When it comes to shopping for sparkling wine for the holidays or any time of the year, for that matter, the bottom line is that Spec's has the biggest selection and the best prices.
Even the curators of Houston's few remaining independently owned retail outfits will grudgingly concede that they simply cannot compete with the behemoth's buying power, which results in aggressive consumer pricing.
Having said that, it's important to make sure that you are not buying stale wine when you shop there. Sadly, many of the wines on Spec's shelves — especially in the under-$25 selection — have been sitting there for too long. Don't be shy in asking the salespeople to verify that you are buying "current release" wine (if they are annoyed by your request, don't buy the wine).
My No. 1 pick at Spec's (and the wine my wife and I will be drinking on New Year's Eve) is the André Clouet N[on] V[intage] Champagne Brut, which you can take home for less than $40. It's a beloved classic among the international wine cognoscenti and arguably the best value for hipster-sanctioned sparkling in our market.
But for Christmas this year, we will be drinking the Messmer NV Sekt Rosé from Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Pfalz, Germany, a wine that you can find at the Houston Wine Merchant for $40.
I loved this wine's approachability and originality. It was fresh in its nose and bright in its mouth. My extended southeast Texas family will love it (I hope!), and its hipster quotient can't be beat: After all, who else drinks sparkling wine made from organically farmed Pinot Noir grown in Germany?
In the spirit of a sparkling hipster holiday season, I asked some of Houston's favorite wine professionals to share their top picks for 2015. The following recommendations are listed in the order in which they were received.
One last note for sparkling-wine lovers this holiday season: Please don't serve your sparkling wine in flutes! No self-respecting hipster would do that today (and the aromas and flavors of the wine will be aided in reaching your palate by the wider aperture of a white wine glass).
When asked for his sparkling-wine recommendation for holiday celebration, Marc Borel, wine director at the Rainbow Lodge, speaks not French but Italian. The Bonomi N[on] V[intage] Franciacorta Satén, he writes, is "100 per cent Chardonnay that drinks like Champagne."
It's the only wine on the hipster list that I could find retail in Houston (around $40 at Spec's).
Not surprising that Thomas Moësse would go Italian with his choice, since Divino, where he runs the wine program, is one of Houston's Italian wine standbys.
The Colonnara NV Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Brut Cuvée Luigi Ghislieri delivers notes of "bread crust and toasted almonds," he reports. They are balanced by "scents of yellow and green apples, and a pleasantly salty, mineral palate."
Also not surprising that Justin Vann of Public Services would weigh in with an über-hipster wine, an "orange Prosecco," in other words, a Prosecco that is not straw yellow but amber in color thanks to maceration with its skins (which impart color and tannin).
"On paper," the "unfiltered" Costadilà SLM 280 "sounds weird" but is "easy to love," with "lots of stone fruit and mouthwatering minerality," he told the Houston Press.
("SLM is an Italian acronym for "meters above sea level," in case you were wondering.)
It was only natural that David Keck, self-described and self-effacing "wine guy" for Camerata at Paulie's, would wax Italian: He stunned and thrilled the Houston wine community a few months ago when he abruptly launched a nearly all-Italian wine list at his wine bar, a favorite among local wine tradespeople.
His entry was the Monte Rossa NV Franciacorta Prima Cuvée Brut, "a wine brand new to the Texas market…concentrated and full of flavor while also retaining a bright floral character."
Not to be outdone by his peers in terms of the hipster quotient, the wine director of the River Oaks Country Club, Christian Varas, recommended the Marie Courtin 2008 Champagne Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut Côte des Bars Efflorescence, a nerd wine that any self-respecting, lumber-jack-bearded sommelier from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, would be proud to offer to her or his guests.
It is "a bit of a contradiction: 100 per cent barrique-fermented Pinot Noir from the warmest spot in Champagne…a powerful mid-palate of ripe red fruits with a tangy richness that lingers nearly a minute" with "a saline-tinged, mouth-watering bone-dry finish." A "must-try" wine, he notes.
A devout Italian wine lover who recently found a new calling as the wine director of the Portuguese-inspired Oporto Fooding House, Samantha Porter ventured beyond Portugal's borders to Spain with the Recaredo 2008 Cava Gran Reserva Brut Nature Terrers.
Spanish sparkling often gets a bum rap, she writes. But this biodynamically farmed wine "can compete with any top Champagne house" with its "distinctive but welcomed rich earthiness."
Nathan Smith, wine director of Dolce Vita, brought the conversation back to Italy with an entry from Sicily, a region where one does not expect to find an abundance of sparkling wine.
The Marco de Bartoli 2011 Metodo Classico Terzavia is made from Grillo grapes, which are more commonly used in the production of the island's famous fortified wine, Marsala.
This wine levels the playing field, he opines, as "an excellent substitute for Franciacorta or Champagne… showing great complexity on the nose and palate with notes of red apple skin, apricot, yeast, hay, citrus, and tropical fruit."
Steven McDonald, wine director at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse on Westheimer, was the only respondent to reach for a timeless classic. But it would be hard to imagine a wine hipster or geek who would turn down a glass of the Bollinger 2004 Champagne Brut La Grande Année.
This "full-bodied" wine "bursts with flavors of ripe pear, quince, almond butter and toasted bread."
While nearly every wine on this list costs less than $100 and some of these wines represent extreme price-quality-ratio value, the $250 price tag for this wine is worth every penny and is a bargain, all things considered.