It’s time to ring in the New Year, and what other way than with a sparkling wine or Champagne?
Following are some of my favorite “non-vintage” or “NV” bottlings, with choices for every budget. Why non-vintage? For a few reasons, with the most prominent being consistency. Generally speaking, a Champagne house or sparkling wine producer makes their non-vintage in such a way that it tastes the same every year. Whereas a vintage-dated bottle will have a character and taste that reflects the year printed on the label, an NV — usually made from grapes and juice from several years — reflects the “house style”, and in many ways is the brand’s representative bottling. So, if you like the non-vintage bubbly from a particular brand, you’ll probably always enjoy it, from year to year, and there’s a good chance you’ll also like the vintage sparklers from the same house. Since vintage-dated sparkling wines normally cost more than the NV, you can consider the NV as an introduction, or tryout, before you shell out the big bucks for, say, a 1995 vintage Champagne from a particular house.
Enough banter, let’s get on with the suggestions. Rather than try to rank them, they’re listed by price from high to low. (By the way, clicking on the name of any of these wines will take you to the Wine-Searcher page, so you can find it at a retailer in your neighborhood).
1. Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve ($35)
Good mousse — lots of fine, tiny bubbles. Toasty nose of citrus, toasted Wonderbread, stony mineral. Good weight in the mouth — full and creamy. Nice citrus flavor — lemon peel / lime, pear, a bit of peach and vanilla, along with a touch of ginger snap and a hint of mineral. Good acidity — plenty of structure here to match with a myriad of foods. A high quality, lovely Champagne.
2. Moet White Star ($27)
The nose has open aromas of toasted Wonderbread, apple, pear, and vanilla spice. Big bubbles carry a creamy texture, decent acidity and mild white fruits: braemar apple, pear, touch of lemony citrus. Finishes pleasantly, with creamy fruit and a citrusy edge of acidity. An excellent choice as an aperitif or with just about any appetizer.
3. Pommery Brut Royal ($39)
Small to medium-sized bubbles, a somewhat closed, citrusy aroma with some toastiness and a hint of butterscotch. More toasty character comes out in the palate, which also displays mild pear and zesty lime / citrus flavors and a distinct mineral component that almost seems salty. Good dose of acidity holds things together and helps carry through to a balanced, pleasing dry finish. This Champagne tastes better as it sits in the flute and warms up a few degrees — it becomes rounder, riper, and more full-flavored.
4. Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top ($25)
Like the previous three, this is a dry style of Champagne, so if you’re into the sweeter sparklers, stay away. Otherwise, dive right in. You will be excited with anticipation the moment the wine is poured into the glass, as it will become charged with an abundance of aggressive, tiny bubbles that develop an immediate, full foam (or mousse, as the geeks call it). Clean, citrusy, slightly toasted aroma that also has a hint of mineral. In the mouth, you get very similar flavors as were on the nose, along with a touch of honey and pear, all tightly wound by a stiffly acidic wrapper. It has excellent structure, yet remains elegant and has the perception of being lighter than it really is.
5. Jaillance Clairette de Die “Cuvee Imperiale” ($15.99)
It’s French, but not Champagne — it’s sparkling wine from the Drome Valley in Provence, made from Clairette and Muscat grapes. This friendly fizzer has forward floral and ripe fruit aromas, including notes of sweet pear and muscat. The bubbles dance on your palate and deliver super-ripe flavors of bright fresh pear, granny smith apple, and hints of peach and lychee that give the impression of sweetness; however, it finishes almost completely dry and clean. A nice bonus is extremely low alcohol — about 7%, or slightly higher than beer. Fine on its own, the mild acidity offers just enough structure to match with simply prepared appetizers.
6. Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia ($14.99)
If you can’t afford good Champagne, the next best thing is a bottle of Prosecco (a sparkling wine from Italy) or Cava, which is Spain’s version of bubbly. This example from Juve y Camps has lots of fizz, good acidity, is fruity yet dry, and finishes with a nice clean aftertaste. Strong scents of pear and spice in the nose. Good fruit, good acidity and good finish. Nice mousse (bubbles/froth). Not overly dry; hint of sweetness. Elegant. A super bargain
7. Canella Prosecco di Conegliano ($12.99)
Clean, mild nose exhibiting a touch of citrus and mineral. In the mouth, bubbles are coarse, flavor is clean with some salty mineral. There is enough acidity to match fairly well with food. Try it with spicy dishes as a foil, fish, and Greek (goes well with tzatziki). Citrusy fruit, light body, easy drinking, simple and short but pleasing finish.
8. Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs ($9.99)
Color is a pale orange — more like cooked salmon than pink. Soft, fruity nose of citrus and a hint of raspberry. Pretty good mousse, with persistent medium-sized bubbles. In the mouth it is mostly dry, with maybe a touch of sweetness that is due more to a fun and fruity ripeness than dosage. Finishes completely dry, with a good dose of acidity, which helps with structure and food matching. This runs about $9-12 for a bottle, and at that price it is a steal. Domaine Ste. Michelle is one of, if not the, most respected wineries in Oregon.
9. Pommery POP ($8.99 for 187ml)
You’ve seen all the cool people on TV or in a bass-thumping techno club sipping this Champagne through a straw. So let’s see, it’s real Champagne from France, it comes in a single-serving size, and it’s OK to drink with a straw … sounds great to me! This is a good quality Champagne that tends toward the sweeter, less-dry side — though it finishes fairly dry.
10. Sofia Blanc de Blancs ($3.99 for 187ml)
OK, there may be something cooler than Pommery POP. Imagine another single-serving sparkling wine you can sip with a straw, only it comes in a can. That’s right, an aluminum can, just like Budweiser. And it only costs about four bucks, so there’s no excuse for anyone not to celebrate 2007 with bubbles. Whether you’re a snob, an anti-snob, anti-French, American jingoist, short on cash, or a beer drinker more accustomed to drinking out of a can, there’s a sparkling wine for you.
Enjoy your New Year’s celebration, and best wishes to you in 2007!