As you head this week to your favorite wine shop to pick up sparkling wine for the New Year's Eve celebration, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your sparkling-wine experience.
10. Remember that not all sparkling wines are created the same.
All sparkling wine is made by fermenting the wine twice. During the second fermentation, the process is carried out in a pressurized environment that captures the resulting CO2, a byproduct of all fermentation. For wines like Champagne and other "classic-method" sparklers like Cava from Spain or Franciacorta and Trento from Italy, the second fermentation takes place in a bottle. For "Charmat" method wines like Prosecco or Moscato d'Asti, the second fermentation happens in large pressurized vats. That doesn't mean that one style is better than the other. But the bottle-fermented wines will generally cost more.
9. Not all Prosecco is created the same.
If you're shopping for Prosecco, look out for Prosecco "DOCG" as opposed to Prosecco "DOC" (DOCG is the top tier in the Italian appellation system; DOC is the second tier). In theory, Prosecco DOCG will come from the best growing sites for Glera, the primary grape in Prosecco. The DOC wines should cost less and probably won't have as much character as the DOCG.
8. There are a lot of delicious fishes in the sea of sparkling wine.
Yes, Champagne sets the standard for sparkling wine in terms of both quality and prestige. But these days, there are so many different kinds of sparkling wine available in our market. Look for classic-method French Crémant from places like the Loire Valley, Burgundy and even Jura; try out some of the new classic-method Australian sparking wines that have begun to appear here; seek out Cava from Spain. No wine lover is ever going to turn down a glass of Gaston Chiquet Champagne Brut Millésimé Spécial Club. But beyond Champagne (the region), there are some wonderful options that deliver great value.
7. Make sure you're buying current-vintage wines.
Especially when it comes to lower-tier wines like Prosecco and Moscato d'Asti and Sekt from German-speaking countries, ask your salesperson whether or not she/he carries the most recent release from the winery. Wines like these are meant to be drunk in their youth. Don't get stuck with a stale bottle of Moscato d'Asti that's been sitting around since last year.
6. Do your homework to ensure that you get the best price.
For most wine lovers, sparkling wine for the holidays represents a "special occasion" or "splurge" purchase. Houstonians have a lot of great options when it comes to wine shops. And there are also a number of online resources that allow us to compare pricing even among local retailers. (WineSearcher.com is the most popular.) But keep in mind that proper handling is paramount, especially when it comes to premium wines. Are you sure that your bottle of Taittinger Champagne Brut La Française wasn't sitting out on the dock in the Houston sun next to a three-gallon jar of mayonnaise? Big-box stores are not always the best way to go when it comes to high-end wine purchases.
5. Pick the wine that is right for you and your company.
Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Reserve, for example, is a favorite among wine tradespeople. But will Aunt Gladys appreciate its astringent character and its racey acidity? Don't splurge on a bottle of wine that your guests won't appreciate. Try to find a common denominator among them and then base your selection and purchase on their tastes and expectations. Gently sweet Moscato d'Asti from a classic producer is a great equalizer among wine aficionados and casual wine lovers alike. Aunt Gladys will love it.
4. Pair your sparkling wine thoughtfully.
Sparkling wine isn't a cocktail. It's wine. And it's meant to be served with food. And most sparkling wine is intended to be paired with savory dishes as opposed to sweet. Yes, it's true that Richard Gere seduced Julia Roberts with Champagne and strawberries in Pretty Woman. But that was the movies. Whether it's with Prosecco, Champagne, Cava or Crémant, your experience will be enhanced by serving the wines with salty foods. (Low-alcohol Moscato d'Asti is an exception to this rule of thumb and is a great accompaniment for fresh fruit and fruit salad.)
3. Save the best for
Are you and your guests really going to enjoy that bottle of Bollinger 2002 Champagne Grande Année (around $120 in our market) when you open it at the stroke of midnight after a long evening of drinking and eating? Yes, there's something to be said about opening an extravagant bottle to ring in the new year, especially when celebrating with a lover. But you'll probably enjoy the best wines of the evening when your palates are still fresh. Serve the best wines at the beginning of the evening and save the Bollinger Special Cuvée (around $60) for the midnight toast.
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2. Avoid flutes and don't serve the wine too cold.
Across the United States, a new generation of restaurant and wine professionals has begun serving sparkling wines in conventional "white wine" glasses as opposed to flutes. The narrow aperture of the flute was favored by our parents' generation because it concentrated the fizziness of the wine. But a wider aperture, like that in a white or red glass, allows for better aeration, thus accentuating the wine's aromas and flavors. Proper temperature is another key element. If the wine is too cold, its aromas and flavors will be muted until it warms up. Don't have a temperature-controlled wine storage unit handy? Take the wine out of the fridge 20-30 minutes before you intend to serve it.
1. Remember, it's just wine.
No matter what you're serving for New Year's, keep in mind that the wine is just one element in your celebration. The finest Champagne can taste like piss if you don't drink it with the right person. Coppola's "effervescent Sofia Blanc de Blancs blend, in stylish pink 187 ml cans" can taste like heavenly nectar if you pop it with someone you care about. Don't put too much pressure on yourself or the wine. Put some thought into your selection and how you're going to serve it, and then enjoy New Year's Eve with someone you love...