The pop of the cork of sparkling wine is part of the New Year’s Eve soundtrack as much as "Auld Lang Syne" and fireworks. The tiny, tickling bubbles evoke celebratory moods. With so many sparkling wine choices, seemingly as many as there are bubbles in a bottle, the task of choosing the appropriate sparkler can be daunting.
As you prepare for New Year’s Eve, don’t let the overwhelming choices get in the way of enjoying the festivities. This week the Cork Dork will help you make sparkling wine shopping decisions.
Cost for sparkling wine ranges from less than $10 to more than $500 per bottle. Keep in mind that in general, you get what you pay for. Most of the sparkling wine is labeled non-vintage, meaning it’s a blend of grape juice from multiple vintages. During outstanding vintages some sparkling wine producers will choose to bottle a sparkling wine made exclusively from fruit harvested that year.
Large “Negociant” Champagne houses who purchase much of their fruit, such as Veuve Cliquot, Bollinger, Roederer, Tattinger, Perrier Jouet and Nicolas Feuillatte, dominate the market. However, in the last decade or so, Champagne from small growers has gained some traction with Champagne enthusiasts.
Many of the grape growers in Champagne have been keeping the fruit from some of their best blocks and bottling it themselves, and thus the popularity of grower Champagne has grown.
Grower Champagne tends to be more expressive of their respective sites and the conditions specific to their tiny plots. Many of the large producers blend from a confluence of purchased fruit from, sometimes, hundreds of growers that are blended, rendering many of them monolithic.
Wine importers such as Terry Theise and Becky Wasserman have fueled the growth in the American market, lending their credibility and promoting the underdog small Champagne growers. Further, many of the best grower Champagnes are priced competitively, under $60 a bottle, coaxing value for the consumer dollar.
The manager of Kirkland’s , Adam Bernstein, is an adamant booster of grower Champagne.
“They are better Champagne producers than the big houses,” he states flatly.
Small grower Champagnes such as Pierre Peters, Pierre Gimonnet, Gaston Chiquet, Larmandier-Bernier, Camille Saves and Egly-Ouriet are available in the local market. Most retail for around $50 to $60.
in Bellevue and Seattle, in Redmond, The Grape Choice in Kirkland, Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle’s SoDo District, Wine World in Wallingford, and McCarthy & Schiering on Queen Anne Hill and Ravenna carry extensive selections of Champagne and sparkling wine at-large.
Most local specialty wine shops, such as on Mercer Island and in Woodinville, can special order most of the sparkling wines recommended in this column.
Bernstein recommends Rosé Champagnes, including Cedric Bouchard’s Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs "La Parcelle" ($100), Camille Saves Rosé ($75), Gaston Chiquet Rosé ($60), Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix ($55) and Veuve Fornay Rosé ($60). All are available at The Grape Choice.
Traditional large producers are not going away anytime soon. In fact, Kurt Krause of McCarthy & Schiering says the current non-vintage releases from large producers are the best he’s tried in his decades in the wine industry.
Krause recommends Gosset NV Brut Excellence ($38) and Krug Champagne Grand Cuvee ($180).
Pete’s sells Heidsieck Monopole for $24.99, Drappier Brut Carte d’Or for $27.29, Duetz Brut Classic for $33.39 and Tattinger Brut La Francaise for $35.59, among other large producers.
Esquin sells the 2002 Perrier Jouet Le Fleur for $99.99, the lowest price in the country according to Esquin European wine buyer Arnie Millan. He also recommends Duval Leroy NV Brut ($29.99) as well Champagnes from smaller producers such as Lenoble NV Brut ($38.99), Jacques Copinet ($43.99) and Jacques Selosse ($143.99).
Only sparkling wine from the French region of Champagne can be labeled Champagne. That doesn’t mean that quality sparkling wine can’t be produced in other parts of France and the world.
Cremant from Burgundy, Limoux, the Loire Valley, Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain and sparkling wine from Argentina and the United States’ West Coast are delivering quality and value-driven sparklers.
Wine historians in Limoux claim it is the birthplace of sparkling wine, producing the fizzy wine as early as 1531 by Benedictine monks at the abbey of Saint-Hilaire. It wasn’t until more than 100 years later that Dom Perignon started making sparkling wine in Champagne. J. Laurens Brut ($17) and Domaine Collin Brut Cuvee Tradition ($15) are available at both McCarthy & Schiering stores.
Lucien Albrecht’s NV Brut Cremant d’Alsace and Louis Bouillot NV Brut Cremant de Bourgogne are two other Cremant options under $20 and readily available at local supermarkets and specialty retailers.
Prosecco is chiefly grown in Italy’s Veneto region. It is vinified like Champagne. Unlike Champagne, Prosecco can deliver quality under $20. The Veneto producer Bisol delivers quality at a range of price points. The surprisingly rich and forward non-vintage Bisol Crede is available for around $14 at Pete’s. The Valdo Prosecco Brut for $10 at Esquin is another bargain quality sparkling wine.
For luxurious vintage Prosecco, the 2009 Bisol Cartizze is an elegant, floral sparkler with layers of citrus fruit, citrus rind, stone fruits and lithe minerality. It is available at Esquin for $50.
In its native Spain, Cava is the drink of choice during Christmas Eve. It is so value driven that you can buy enough Cava for Christmas AND New Year’s Eve. Maset del Lleo NU Reserve Brut sells for $12 at in Bellevue. The Mont Marçal Cava Brut Extremarium retails for $20 at The Grape Choice.
The Coiron Sparkling Extra Brut from Argentina is another complex, balanced and food-friendly sparkler available for under $20 at Wine World and QFCs around the Puget Sound.
Sparkling wine domestic choices include Cave B Blanc de Blanc, Columbia Valley, available for $25 at Urban Enoteca in Seattle’s SoDo District, 2001 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut, Willamette Valley, for around $50 at most supermarkets and specialty retailers, and Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs for around $35, also available at most supermarkets.
In the end if you are looking to celebrate the New Year in style, Salon is, shall we say, the Champagne of Champagnes. The current vintage, 1996, sells for $350 at The Grape Choice.