Budget Bubbles: Select a Delicious Sparkling Wine for your Holiday Party

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Steer clear of Cold Duck.
  3. 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.
Price $10

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.
Price $15

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.
Price $18

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.

Happy Holidays!

What are you drinking?

Suitable Wines for a Summer Romance

“Summer romances end for all kinds of reasons. But when all is said and done, they have one thing in common: They are shooting stars-a spectacular moment of light in the heavens, a fleeting glimpse of eternity. And in a flash, they’re gone.” – The Notebook

 Lazy summer days are perfect for carefree romance. What better way to while away a languid day with a lover than a picnic with feet dipped in the lake? Like the thrill of romance, a chilled white or rosé wine makes everything in a picnic basket tastes better.   

 This week I set out to find wines that have the ease of summer and brighten the mood at any occasion. I’m looking for bottled sunshine. When it’s hot out, I often find myself reaching for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I guess I’m a loyalist. I decided to break out of that mold just a little bit, and selected four different wines from Italy, France and Spain that are perfect for a picnic.

 San Felice Vermentino

The first one I cracked open was from Tuscany, a 2009 San Felice Vermentino Maremma Toscana Perolla. San Felice has been cranking out reds and whites in a modern winery since 1967 amidst a medieval village.

The dominant grape in this wine is Vermentino, which is widely grown in the hills of Maremma. The grapes sun bathe in the hot sun all day, then sleep in the cool Mediterranean breezes at night. This stress free grape lifestyle gives the wine a fresh, bright flavor. Did I mention that I like Sauvignon Blanc? I guess habits are hard to break. This wine has about 15% of it, which gives it more complexity and a little heft. 

This baby has less alcohol than big red wines, clocking in at about 12.5%. Drinking a couple glasses of this on a hot afternoon won’t make you too drowsy. If that’s your goal, have a third glass. 

Look This is sunshine in a glass.  
Smell Like a tropical beach breeze carrying flint-kissed citrus scents.
Taste San Felice tastes like the perfect shade to prevent sunburn. Its gauzy body gently releases tart, crisp green apple and lemon zest flavors easing into hint of meringue and a clean finish. This is not a wine to lay down waiting for a special moment. Drink it now. Every summer day is a special moment.
Price $16

 Château Bonnet Blanc

Second up, is Château Bonnet Blanc from the AOC Entre-Deux-Mers in the Bordeaux region. The storied vineyards of Chateau Bonnet are downright ancient with the first plantings emerging from the dirt in the 16th century, and the current regime took over in 1956.

 OK, so I’m still on the Sauvignon Blanc train. This one is made up of about half Sauvignon, 40% Sémillon and the rest Muscadelle grapes. Semillon is the rich, supple, subtle Angelina to balance the Brad of Sauvignon Blanc, which can be fragrantly belligerent and acidic. Like Jolie and Pitt, these two make a fantastic blend, particularly with a smidge of Muscadelle thrown in for good measure.

You know what can spoil a picnic quicker than ants? Forgetting your corkscrew. Never fear, this baby is packaged with a screw cap. Just twist and pour. If you miss that ceremonial pop of the cork, just stick your finger in your mouth, bend it into a gentle “J” shape, pucker tightly around it, and then pull it out briskly. “Pop!” This is the genius move that was created centuries ago specifically to mimic the sound of a cork being pulled. It’s fantastic.   

Look The delicate color of gold coins shimmering just below the surface of a gentle green stream.
Smell This wine smells just like a vivacious young girl picking up those gold coins, while eating grapes and drinking lemonade with white blossoms in her flowing hair.
Taste Château Bonnet Blanc introduces itself with smooth grace before racing into crisp, fresh citrus fruit flavors with vivid acidity that draws out a long, relaxed finish. It’s hard not to lounge just a little longer enjoying the after-glow once you’ve had it.  
Price $11

Blanc Pescador

Don’t you just love the delicate tickle of an effervescent wine? Like miniature angles frolicking over my tongue. For my third selection, I opened a young Blanc Pescador. This isn’t a rollicking sparkling wine – its less bubbly than Champagne, but has more fizz than a Vinho Verde. The good folks at Castillo Perelada in the Empurda Costa Brava region of Spain work a little magic during fermentation to conjure a fine, light and natural sparkle. In Spanish this is called “vino de aguja”, which means “needle-wine”. I have no idea what that means, but I read it somewhere.

Finally I’ve taken a complete departure from Sauvignon Blanc. Blanc Pescadore is made up of Macabeo, Parellada and Xare-lo grapes.

This is a picnic wine if there ever was one. Its entire attitude and outlook on life is casual fun. You could try to dress it up for a black tie event, but it’s much more comfortable in flip flops and a sundress eating finger foods in the breeze. If your lovely day gets rained out, bring it inside and serve it with ceviche while sitting on the floor in a circle of friends.  Better yet, serve it for brunch with a crab omelet. The tart fruit and acidity are an ideal date with shellfish. With only 11.5% alcohol, it won’t knock you down so soon after you woke up.  

Look Daisy petal soft yellow with hints of spring green.   
Smell Grapefruit mist carried on a sea breeze with a whisper of yeast.  
Taste It tastes like wearing white linen while playing badminton. Clean, fresh and crisp with a sparkling bounce in its step.  
Price $11

Riondo Prosecco Raboso, Pink Spago Argento

I can’t get enough bubbles, so my fourth wine choice is a spirited Prosecco made with Raboso grapes, grown on the Veneto hills of Italy.  Riondo opened in 1999 and is nestled in Monteforte d’Alpone in northern Italy, west of Venice.    

Pink Spago Argento is a frizzante with frothy bubbles that make me smile. The wine makers get the gentle sparkle by controlling the temperature during fermentation. It is impossible to be in a bad mood while sipping a glass of bubble gum pink wine that begs you to take it sailing. Like most of my summer choices, this is somewhat low in alcohol at 10.5% to give us license for day drinking.

Look As bright pink as the crinoline of a fairy princess tutu.
Smell  It smells like the delicate breath of that lovely fairy princess after she’s eaten a bowl of sweet cherries and freshly picked strawberries.
Taste Pink Spago Argento dazzles the mouth with a crisp pop of fresh fruit and brisk acidity. It finishes with a subtle bitterness that reminds you it isn’t simply cute and sweet. Its gentler than the bittersweet end of a summer romance.
Price $9

 Try one of these wines pool-side, at the lake, in the hammock or on a picnic blanket this weekend. Let me know what you think. What is your favorite wine for making summer memories?