and delicious sparkling from Germany! There are so many delicious sparkling wine options these days that I’d thought I’d share a six inspirations for your own resolution.
Three tips for enjoying any sparkling wine:
- Use a white wine glass, not a flute. Flutes are too narrow at the top and don’t allow you to really shove your nose in there and drink in the aroma. Use regular wine glasses. I’m sure I annoy many a server when I ask for my sparkling in a wine glass and not a flute, but I don’t care!
- Sparkling wines pair with almost any food. Seriously, sparkling goes with almost anything: potato chips? Check. Salty peanuts? Check. Lobster? Check. Sushi? Check. Pad Thai? Check. Cheese and crackers? Duh. When you don’t know what wine to have with a food, think of sparkling.
- To open the bottle, untwist the metal cage, but do not take it off the bottle. Take a dish towel, napkin, whatever, hold it on top of the cork and twist the bottle. The cork will ease gently itself out and you’ll get that signature “pop!” of the cork without popping out an eye. (I once encountered a server at a summer festival trying to push the cork up with her thumbs. I rescued her immediately from that ridiculosity.)
Alright! On to my six sparkling inspirations:
Champagne: The word “Champagne” sometimes gets thrown around like the word “Coke” for any old kind of brown cola, but Champagne is Champagne and nothing else is. It must come from the Champagne region of France (about 100 miles east of Paris) and “the big three” Champagne grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It’s usually the priciest sparkling option, but it’s so worth it. And while you can spend big bucks on vintage Champagne (like Dom Perignon or Piper-Heidsieck Rare), you can get perfectly beautiful non-vintage Champagnes starting at about $35-$40. You’ll get that toasty, rich aroma that’s a result of the wine resting on the lees (the spent yeast cells) in the bottle and a luscious flavor, frequently bursting with notes of stone fruits, Meyer lemon and almonds. Blanc de Blanc Champagne is 100 percent Chardonnay (love), and rosé Champagne has spent a bit of time on the Pinot Noir skins to acquire a lovely pink hue.
Crémant: These are French sparkling wines that are made outside of the Champagne region. You can find Crémants from The Loire Valley, Bourgogne, Limoux and Alsace, and they are lovely. The grapes used differ from Champagne: Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois Blanc and others, depending on the region. You can find Crémants starting under $20! I want some right now!
Prosecco: Everyone knows Prosecco, which is exploding right now in the U.S., but few know that like Champagne, it must come from a designated region — the Prosecco region of Italy, which is in the Veneto – in northern of Italy, about 50 miles north of Venice. The grape is Glera. You can find Prosecco for as low as $9.99 sometimes and it’s fine. But I’m here to tell you a secret: cheap Prosecco can be improved with a dash of Campari, to counteract any residual sugars in the wine. One of my favorite everyday Proseccos is Nino Franco Rustico (about $18).
Franciacorta: This is another deeeeelicious Italian sparkling wine, also from northeast Italy, in the Lombardy region. Franciacorta is made in the “Champagne Method,” or Methode Champenoise, where the wine has its second fermentation in the bottle. Berlucchi Brut Rosé is one of my favorites, made from Pinot Noir grapes. It bursts with lush raspberry notes and you definitely get the yeasty aroma that I love so much about Champagne. You can find Franciacortas in the $30 neighborhood.
California Sparkling: California winemakers are going bananas with sparkling wine lately! Winemaker Steve Fennell from Sanford produces a gorgeous sparkler made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And my friend Laura Roach debuted her first-ever sparkling wine under her Loubud label this fall and it blew my socks off, it was so delicious! It had super-vigorous bubbles, a very Brioche-y, yeasty aroma and notes of white cranberry, pear and white flowers. Super smooth texture, clean, refreshing and beautiful!
California sparkling wines can run the gamut from $12 all the way up into big bucks. Schramsberg’s J. Schram Brut Rosé, which I adore, runs in the $135 range but the $45-$65 range will get you a beautiful Cali sparkling.
Cava: From the Penedes region of Spain in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona. Cava is made in the Methode Champenoise, from Parellada, Macabeu and Xarel-lo grapes. You can get cavas cheap, cheap, cheap – like, $11 or so (I’m lookin’ at you, Freixenet), but you get what you pay for. Budget Cava is great for a party though, and you can dress it up with a splash of Campari (an Italian amaro that is fresh and a touch bitter) or Crème de Cassis (blackberry-flavored liqueur) to wow your guests!
There you have it! I could go on and on and on, but I have to go open a bottle now! I hope you resolve to try more sparkling wines in the coming year. I didn’t even get to ones from Portugal, Germany, Austria, and my current obsession, Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. But I will!
Cheers, my friends, and thank you for supporting my blog this year. I raise a glass of Champagne to YOU!