New Year’s Eve is in less than a week and as usual, I’m still not quite sure what our plans are. However, you can bet there will be bubbly involved. I have been drinking champagne on December 31 ever since I spent New Year’s Eve in Paris in 2000. I guess I have my father to thank for that. Besides watching the Tour Eiffel light up at midnight, the champagne was the highlight of my night. I loved the feel of all those little bubbles – so much more delicate than the ones in pop. It felt like a party on my tongue!
While champagne and I have some history, I am very aware that unless you are actually in France, its price range is not always conducive to everyday drinking. But I feel that you really don’t need a special occasion to drink bubbly. So this post explores champagne alternatives, whether to drink on New Years or just to celebrate those minor victories, like making it through a work day without killing someone, or finally getting around to changing that lightbulb that was out for 4 months.
You can’t talk about sparkling wine without mentioning the world’s first: champagne. Don’t forget: only sparkling wine from the region of Champagne is allowed to actually carry that name on the label. Otherwise, it’s just sparkling wine.
So let’s set up the baseline for comparison here:
Grapes: Pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay
Winemaking: First fermentation in vats, second fermentation in bottle – this is called the méthode champenoise, developed by monks in Champagne. It tends to make very light, delicate bubbles which stick around in the glass for longer.
Winemaking is a complicated process, and it’s not particularly one I want to bore you with right now. For those of you who are particularly interested in this part, let me direct you to: http://winefolly.com/review/champagne-bubbles-how-is-champagne-made/
Characteristic flavour components: Toast, citrus, almond. Champagne tends to have prominent yeast or toast flavours from sitting on its lees (dead yeast cells – I know it sounds gross, but trust me it makes for some delicious bubbly) during the secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Price range: $40 –$2000 (!!)
Examples: Dom Pérignon, Bollinger, Veuve-Cliquot
This sparkler is Spain’s response to champagne. It uses the same champenoise method, but uses local grapes instead. So if you like the bubbles in champagne, cava is an excellent and less expensive option. It comes from the Cava DOs (Denominación de Origen) in Spain, which are concentrated in the country’s northeast.
Grapes: Variety of local grapes such as viura, xarel.lo, and parellada
Winemaking: Champenoise, though outside of Champagne it is called the “traditional method”
Characteristic flavour components: Same as champagne
Price range: $12-$50
Examples: Segura Viudas*, Freixenet, Cordoniu
Hint: This is what I buy when I want to serve champagne, but can’t justify spending $50.
The affordable Italian bubbly! This sparkler from the Veneto region in northeastern Italy is often slightly fruitier than champagne or cava, but also more affordable.
Winemaking: Charmat method (aka cuve close): primary fermentation in a large vat, secondary fermentation in a pressurized tank. This method produces more wine, faster, therefore the wines it yields tend to be less expensive.
Characteristic flavour components: Green apple, pear, white flower
Price range: $8-$50
Examples: Bottega*, Zonin, Fiol
Hint: Easy drinking for any occasion. Pairs really nicely with prosciutto-wrapped melon.
- Franciacorta – the Italian sparkling wine made in the northern province of Lombardy using the champenoise method. Not easy to find in Ontario (only two types are currently available at the LCBO). Prices range from $30-$80.
- Crémant – this term describes a sparkling wine made using the champenoise method in France but outside the Champagne region. You can get Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Bourgogne, etc. Each region has its own rules regarding what percentage of various grape varieties is allowed. These are found in the $18-$25 range, usually in the Vintages section.
- Sparkling wine – it seems like many established winemakers all over the world are now turning their wines into sparkling. I’ll mention Château des Charmes (Niagara), Woodbridge (California) and Yellow Tail (Australia). These usually use the charmat method and are therefore on the fruitier side. I keep trying these ones but haven’t really found any worth raving about.
- If you like sweeter wines, go for a Moscato d’Asti or Spumante Bambino (but I will judge you).
Speaking of sweetness, in the world of champagnes, “sec” doesn’t actually mean dry like it does for regular wines. If you’re looking for a dry style, look for the world “brut” on your bottle of sparkling. “Sec” or “demi-sec” will be sweeter, and “doux” will be very sweet.
What will you be drinking on New Year’s Eve? Have you tried any interesting bubblies lately?
Signing off here with a glass of Blanquette de Limoux (a bubbly from southwestern France, with such green apple character it is reminiscent of cider), this time to celebrate finally writing that bubbly blog post!
Happy wining, and happy holidays!