They are bright and festive. Don’t sparkling wines almost lift an occasion with their lightness and effervescence? As I write this, I’m imagining raising a glass with friends and sipping my way toward the midnight hour with the liquid equivalent of glitter and streamers as we approach the New Year. No wonder countless bottles of bubbly will be popped to mark the beginning of something new.
Champagne, of course (the genuine wine from the Champagne region of France), is the gold standard when it comes to sparkling wines, the one with which all others are compared. It's also the most expensive, pushed up even higher this year by the weakness of the dollar.
Fortunately, there are lots of great alternatives, and you don't have to pay Champagne prices to enjoy them, as I discovered tasting a variety of sparkling wines for a TODAY Show segment on bubbly this coming Sunday. So here are some ideas to make your New Year’s sparkle, ending with one of my favorite examples of classic Champagne.
Cristalino Rosé Brut Cava, Penedes, Spain, $8
Spain's sparkling wines are called Cava and, like most sparkling wines, they come in both white and rose. Cristalino is one of the true bargains of the sparkling wine world. Like all the wines listed here, this one is very dry (that's what brut means) and has pleasing berry notes. It’s made from pinot noir and trepat, a local red grape.
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Mionetto Prosecco Brut, Veneto, Italy, $9
Prosecco, made from the grape of the same name, is Italy's most famous sparkling wine and has become very popular in this country in recent years. Mionetto is a big producer, and this wine is also a terrific value. When you taste it, it's like biting into a green apple. Fruity and fresh, it shows a little cream and a bit of tartness as it goes down.
Gruet Brut, New Mexico, $14
When I discovered this lovely wine recently I was amazed that it comes from New Mexico, which is among the last places you would think of in terms of good wines. It's made from 75 percent chardonnay and 25 percent pinot noir, with notes of lemon and pear. The Gruet family is originally from Champagne in France and still makes Champagne. Your can read my recent review.
Francois Pinon Vouvray, Loire Valley, France, $24
Sparkling Vouvray (named after the town where it is made) is perhaps the second most important sparkling wine in France after Champagne. The grape is the chenin blanc and Vouvray is also famous as a regular, nonsparkling white wine. Pinot's sparkling Vouvray has notes of apple, citrus, a little cream, even a touch of honey.
Pol Roger Champagne, France, $35-$45
This is the real thing, from the Champagne region of France. It's classic dry Champagne from one of the most famous houses. What you find here, in contrast to the others, is a bit more complexity and more elegance. In addition to pear and lime notes, there's a typical bready-toasty quality and bright acidity that all combine in a refined, irresistible package. It's made from one-third chardonnay, one-third pinot noir and one-third pinot meunier.
Enjoy the wines, whether Champagne or beyond, and I’ll see you in 2008!
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at email@example.com
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