How confused are Americans about sparkling wine? Very. The Wine Curmudgeon was in line at one of Dallas’ upscale grocers last week, and the woman ahead of me in line had all sorts of expensive produce and meat — and six bottles of $9 Freixenet black bottle cava. That almost certainly never would have happened if she had been buying regular, or still, wine; then her cart would have had the required 92-point bottles.
Or, to take it to the other extreme, a very well-known TV chef advised her viewers a couple of weeks ago to make mimosas — the 20-somethings’ favorite hangover remedy — with $40 sparkling wine. Which would be the equivalent of making sangria with one of the $40 reds I review in the monthly expensive wine post. Which would seem certainly seem like overkill.
What’s the reason for all this confusion? Because sparkling wine is seen as even more confusing than still wine, and still wine confuses us enough. Sparkling wine is more difficult to open. We’re only supposed to drink it on special occasions, and never for dinner in the middle of the week. And it has bubbles!
But sparkling wine doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, other than opening it, bubbly is not much different from still wine. It’s made with the same grapes, it’s made in much the same way, and it pairs with food just like regular red and white wine. Best yet, quality labels are available at all prices, even for less than $10.
After the jump, what you need to know about bubbly and my suggestions for the New Year’s holiday.
First, the basics about Champagne and sparkling wine (which I have updated and expanded — and a tip ‘o the Curmudgeon’s fedora to my pal Tim McNally for his help).
Second, consider the Wine Curmudgeon’s regular plea to drink bubbly during the other 50 weeks of the year; they deserve more than a New Year’s or holiday toast. As Tim notes, these are high acid and low alcohol wines, so they’re perfect for food and will pair with dinner the same way most white and rose wines will.
Finally, don’t be put off by the cork. Yes, the first couple of times you try to open bubbly, there’s a good chance you’ll make a mess of it. But it’s easy to learn, and the cork will come off with less effort than you think. Remove the foil and cage (the wire thingie on top of the cork), and then grip the cork, covering with a towel. Turn the bottle from the bottom — don’t turn the cork — and it will open quickly. This video, though a bit cheesy, shows how simple it can be.
Some thoughts about what to drink this week (and you can find more suggestions in the sparkling wine category, which lists every post about the subject in the blog’s four-year history):
- The best sparkling values in the world are cava, bubbly from Spain. Kila ($10, sample) is an outstanding value even for cava, where almost everything is an outstanding value. The Kila is more French-like than other cavas, a little more subtle and quite as fruity.
- Sparkling wine from France not made in Champage. Prices are much, much better than Champagne, with terrific wines for as little as $15 (and sometimes even less). Bouvet-Ladubay Brut Rosé NV ($15, purchased) from the Loire is a step in quality above $10 cava, with cranberry fruit and very lively bubbles. Highly recommended.
- Sparkling wine from California. The problem here is price. There are plenty of excellent producers, but the cost of land makes these wines more expensive and more problematic on the price/value scale. Gloria Ferrer, though, seems to find a balance — the Blanc de Noirs ($16, purchased) is fresh, firm and tight, with lots of bubbles but not an overbearing amount of yeastiness. There is lots of California fruit (you can taste the cherry edge from the pinot noir in the blend).
- Sparkling wine from the rest of the U.S. New Mexico’s Gruet Brut ($14, purchased), usually a favorite, now includes California grapes, and is not what it was (though still adequate). Oregon’s Argyle Brut ($27, purchased) is starting to have price/vlaue problems, but remains a well-made wine. The Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut ($11, purchased) offers fair value for price, though tends to be a little sweeter than other bruts.
- Italian sparkling wine. Cantine Maschio Brut Trevisiol ($11, purchased) is a top-notch Prosecco, especially at this price. Juicy apple fruit with lots of tight, active bubbles, and even a bit of mineral on the finish. Prosecco for people, like me, who don’t like Prosecco.
- Champagne. How bad are Champagne prices? I’ve tasted only four Champagnes this year, all samples. They’re just too expensive to buy. Having said that, I’ve got a gift waiting for me this week — Delamotte Brut ($37, sample), made in the classic style — zesty and lemony, some stone fruit, and even a little yeast
More about New Year’s sparkling wine:
• New Year’s sparkling wine 2010
• New Year’s sparkling wine 2009
• Expensive wine 33: Moet Grand Vintage Brut 2002
• Wine review: Naveran Cava Brut 2009
• Wine of the week: Lamberti Prosecco Vino Spumante Extra Dry NV.