I love the winter holiday season, if only because it provides me with an excuse to sing the praises of one of my favorite indulgences: Champagne—or, more generally, sparkling wine. You'll recall that only bubbly from the Champagne region of France is true Champagne. Everything else—Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, domestic sparkling wine, etc.—is simply "sparkling wine." And, of course, it's a cliché to focus on Champagne and other sparkling wines as we approach New Year's Eve. But, that's the whole point: There will be bubbles. So, let's be sure to spend our money wisely. Here are some can't-fail suggestions for cork-popping, in a variety of price ranges.
Again this year—unless Santa is very generous or he won the lottery—I won't be drinking my favorite Champagne to usher in 2017. That's because a bottle of Salon 2004 Blanc de Blancs Champagne Grand Cru sells for a whopping $480. It's not the most expensive Champagne around, but it's the best I've ever tasted. For about one-tenth of the price, I'll instead enjoy a bottle of outstanding non-vintage Champagne from one of France's smallest producers: Jean Lallement Grand Cru Brut ($59.99). It's a gorgeous, graceful wine that's lush, creamy and brimming with tropical fruit and floral notes. During a recent visit to France, I had the pleasure of tasting the just-released Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2008 Champagne ($59.99) and was bowled over. This is an exotic vintage with a bouquet of stone and tropical fruits combined with raspberry, quince and ginger on the palate—a truly festive bottle of bubbles. Or, for a real bargain, go domestic during the holidays with Domaine Chandon Blanc De Noirs ($16.99) from Napa. Winemaker Pauline Lhote blends pinot noir and pinot meunier to create this versatile, food-friendly wine, a delicious one-size-fits-all sparkler that's great for sipping with Christmas dinner or for toasting to the new year.
Prosecco from Italy is almost always a good value and a great way to stretch your holiday booze budget. There are a few I'm particularly fond of. Chloe Prosecco ($16.99) is made from 100 percent Glera grapes from a handful of small growers in the Asolo area of Prosecco. It's bursting with peach, white flower and green apple notes, and makes for one helluva Bellini cocktail. Easy to spot with its egg-yolk-yellow label reminiscent of Veuve Clicquot, Ruffino Prosecco ($12.98) is extra-dry in style, crisp and clean, with ripe apple and pear aromas and hints of peaches on the tongue. It makes an excellent aperitif, but also pairs well with many foods—from fried calamari to pizza, white meat dishes and seafood. Another favorite of mine is from Veneto: Torresella Prosecco Extra Dry ($14) has nice acidity and is complex for the price—a perfect sparkling wine to accompany fruit desserts, soft cheeses or light hors d'oeuvres, or as an aperitif.
I thought I was hallucinating when I perused Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines for 2016, which was revealed about a week ago. That's because No. 73 was Korbel Brut ($15.99), made with an unorthodox blend of organic French colombard, sangiovese and chardonnay grapes. But, damn if this stuff isn't tasty. In fact, I believe Korbel was the only sparkling wine to make the WS 100. A Spanish Cava that I've come to love over the years is Marques Gelida Brut ($16.99), with pronounced yeasty butterscotch aromas and crisp apple flavors on the tongue. Finally, you'll blow people's minds at your home for the holidays when you pour them a blind tasting of Gruet Brut ($13.99). My prediction is that your guests will peg it for French Champagne long before they'll get around to guessing it's from New Mexico, which it is.