Until now, having New Year’s Eve fall on a Sunday was a pox on a procrastinator’s holiday. At the very least, it meant an excursion to Wisconsin to pick up the evening’s sparkling libations. Or — heaven forbid — doing without.
Not anymore. Since last summer, Minnesotans have been afforded an option most of the nation already enjoyed: Sunday spirits sales.
The better news: The choices in the beverage category associated with this particular holiday have mushroomed exponentially in recent years, with superb offerings galore from countless locales at friendly prices. It’s no longer necessary to shell out $50 or more for Champagne — not that there’s anything remotely wrong with that — nor does going the cheapo route have to result in headache-inducing swill.
The options are many and varied. (I’m sticking with the white and pink ones, although Lambruscos and other red bubbles are worth considering.)
It’s fitting that the name of these Spanish sparkling delights contains the letter “v.” After all, the wines are laced with vim, vigor, vitality and vivaciousness.
This is basically Champagne for (craft) beer budgets. The wines generally cost $15 to $25 but are made with the exact same practices (called, conveniently enough, le méthode champenoise) as spendier bubblies from Spain’s northern neighbor. They generally have the same racy, mouthwatering acidity as Champagnes, but not so much of the bready, nutty notes.
The primary grapes are macabeo (called viura in Rioja), xarel-lo and parellada and are most prominently produced in Catalonia, in an area called Penedès.
For years, bargain-basement Freixenet and Codorníu dominated shelf space, but now more complex offerings abound. Look for Mas Fi, Segura Viudas, Mont-Marcal, Avinyó, Juvé y Camps, Montsarra or Pere Mata.
It’s hardly surprising that Proseccos have rocketed in popularity in recent years, given their easy-drinking, slightly sweet nature. The residual sugar in most of them provides the perfect sparkling beverage for American consumers who — due in part to being raised on soda pop — tend to “talk dry and drink sweet.”
For years, these wines were made primarily with a grape called Prosecco, but the vintners changed that to Glera so they could get government certification around a region called Prosecco. Hey, it’s Italy.
The most popular production methods, Charmat or Martinotti, have the secondary fermentation (which spawns the bubbles) taking place in tanks rather than bottles, a decidedly less expensive approach. Good bottles usually can be had for less than $20, very good ones for a little more.
In the past year, I have thoroughly enjoyed Proseccos from Adami (a wide range of offerings), Alberto Nani, Barocco, Cavicchioli 1928, Desiderio Jeio, Fantinel, Mionetto (if “Valdobbiadene” is also on the label) and San Martino.
Virtually unknown and unavailable in these parts a few years ago, bubble-icious bottles from Italy’s Lombardy region are well worth seeking out. Made with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc using le méthode champenoise, these wines still tend to land in the $20 to $30 range.
Tasty choices include Barone Pizzini, Corte Aura, Ronco Callini and Vini La Valle.
Living up to their translation, Crémants are sparkling wines that almost invariably are “creamier” than Champagnes and come from other parts of France. They might be made in traditional methods but generally are not. The grapes used also can vary. Plenty of good ones fall in the $15 to $30 range.
They emanate, not surprisingly, from some of France’s finest wine regions, including Alsace (seek out Lucien Albrecht, Pierre Sparr, Zinck), Burgundy (André Delorme, Amiot Guy et Fils, Louis Bouillot, Simonnet-Febvre) and the Loire (Charles Bove, Langlois-Chateau, Gérard Bertrand, Joseph Mellot, L’Éperonnière).
Back in the U.S.A.
Fabulous strides have been made at larger and smaller sparkling-wine houses in California and Oregon, but the tariffs tend to reach or even surpass the typical prices of Champagnes.
Time to look to … New Mexico, where a winery called Gruet produces surpassingly delicious bubbles using traditional techniques and grapes (pinot noir and chardonnay, grown in the high desert around 4,200 feet in elevation).
I’m a longtime advocate of their blanc de noirs, blanc de blancs and brut iterations, and earlier this month was wowed and dazzled by my first encounter with the brut rosé. You’ll usually get change for your $20 bill when purchasing any of these gems.
But consider buying two of these — or any of the choices above. Plus some fresh OJ or white-peach nectar to make mimosas or Bellinis and turn New Year’s Day into a festive occasion, as well.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.