Champagne is synonymous with celebration. There is something special about a tall, slender champagne flute with tiny bubbles streaming to the surface like thousands of balloons released to the gods, like so many comic thought bubbles floating over a crowd and bursting into fits of laughter. Any holiday party is incomplete without a toast with bubbles. Don’t send your guests home sobbing like unfulfilled children with coal in their stockings on Christmas morning, serve sparkling wine for Chrissakes.
Don’t despair if your wallet is a bit moth-eaten and too slim to cover for the expensive stuff from the Champagne region of France, there are plenty of lovely sparkling wines that can meet your budget. Sparkling wine goes by lots of different names, depending on where it’s produced. In the U.S., we have the evocative name, sparking wine. Other names around the world include Mousseux or Crémant in France, but not from Champagne; Prosecco, Trento and Asti in Italy; Cava in Spain; Sekt in Germany and Austria; Espumante in Portugal, and Cap Classique in South Africa.
Here are a few tips for choosing a sparkling wine:
- Go to a reputable wine shop and get advice from the smart people that work there. They spend all day, every day recommending wine to people like us and are a great resource for finding the best wine for the money.
- Steer clear of Cold Duck.
- Look for the words “méthode Champenoise,” “traditional method” or “méthode traditionnelle” on the bottle. This signifies that the sparkling wine was made with the most complex of the four methods for making bubbly. When selecting an Italian wine, completely disregard this tip and instead look for “Metodo Charmat-Martinotti” or “Metodo Italiano.” This will ensure that you don’t get a horrid bottle of rot gut made with an injection of CO2 like the aforementioned Cold Duck. This method guarantees you will get a horrendous headache in the morning and you’ll be in desperate need of my hangover helpers.
If you still want a little help in picking a delightful sparkling wine for your holiday party, never fear, I have three recommendations for you. Beautiful Wife and I did your homework for you. We tasted three bubblies priced $10, $15 and $18 and here is your cheat sheet for wine shopping.
Valdivieso Champenoise Brut Nature
Our first wine is our least expensive and comes from the venerable Viña Valdivieso winery in the Curico Valley of Chile. The winery’s claim to fame is that it has evolved from the first company in South America to make sparkling wine, Champagne Valdivieso founded by Alberto Valdivieso in 1879.
Valdivieso Champenoise Brut Nature is made in the traditional method with 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir. This wine is aged 24 months with yeast in the bottle. The wine makers achieve an elegant dryness by adding no additional sugar in the dosage when the bottle is topped off after disgorgement. Here are my tasting notes.
|Look||Like bright spun gold, with a hint of pale salmon at the edge, studded with millions of tiny diamonds. Valdivies has abundant fine bubbles and a soft mousse.|
|Smell||A glass of delicate lemon meringue pie accompanied by a thin slice of green apple.|
|Taste||A creamy, smooth holiday treat of tart green apple, toasty bread crust and a long finish with hints of bitter pecan.|
After the official tasting, we finished this bottle first. It has the smoothness, complexity and brightness that we like in a sparkling wine. At 10 bucks a bottle it’s a steal. We grabbed a bunch of it for our holiday parties and pop-in guests.
Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht
Next up, a French-styled wine from Domain Lucien Albrecht in the village of Orschwihr in southern Alsace. This place has some serious wine history, records of wine production dating back to 728 AD.
Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht is made from 100 percent Pinot Blanc grapes grown in clay-chalky soil. It is made méthode Champenoise with malolactic fermentation. Here is what you can expect.
|Look||Northern sunlight on a December afternoon, pale yellow, bright and transparent. This one has slightly larger bubbles than the first streaming with mid frequency for a gentle mousse that disappeared quickly.|
|Smell||A cold winter’s day with dusty, minerally limestone and faint honey suckle.|
|Taste||A bite of fresh grape fruit and tapioca with a silky-smooth, balanced feel. The Lucien Albrecht has a mid-length, slightly bitter finish.|
This was my third favorite of the three, but is a wine I have bought before and will buy again. The crisp
Carpene Malvoliti DOCG Prosecco Cuvée Brut
Carpene Malvoliti is one of the largest producers of Prosecco and has been making the bubbly from grapes grown in the DOCG hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene Veneto region of Italy since 1868.
Carpene Malvoliti DOCG Prosecco Cuvée Brut is made from 100 percent Glera, aka Prosecco, grapes with the Charmat- Martinotti method, which puts more emphasis on the fruit by aging it for only three months on the yeast. This wine is the epitome of Prosecco with medium effervescence and round fruit flavors. This is what it tastes like:
|Look||The glint of light from the star on the top of your Christmas tree, light straw yellow with slightly larger bubbles than the other two wines. The slow rolling bubbles generate a generous mousse.|
|Smell||A Christmas fruitcake with peach pits, toasted apples and floral scents. My 7 year old son confirmed the peach and apple notes.|
|Taste||Full, lush peach juice dribbling down your chin balanced by tingly bubbles, slight acidity and a smooth, clean, long finish.|
Prosecco is a food lover’s wine and pairs well with anything on your table. It’s also great all by itself. The Carpene Malvoliti is a solid wine, but for $8 less I can buy a lot more of the Valdivieso to serve at a big party.
Any of these three sparkling wines are good selections to serve during the holidays or any time of the year. They are delicious on their own, go well with food and are good in mixed drinks like mimosas or a festive Poinsettia Cocktail. What’s a Poinsettia Cocktail you ask? Here’s how you make this simple, festive drink:
- Healthy measure of Sparkling wine
- 1/2 oz. Cointreau
- ½ oz. Vodka
- 3 oz. Cranberry Juice
Add chilled Cointreau, vodka and cranberry to chilled champagne glass. Give it a quick swizzle and top that gorgeous princess with with sparkling wine or Champagne just before serving. Now that says holiday a heck of a lot better than a roasted chestnut on Santa’s lap.