IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bubbly basics for New Year’s

Fluted glasses filled with bubbly are a staple of New Year’s celebrations. “Wine Spectator’s” executive editor Thomas Matthews has all you need to know about sparkling wines, with recommendations for every taste and budget.
/ Source: TODAY

Fluted glasses filled with bubbly are a staple of New Year’s celebrations. “Wine Spectator’s” executive editor Thomas Matthews has all you need to know about sparkling wines, with recommendations for every taste and budget.

Holiday celebrations and sparkling wines are natural partners. The festive pop of the cork, the refreshing tingle of the bubbles and the crisp, food-friendly flavors of the wines make any get-together a special occasion.

There are sparkling wines to suit every budget and any kind of gathering. Once you decide the kind of bubbly you want, refer to the list that follows for specific recommendations, or ask the advice of your local wine merchant.

What’s the difference? Champagne is the best-known type of bubbly, but while all Champagnes are sparkling wines, not all sparkling wines are Champagnes. Only wines that come from the Champagne region of France and are made according to the traditional Champagne method are legally entitled to call themselves “Champagne.” These are the best-known and the most-expensive of all sparkling wines, but if you are in the mood to splurge, they are also among the very best.

True Champagne is made from a blend of grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a more obscure variety called Pinot Meunier. These grapes are made into wine, then blended to create a “house style.” The blend is bottled with the addition of a small amount of a mixture of sugar and yeast, which provokes a second fermentation in the individual bottles. One byproduct of this fermentation is carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the bottles and creates the bubbles which makes the wine sparkle. This is the “methode Champenoise” used in the best sparkling wines around the world.

There are several variations on this basic theme. While most Champagnes (and other sparkling wines) are made from a blend of vintages, some are made entirely from one year’s grape harvest. These are “vintage” sparklers, and they generally cost more than non-vintage bubblies. Look for non-vintage wines if you like fresh, fruity flavors; choose older vintages if you like subtler, more complex wines.

Grape and vintage Some sparklers are made entirely from Chardonnay grapes (or other white varieties); these are known as Blanc de Blancs (or “white from whites”), and are often more elegant in style. Or they may be made entirely from Pinot Noir (or other red varieties). These are called Blanc de Noirs and often have fruitier flavors. Some sparklers are actually blended with a bit of still red wine; the pink blends that result are known as Roses.

If a sparkling wine is labeled “Brut,” then it will taste bone-dry. These wines are most appropriate for aperitifs or for serving with food. Curiously, bubblies labelled “Extra Dry” or “Dry” actually contain some residual sugar, and taste slightly sweet. These are best served with desserts.

While Champagne makes the most famous sparkling wines, other regions produce very good quality at reasonable prices. In California, Washington and Australia, sparkling wines producers generally use the same grapes and methods as Champagne, but the wines are often less expensive. Spain uses the Champagne method for its Cavas, but different grapes, and can offer very good values.

Prosecco comes from Italy’s Veneto region, and follows its own traditions when it comes to grapes and vinification methods. Prosecco tends to have softer bubbles and simpler flavors, and makes an interesting alternative to Champagne.

Most Brut sparkling wines are crisp and refreshing, and make good accompaniments to a wide range of foods, especially the salty finger foods that tend to be served at parties. Try bubbly with mixed nuts, cold cuts, stuffed mushrooms or anything deep-fried.

Handle with care Just be sure to serve it responsibly. The pressure inside a Champagne bottle is equivalent to an automobile tire; if the cork explodes, it can break glass or put out an eye. Always wrap the cork in a towel when opening the bottle; hold onto to the cork tightly with one hand and twist the bottle with the other. Let the cork come out with a whisper instead of a bang.

Here are 10 Champagnes and sparkling wines recently reviewed by Wine Spectator. The prices are suggested retail as provided by the producer or importer, and the scores are on our 100-point scale (85-89 = Very Good; 90-94 = Outstanding; 95-100 = Classic). For more information about sparkling wines, visit Wine Spectator Online ( Wine can be a complex subject, but always remember: the best wine for you is the wine you like the best.

The Sparklers:

Champagne Krug Brut Champagne 1988, $190, 99 points

Brilliant aromas of coconut, tropical fruit, candied citrus peel and spring blossoms hint at perfection, yet the structure is firm and unyielding. Then it all returns on the finish, a wave of fresh and dried berries, white truffle and hazelnut. A compelling and contemplative wine. Best from 2005 through 2015.

Bollinger Brut Champagne Grande Année 1995, $90, 95 points.

Very distinctive aromas of coconut and vanilla, with oxidation adding complexity, followed by fresh citrus, oatmeal and honey notes. It’s all displayed on a firm, powerful structure that needs time to integrate all the elements. Drink now through 2010.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut Rosé Champagne NV, $32, 89 points

A vinous rosé Champagne, smelling and tasting like a mature Pinot Noir, firm, dry and sporting cherry, earth and apple notes on a medium-bodied, sinewy structure. It has personality. Good with food. Drink now through 2004.

California Gloria Ferrer Brut Sonoma County NV, $18, 88 points

Crisp, focused and concentrated, with a bright beam of tangy lemon and tart green apple intensity that extends through the finish. Drink now through 2006.

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs Carneros 398 NV, $15, 88 points

A rich, complex style, with creamy vanilla, hints of black cherry, pear and fig. Holds its focus and gains complexity and finesse with a touch of smoky tangerine on the finish. Drink now through 2007.

Korbel Extra Dry California NV, $11, 88 points

This off-dry sparkler is round in the mouth, with ripe flavors of cherry, red currant and fig. Starts with a bit of sweetness that carries through the finish. Drink now.

Washington state Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs Columbia Valley NV, $11, 86 points

Bright, tart and lively, with citrus, apple and white pepper aromas and flavors. Drink now.

Australia Greg Norman Estates Sparkling Chardonnay-Pinot Noir South Eastern Australia NV, $18, 91 points

Creamy, elegant sparkler combines elegance with delicious pear, vanilla and delicate spice flavors, all of which linger effortlessly on the open-textured finish.

Spain (Cava)Freixenet Brut Cava Cordon Negro NV, $9, 85 points

Hints of oak and minerals highlight this dry-style cava. With its firm structure and cleansing finish, it would work either as an aperitif or with light foods. Drink now.

Italy (Prosecco)

Nino Franco Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV, $14, 86 points

Big and fruity, with lots of pear and melon character. Full-bodied, with a creamy texture. Drink now.