There's nothing quite like a bit of the bubbly, especially on New Year's Eve to ring in the new year. But how to choose?
There's prosecco from Italy, cava from Spain, and a tantalizing array of top-notch sparkling wines from California. But if what you want is genuine Champagne, look no further than France, where the method of creating the effervescent wine was perfected and made famous.
While many of us think of Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, it's not. All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. The term Champagne is legally protected by international treaties and can be used only by producers in France's Champagne region who follow a strict process called methode traditionnelle, the hallmark of which is a second fermentation that takes place in the bottle.
It's this exacting method, however, that is used to create the best bubblies all over the world. (Mumm Napa describes the process here.)
The other methods used to produce sparkling wine, according to Ted Glennon, wine director for the Hotel Del Coronado, are Charmat, continuous, bottle conditioning and forced carbonation—which is how soda gets its bubbles. (Glennon explains this and much more in "What Are the Best Sparkling Wines?" which was published in the San Diego Union-Tribune and can be read here.)
But what do you really need to know about popping the cork on your New Year's Eve celebrations?
"Sparkling wine is an extremely diverse category," Glennon tells Patch. "Depending on your budget and preferences, there is something for everyone. If you don't have a clear idea of what your guests prefer, I would recommend trying one of the acclaimed California producers, such as Roederer Estate, Schramsberg or J Vineyards."
Before hitting the liquor store, brush up on some bubbly vocabulary that will help make sense of what's printed on a bottle's label.
- Brut, extra-dry, sec and demi-sec tell you how sweet the sparkler is. Brut is the driest and demi-sec the sweetest, with extra-dry and sec both being slightly sweet, according to Mumm Napa.
- Cuvee means a blend of wines from a variety of grapes have been combined, usually to enhance aroma and flavor, mouthfeel and color.
- Vintage means the sparkling wine has been produced from a single, exceptional harvest, according to Domaine Chandon.
Store your bubbly in a cool, dark area and chill it just before serving. Domaine Chandon's serving temperature guide says Champagne and sparkling wines should be put on ice for 30 minutes or in a refrigerator set at 35ºF for three hours before pouring. Mumm Napa says the bubbly should be between 43-50ºF. Glennon notes that East Coasters can simply stick a bottle in a nearby snowdrift to chill. For us, he says, just plan ahead and store upright in the fridge.
Now, get ready to uncork the goods. Flute glasses hold the bubbles longest and bring the delicate flavors and aromas to the top.
"Invest in some nice crystal glassware," he says. "The best producers are now widely available, even at stores such as Target. Look for Spiegelau and Riedel, as well as Schotts Zwiesel. You don't have to use a flute either; any nice wine glass will do."
And if you want something extra special, consider mixing a French 75 for your guests. According to Domaine Chandon, it's named for a World War I French artillery gun because it's got quite a kick.
"One of my favorite winter cocktails is a champagne cocktail," Glennon says. Here's how he makes it:
- Pinch of sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon wedge
- 1 oz. Cognac or brandy
- 3 oz. Champagne
Combine and pour over ice in a cocktail glass. Stir and enjoy!
Where to Buy Bubbly
Here are some places that stock their shelves with Champagne and sparkling wine to get your party started. But don't wait too long. Many retailers have early closing hours on New Year's Eve.