So you've survived the onsalught of family during your holiday celebration this week, and now it's already time to start thinking about picking the perfect bubbly for your New Years Eve party. With all of the Champagnes, Cavas and Proseccos vying for your attention, picking out the right sparkling wine can be a truly exhausting experience! So before we get into my picks for the best bubbly for your New Years celebration, let's start with a short explanation of some of the famous sparkling wines of the world.
Sparkling wine regions.
Champagne is basically a brand name for sparkling wines that are produced in the Champagne region of France. It can't be called Champagne if it wasn't made within that area, which means that the bottle of "Champagne" from California in the grocery store is ignoring some international copyright laws! If a sparkling wine is made in France, but lies outside the boundary for Champagne, then you have to call it Crement instead. They can only be made from a blend of any or all of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne is synonymous with high quality bubby and celebrating, and because of this, it tends to be very expensive. It is very cold in Champagne, and frequently the grapes don't even get fully ripe, leading to beautifully crisp and incredibly tart wine that truly is amazing to drink.
Prosecco is the most famous sparkling wine of Italy made from the Glera grape. It had a reputation for being very inexpensive and frequently a little sweet, but recently the Italian government added many new requirements for Prosecco production, which has resulted in only the better wines being called Prosecco and the lesser ones just being called Spumante. These can range in style from slightly sweet and fruity to dry and somewhat minerally, but I usually think of them as being a little fruitier than Champagnes, but not as earthy as Cavas.
Cava is the main sparkling wine of Spain. It has a reputation for being very affordable and relatively mild, with some yeasty, sometimes nutty flavors. These were traditionally made from Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo (weren't these the names of Superman's parents on Krypton?), but recently they have been blending more popular French grapes in such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They range from very affordable and mild styles to big, rich, robust and earthy styles. These will usually lack the acidity of Champagne but are usually very good values!
The bottom line.
So with all of these fantastic sparkling wines to choose from, which one is the best for my party this year? A very good question, and I have a few different answers, depending on the style of wine that you like as well as how much you like to spend on a bottle of wine.
If you are the sort who likes to have the best of everything or have ever wanted to own something very rare, then we have the bubbly for you! We have the good fortune of having a bottle of Bollinger RD 2002 vintage Champagne. Only 6 came into North Carolina this year and I would imagine that this is the only one in Asheville! It starts off as a bottle of Bollinger Grande Annee, but instead of the usaual amount of aging, they allow it to mature for another 8 to 20 years before deciding that it's ready. The result is a wine that tastes like it sat in your cellar for a few decades, without the worry about whether or not it is still good. This wine is ready to be consumed now, but could also be aged for a few more years if you like. Complex flavors of mineral, citrus and quince, $374.
For those of us that don't want to spend that much on a single bottle of wine, I have some middle of the road suggestions. The Pol Roger Brut is a great way to feel like the royal family in England at only $48 a bottle. That's right, this was what was in the glasses as people toasted Prince William and Cate Middleton at the royal wedding recently, at least that's what I hear as I wasn't invited. It was also known to be the favorite Champagne of Winston Churchill, so it's a great choice if you happen to have any heads of state or foreign dignitaries coming to your party! Crisp and clean on the palatte, with a rich, yeasty, floral and citrusy flavor.
If that still sounds a bit pricey, try out the Jean-Luc Joillot crements from Burgundy! As you recall, crement is just French bubbly that wasn't made in Champagne. The Cuvee Agnes is a steal at $41, as it just came in fourth in a French blind tasting of the sparkling wines of France, beating out some very expensive and prestigious competition! At $29, the regular Jean-Luc joillot is also very impressive. More rich and creamy than most of the wines from Champagne and considerably less expensive. Both are sure to make a big impression on your guests, without putting a big dent in your checking account!
If fruit is more your style, try out the La Jara Prosecco. It is a Brut (which is the driest style), so it isn't sweet, but you will definitely experience more expressive fruit flavors than a Champagne, with just a touch of minerality to round it out. La Jara means "gravel" which refers to the type of soil it was grown in. This wine is also made organically as well as biodynamically, so it's a great choice if you enjoy wines that are environmentally responsible and made without pesticides. A great wine for $18.49! Expect tart apple and citrus, some floral notes with a hint of chalk on the finish.
If your wallet more closely resembles my own, and the thought of spending even $20 is really a splurge, but you still want to celebrate like a member of a royal family, I have the wine for you! We head from Champagne to Spain for this one. Juve Y Camps Cava is a Grand Reserva, which is the highest level of Spanish wine. In Spain, instead of just aging a wine for a few extra years, to be awarded a Grand Reserva designation, you have to be taste tested by the government. That's right, a representative of the government has to come out and drink your wine and decide if it is good enough to be a Grand Reserva! This wine was served at the new Spanish king's coronation this year, and is apparently tremendously expensive in Spain. I was really excited to have a 2010 vintage Cava that only costs $14.99. The age has really brought out some interesting flavors in this wine. Expect to experience some yeasty, nutty aromas, and a rich, spicy almond flavor on the palatte. This is not your classic, clean, crisp Champagne, but for me, it was a welcome change!