Let's just cut to the chase.
As one of the largest retailers and wholesalers of wine in the country, Spec's nearly always has the best pricing, especially when it comes to higher-end bottles.
Houston Chronicle wine (and sports) writer Dale Robertson once called the outfit "Houston's 800-pound wine gorilla". Its behemoth buying power gives it unrivaled leverage when negotiating with the nation's wine distributors and importers. And since it became a "direct importer" and wholesaler a few years ago, its ability to drive pricing has only expanded.
Now, don't get me wrong. On any given Sunday, I'm always going to place my bet on the Houston Wine Merchant. It's my favorite wine shop in the city, one of the best in Texas, and one of the last independently owned wine and spirits retailers in the state.
Many are unaware that Richard's, for example, is just another one of the many retail "brands" that Spec's owns and operates in the state.
That essentially makes Houston a two-horse town when it comes to wine shopping. (I'm omitting the supermarkets here because their pricing is nearly always higher than the specialized retailers' and their storage isn't always reliable, in my experience.)
And that's why, despite my fondness for and unbridled endorsement of the Houston Wine Merchant as the best wine shop in town, I do my Champagne and sparkling wine shopping at Spec's.
There's a lot of great sparkling wine out there, Houstonians. Here are some of my top pick's for your New Year's Eve celebration.
You'll find my No. 1 recommendation at the end of this post.
Labet Crémant de Bourgogne
I recently tasted and thoroughly enjoyed this wine, which is made in Burgundy from 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes. An elegant and mineral-driven wine and a great value (under $20). Houston wine legend and longtime Spec's buyer Bear Dalton wrote this tasting note and backgrounder on the wine.
André Clouet Brut Rosé
André Clouet is one of the leading producers of "grower Champagne," a relatively new trend in the appellation. During the past few decades, many small, family-owned farms stopped selling their grapes to the big Champagne "houses" and began bottling the wines themselves. Clouet has been a favorite among wine industry insiders and it represents extreme value at $50. My tasting note: Gorgeous!
Gaston Chiquet Tradition
This is the Champagne that I reach for when I want to serve the wine with dinner. Its freshness and food-friendliness (thanks to vibrant but well-balanced acidity) have made it a favorite at our house, especially when paired with a rich risotto alla parmigiana. It weighs in at just over $50, the average price for a great bottle of entry-tier Champagne.
Bollinger Special Cuvée
I love Bollinger so much that I wrote a song about it. Known for its distinctive "yeasty" and "toasty" notes, Bollinger is one of the most unique expressions of Champagne and my personal favorite. It lands at the higher end of my Champagne budget ceiling at under $60, but it's worth every penny.
Bouvet-Ladubay Signature Brut
The Loire valley of France delivers some of the most value-driven sparklers, like this one, made mostly from Chenin Blanc with smaller amounts of Chardonnay. Chenin Blanc is known for its bracing acidity and its ability to express minerality. This wine, which lands under $20, delivers a lot of character and food-friendliness for the price.
Loredan Gasparini Asolo Prosecco
Thanks to its low alcohol and all-around approachability, Prosecco is my New Year's Day go-to. I always avoid "banana candy" Prosecco and reach for the fresher and more savory style, like this one. A surefire winner at around $15.
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Taittinger Brut La Française
At just over $40, Taittinger is the No. 1 value Champagne on my list, and it's also one of the most food-friendly. Made mostly from Chardonnay (unusual for entry-tier Champagne cuvées), this wine has all the acidity and minerality that I want in Champagne, and even on the lower end of the price spectrum it delivers the quality of wines that cost $10 and $20 more.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve
One of my favorite wine blogs is called Rockss [sic] and Fruit. Its title alone captures one of the things that can make wine great: fruit flavors balanced by minerality. Billecart-Salmon is one of the great names of Champagne and its wines are defined by their intense minerality and delicate but focused fruit flavors. When all the Spec's discounts are applied, this bottle will cost you roughly $46 (see the image at the top of this post), making it my top recommendation for both extreme value and superb quality.