It’s nearing that time of year for many when you will soon ask or be asked, “what Champagne are you serving this New Years Eve?” Like so many others in the wine industry, I find myself torn between just letting that question go by simply answering with the answer, or as my wife likes to say “being the wine snob” by trying “gently” to explain and educate the person or persons on the term, what it stands for, and how it is used through out the world today.
Therefore, without playing the “wine geek / snob”, I will try to explain exactly what Champagne is, it’s history, and why what we produce throughout the world can’t be referred to as Champagne. Originally this sparkling and fantastic bubbly was produced in the Champagne Region of France, and given its namesake. At the conclusion of WW1, and not being satisfied with just signing the Treaty of Versailles to end this war, the French insisted on adding a section giving France exclusive use of the term Champagne. It referred to their bubbly wine, produced in their traditional method, in that region of France.
Over the years this seemed to be ignored by many producers of sparkling wine, who used the term freely, arguing that the U.S. had never ratified that treaty, and producing bubbly in the original tradition allowed them to label it Champagne. A formal agreement in the year 2006, and there you have “the rest of the story”. Sparkling Wine, or “bubbly” produced in the U.S. will be labeled just that from now on.
Therefore, if you are making wine, your label must call it Sparkling Wine, and if you are teaching about it, you probably should call it Sparkling Wine. If you are out to dinner, or at a function, you will see that on the Wine List, there will be listed Champagnes and Sparkling Wines, and now you know why.
However, if you are in the privacy of your own home, with guests, both friends and or family, you can call your sparkling wine anything you want to! The plain fact is many Sparkling Wines produced in the U.S. as well as other countries, are created in the same exact traditional ways as in Champagne, France, and in many cases, even taste better, in my opinion. So if you break out a bottle of “bubbly” from your local wine shop or grocery store, pop the cork and announce, “anybody for some Champagne”, chances are nobody there is going to challenge you, but rather everyone there feels special.
Now to the question of what Champagne or Sparkling Wine to serve at your party, or order at that Grand Ball. As I frequently am quoted as saying, why drink what some expert says to drink, rather drink what tastes great to you. Now I don’t want to upset any of the “experts” out there, so I will agree, using their ratings, points, whatever, to narrow down choices can be a lifesaver at times. But I also believe that your trying different sparkling wines, and yes, even some more expensive Champagnes, if affordable to you, can and will be an eye opener. Lets look at some that I would recommend you try if possible, before the “big event”. That way, you will know what you believe to be some great choices sure to bring a smile to faces.
One of my personal favorites is Moët & Chandon Dom Perignon, Champagne that I drink on special occasions when I really feel like celebrating with a delicious tasting but rather expensive bottle of Champagne. Dom Perignon is available in multiple vintages, and can run between $150 to $1000 a bottle or more. However, recently I discovered Dom at my local Costco for $120 a bottle, I believe for a 2000 Vintage Brut.
A 2003 Champagne Rosé produced by Taittinger is also a great choice if you can survive the price tag of $300 a bottle. And if not, their 2002 Brut Millésimé will please at around $90. You may also find Taittinger’s Prestige Rosé at $60 a bottle will due you fine.
A Grande Cuvée Brut produced by Krug is also a fine choice, affordable at around $100 per bottle and very tasty and drinkable.
Now if you just want a good Sparkling Wine that tastes great, makes a “pop” when you relieve the bottle of it’s cork, and won’t drain your wallet, then here are some excellent choices for you.
Many times I have voiced my humble opinions on Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine from Sonoma, California. They don’t pay me to say this, I do it because I believe they are among the very best producers of Sparkling Wines, and have three complete rows devoted to just their “bubbly” in my wine cellar. If you can find them, or decide to order online, their Royal Cuvee and Sonoma Brut are both excellent choices, and you can get them from $20-$50. Each with their own distinctive flavor, they exhibit fruity, apple and elegant long finish to their effervescence.
From the Napa Valley a name familiar to all is Mum Sparkling Wine family, who produce a fine sparkling wine, their 2003 DVX a very fruity, creamy wine. A bottle of this beauty will run you $60 but well worth the price. And lastly if you just want a less expensive sparkling wine, but one that still performs well, and won’t send your taste buds running for the hills, then try a bottle of Korbel Brut or Extra Dry, found everywhere for $12-14 a bottle. This is also a great choice for Mimosas, when you combine it with fresh orange juice.
My final suggestion is for a Sparkling Wine producer located in Dundee Oregon, Argyle Winery. On many occasions their Sparkling Brutes have graced the table of the White House for holidays and functions. I also have a fine collection of their wines in my wine cellar, including their ’08 Knudsen Vineyard Brut, their ’09 Argyle Brut and ’09 Argyle Brut Rose. These fantastic Brut’s will run you around $50 a bottle, but believe me are well worth it, just ask the First Lady!
As there are well over eighty producers of Sparkling Wine just in California, you shouldn’t have much problem finding a bottle or two. Just keep in mind what I said earlier, try tasting before serving whenever possible, with any wines. A great experience in wine always trumps a bad one.
Have a Happy New Year, safe and full of surprises, with the exception of what’s in your glass.