10 Things You Need to Know about Champagne and Prosecco (and Everything in Between)

Like so many things in the new Trump America, the sparkling wine options for New Year's Eve this year in Houston seem to have been reduced to a zero-sum game: Either you drink Champagne and spend a buttload of money to sit courtside, or you drink Prosecco and sit in the nose-bleed seats where you figure you might as well have stayed at home and watched the game on your own big-screen TV.

And like so many other things in the new Trump America, the bogus Champagne vs. Prosecco dichotomy is a bunch of bullshit meant to keep you believing that aged, bigoted, overweight, rich white people who can't spell are going to save you from the wretched life you live.

In fact, there is a wide range of retail options for great sparkling wine in Houston this season. Jaime De Leon and his team at Kroger on Shepherd have expanded their sparkling wine selection this year, making it my No. 1 place for bubbles this year (nearly every one of Eric Asimov's Champagne recommendations for The New York Times this year are available there, at prices comparable to national averages).

Spec's on Smith also represents one of the best places for value in terms of sparkling wine shopping. The store has an excellent Champagne selection and great pricing. But Spec's also offers what is probably the widest array of non-Champagne and non-French sparklers.

And of all three of my main resources for sparkling wine, the Houston Wine Merchant stands out (as always) for the highly selective offering and the customer service (the Merchant is also the only place where I found my No. 1 Prosecco recommendation; see below).

1. Not all that sparkles is gold.

If you spend $10 or less on Prosecco, Cava or other sparkling wine, you get what you paid for (industrially produced wine).

2. Great Champagne can be had for less than $50.

I saw so many bottles from top Champagne houses at less than $50 this year. The sweet spot seemed to be $45.

3. Please don't serve your Champagne in flutes!

Use white wine glasses or any glass with a wide aperture. A narrow glass won't allow the wine to aerate sufficiently.

4. Please don't swirl your sparkling wine…ever!

As wine enthusiasm and appreciation continue to grow in our country, Americans have become excellent swirlers. But unbeknownst to even some of our city's top wine professionals, swirling radically changes the character of sparkling wine.

5. Don't use expensive wine to make cocktails.

There is no such thing as a "Champagne cocktail." Adding fruit juice or other mixer to a sparkling wine transforms the wine into a wine cooler. If you must, use wholesome wine but not expensive wine.

6. Serve savory food with sparkling wine.

Sweets naturally upset the balance of fruit and mineral flavors in wine, while savory foods can accentuate them.

7. Don’t be a sparkling wine racist.

The Champenoises (i.e., the inhabitants of Champagne, the region) grow and make some of the best sparkling wine in the world. But great sparkling wines are made elsewhere in France (especially the Loire Valley) and in Italy, Spain, Germany and America.

8. Sparkling wine has a shelf life.

Sparkling wine, like all wine, can go bad if left too long on the shelf. Never hesitate to ask your salesperson about how long a given wine has been in the store. A lot of Champagne can age well on the shelf. But most sparkling wine — especially Prosecco — needs to be fresh ("current vintage").

9. Don't over-chill your sparkling wine.

If you serve a $100 bottle of Champagne too cold, you're only getting $50 worth of wine. A good rule of thumb: Take the wine out of the fridge or ice about 30 minutes before serving. You can always put it back on ice if you like it colder.

10. Read Ed McCarthy's excellent Champagne for Dummies.

Ed's book is still the best "sparkling wine 101" available. Great book, great price. And if you want to dig more deeply into the world of sparkling wine, pick up a copy of Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine. It includes one of the best explanations of how sparkling wine is made.

My top sparkling wine picks for New Year's Eve 2017 in Houston:

Prosecco by Bisol, Adami and Nino Franco are all great options for around $20. Spend a little more for the old-school Ca' dei Zago artisanal Prosecco at Houston Wine Merchant. It's groovy and crunchy (it has its sediment) and it's one of Italy's hippest wines.

Best American (again, this year) is Domaine Carneros by Taittinger. Carneros in Sonoma, California, has the right climatic conditions for sparkling wine production. I saw this at Kroger for around $24 (!).

When it comes to Champagne, there are so many great options between Spec's and Kroger. Bruno Paillard (is what I will be drinking), Bollinger, Gimmonet, Taittinger (entry-tier is the best value), Gaston Chiquet, Billecart-Salmon, Pierre Péters…There are so many great entry-tier Champagnes available this year for less than $50.

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen