Bubbles for the New Year — and All Year Long
For nearly twenty years we have spent New Years Eve with our dearest and most beloved friends. And, because Aaron Sherman is a treasured member of this chosen family, we have also spent New Years Eve with our own private sommelier. This means good wine and beautiful bubbles flow at every meal. Aaron pulled together the fabulous Wines to Give list. These are wines for drinking any time or giving as a gift! And we are lucky because Aaron also made a list of champagne, sparkling wine, and prosecco to enjoy at New Years — and all year through. Thank you, Aaron! I know we will be drinking well this season!
Happy New Year! In this season of festive, holiday parties and epic family dinners, it’s time for many of us rush out and buy a bottle of sparkling wine for New Years Eve. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites to help reduce some of the holiday buying stress that can accompany a trip into your local wine shop.
Odd as it may seem, I am going to begin this article about the joyous selections of New Year’s Eve bubbles with a brief professional rant. You see, as a wine professional, it seems that I only get to write about Champagne and sparkling wines in December as people gear up for the 31st. But the most important thing to remember about sparkling wines is this:
They are wines first, and sparkling second.
What I mean by that is these are some of the most extraordinary wines on the planet and are amazing to pair with food all year round. So don’t just relegate them to the dropping of the ball. Keep a couple bottles around the house and pick a Wednesday night for Date Night. Cook a delicious dinner (or go somewhere shmancy) and split a bottle of bubbles with your love. It makes for an amazing dining experience. Too often, Champagne and sparkling wines are a once-a-year treat while we count down the end of December, instead of a brilliant food wine for any time you feel like drinking something delicious.
This article is about preparing yourself for the New Years festivities that are just around the corner. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite sparkling wines, across categories, regions of origin, and prices. There is so much delicious stuff out there, so don’t be afraid to buy a bottle of something fun for the celebration. In fact, if you buy a couple bottles, then you’ll have something delicious to drink on your date nights throughout the new year (ahem, see above).
Let’s ring this one in right!
Quality, on a Budget
One of the best ways to enjoy the bubbly but not break the bank is with the delicious sparkling wines of Italy. Prosecco is made from the area around Venice (the Veneto). There’s loads of delicious and inexpensive Prosecco out there, but they cover a wide range of styles, flavors, and quality levels, so it is important to find a producer whose style you like.
One of my favorite Proseccos is Scarpetta NV Prosecco ($17). The winery is the brain child of Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, who started the winery to supply food- and budget-friendly wines for his top-tier Boulder restaurant, Frasca. If you get the chance to dine there sometime, don’t miss it. The food is great, the wine list is awesome, and the service is off-the-charts amazing. But the wines that Bobby makes under the Scarpetta label are meant to be delicious and “fiscally responsible.”
This prosecco is a bit less effervescent than Champagne is, so it feels a little bit softer and plumper in the mouth (a bit more like a snuggly flannel than a silk blouse). It has refreshing flavors of peaches and lemon zest, and is clean and light and bubbly and delicious. The fruit is nice and ripe, so it isn’t too acidic or tart, either. It makes for a great toast for big parties because it retails around 17 bucks, so if you’ve got a crowd, it won’t break the bank.
If you’re looking to keep a few bottles around the house, I love to pair this with brunch (the soft texture is great with eggs and pastries, and a little peach juice makes for a delicious Bellini), but it’s also perfect with a cheese plate with some prosciutto and chunks of parmigiana.
Pink is the new black
If you’re looking for more great value sparkling wines, look to Cava, Spain’s answer to Champagne. Made in the same painstaking method as Champagne, the bubbles are extraordinarily fine. The texture is more elegant, and less frothy than Prosecco, and feels brighter and more tingly. Cavas across the board are fun and lovely, and while they come in a variety of colors and styles, I am a sucker for a beautiful rosé. First of all, they’re delicious. Second, they look gorgeous in the glass. And third, they’re a steal.
Naveran Brut Rosé Cava 2016 ($18) is one of my absolute favorites. This rosé is made from Pinot Noir (one of Champagne’s great grape varieties) and a Spanish grape called Parellada. It spends 18 months resting on the lees (that’s the yeast that makes the wine sparkle), which adds richness and depth to the wine. It is the color of delicate roses, and has flavors of strawberries, dried cherries, and raspberries. It is relatively dry (which in wine-speak is the opposite of sweet) and very refreshing. It’s great with ham (try good quality ham on thin slices of baguette with really good butter!) and terrific with salmon.
For a slightly more intense option, pop a bottle of Mestres “Coupage” Gran Reserva Rosé Brut ($29). The winery can trace its history back to 1312, so they know a thing or two about fermenting grapes. This is a much deeper style of rosé, more red than pink, and the flavors match the color. It is bold, intense, and balanced by deep berry notes and hints of flowers and spices.
This is a perfect wine for turkey dinner, too, since the bold flavors can stand up to the stuffing and gravy. The brilliant acidity and tingly bubbles keep your mouth feeling clean and fresh so you can dive back in for seconds. Or thirds. It also works brilliantly as an alternative to dry lambrusco (another great sparkling option), which is the traditional pairing for pasta bolognese.
For the wine geek
Sometimes, you just want to be a geek. And for those of us who choose vino as the vector for our geekiness, have I got the bottle for you! The beautiful Chateau de Lavernette sits amidst the rolling hills of Beaujolais, Burgundy’s southern district, and has been in the Lavernette family (now, through marriage, the de Boissieu family) since 1596, ever since it was originally purchased from some local monks. The reins were recently handed down to the newest generation when Xavier de Boissieu and his American wife, Kerrie, took over. They have kept the estate moving forward, even converting the estate to biodynamic farming (think organic to the nth degree).
While his family has always made delicious beaujolais (light, floral red wines), Xavier got the itch to make sparkling wines à la Champagne. He went and worked with some of the hippest Champagne houses to figure out how to do it best (you can name-check Agraparat, Egly-Ouriet, and Larmandier Bernier as his mentors) and now makes some of the most electric and intense sparkling wines you’ll find. The Chateau de Lavernette “Cuvee Granit” NV Brut Nature ($35) is made from 100% Gamay (the red grape of Beaujolais) in the same method as Champagne. It’s a Brut Nature, meaning it is absolutely, totally bone dry, but it has such brilliant minerality, acidity, and flavor, it will blow your mind with how intense it is.
This one drinks great on its own, but try it with some pasta carbonara for a real treat. The acidity will zip through the fattiness and put some pop in your meal! Perfect for a cold, winter’s night.
Living life on a (reasonable) Champagne budget
Some people are lucky enough to drink Champagne every day. And some of us only get to splurge once in a while. If you’re going to make the splurge, pick a winner and try something a little different.
2018 has been dubbed by many as the #YearoftheWoman (or, as CNN corrected, #YearoftheWomen). Celebrate the work of a family of brilliant women with Moncuit Blanc de Blancs “Hugues de Coulmet” NV Champagne ($55). Since 1977, the estate had been run by Nicole Moncuit, and recently, her daughter Valerie has begun taking over cellar duties.
Made 100% from Chardonnay, this Champagne showcases the grape in one of its noblest forms. The estate holds about 37 acres of vines that are significantly older than many of their neighbors’ (the older the vine, the more depth of flavor), and even those wines labeled as non-vintage are always made only from a single vintage, meaning they will vary from year to year but showcase the best of what a given year has to offer. The “Hugues de Coulmet” is a softer side of sparkling Chardonnay, but still has a brilliant raciness underlying the bright apple and orange citrus notes. The longer aging time leads to notes of biscuits and toast, and the elegant texture is a real treat.
Serve it up with some pate-en-croute or a fine quiche. You are living the good life today, after all.
Sometimes, there is no budget
If you’re traveling this season on your private jet to go see the ball drop in Times Square from your New York pied-a-terre, then perhaps you don’t need to scrimp on sparkling this season. If the price doesn’t scare you, or you hit it big in Vegas, then take the plunge and hunt down a bottle of Jacques Selosse “Brut Initial” NV ($200), one of the most revolutionary and iconic names in Champagne. Anselme Selosse got rid of chemicals in his vineyards in the early 1980s (decades ahead of his time) and dug deep into what individual vineyard parcels meant, talking terroir before it became an industry buzz-word.
The wines of Selosse are vinous, meaning they have the depth and texture of some of the great white wines, a richness and intensity that often is overlooked by producers of mass-market bubbles. This is Champagne not for the flute, but for a big red-wine glass. The aromatics flood out of this wine, and the intensity on the palate is almost overpowering.
Roast a chicken, sautée some mushrooms in white wine and onions, slice up a loaf from your local (natural-yeast, heirloom grain-flour) baker, and light some candles. Then have your butler pour a big glass of this for you and your A-list guests and relax into a long night discussing the plans for your new yacht and your hedge-fund returns. Ahhh, the good life.
The sweet life
Don’t fear if you prefer your bubbles to be on the sweeter side. The first rule of drinking is “drink what you like.” I wrote about Stefano Perrone’s Bigaro last time, but he also makes a white, Elio Perrone “Sourgal” 2017 Moscato d’Asti ($17). It soft, sweet and delicious and full of sweet peaches, honey and flowers. End the year with a bit of sweetness, and start the next off with the same!
I hope you have a lovely holiday season, and wish you great happiness in 2019! May it be full of joy, hope, and delicious, sparkly things to drink. Cheers!
Aaron Sherman, Guest Columnist
Aaron began his professional life as a classical musician, but quickly discovered his passion for all things beverage. Over the course of his career, Aaron has been fortunate to work in the restaurants of some of the midwest’s most accomplished chefs, including Curtis Duffy (Avenues, Grace), Sean Pharr (NoMI, Bristol), Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), Ken Carter (Gather), Gerard Craft (Niche), and Ben Poremba (Elaia). Having been awarded his Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) and the rank of Certified Sommelier for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Aaron was asked to be a faculty member for the ISG, where he conducted wine education classes in Chicago. In June of 2016, Aaron was offered the opportunity to bring his restaurant experience to the sales side working with the exceptional portfolio at Vintegrity in Missouri. His writing has been featured in Today’s Chicago Woman and on National Public Radio’s website, and he has done collaborations with the Midwest Center for the Arts (Midland, MI) and members of the New World and Alabama Symphonies. Aaron lives in St. Louis with his wife, Jelena, a professional musician, and their dog, Bear.