WASHINGTON – Christmas season is always a new opportunity for adventure, which includes food and drink, but especially sparkling wines and Champagnes, new and rediscovered. Consider this a polite nudge to encourage you to sample some bubbly. Robert Parker, I am not, but I have proven to have an accurately savvy palate that has confounded several sommeliers in my time.
It brings me to Grape and Bean, where we spent one of our festive nights last week. A small wine bar in Alexandria, Virginia, it offers delicious gourmet snacks and pate, fabulous cheeses, as well as coffee. Oh, and wine, of course. They also hold wonderful events. David and Sheera, the co-owners, showed a room full of Champagne and sparkling wine enthusiasts a great time upstairs, with Salina Zellers pouring, and Devon rounding out the G&B crew. We were thrilled to attend. I can’t begin to name all of the cheeses, wonderful breads, as well as charcuterie we enjoyed, but I can share the bubbly!
Sparkling wines and Champagnes often challenge people, with the holiday season a time when it’s fun to share wine and bring it as gifts when attending parties and dinners, but people often don’t know where to start. The difficulty for those new to sparkling wines of picking a modestly priced sparkling that is delicious, but won’t give you the headache of cheap “Champagne,” can be challenging. I put Champagne in quotation marks, because only bubbly out of the Champagne region of France is actually Champagne; all other wines are relegated to the sparkling wine variety, of which there are many delicious choices today.
At the Grape and Bean event we had five different sparkling wines and one Champagne, all of which are discussed below. Sparkling wines and Champagnes are categorized as Extra Brut, Brut, Extra dry, Sec and Demi-sec being the sweetest. All of the wines here are non-vintage (NV). I’ve left off the fruit, yeast and other descriptions, as I personally find them unhelpful, because taste is really a very unique experience. Use the Google and you’ll find more specifics if you must. However, the bubblies below are all affordable for anyone searching for a respectable sparkling, so just take a gamble and find out for yourself.
If you like the sweetness of Riesling, I tasted the Fitz-Ritter Riesling Extra Trocken Sekt NV (100% old vine Riesling), which I actually enjoyed. I say it this way because I must admit anything sweet loses me quickly, though Mark enjoyed it very much. A top spice to it, with “honey notes” as it was explained, I’ll just say it’s the only sparkling Riesling I’ve ever enjoyed to the bottom of the glass. We also had Prosecco Superiore di Valdobbiadene Riva di Colbertaldo, Vigneto Giardino, from Adami, Italy, which was the firmest of its kind I’ve ever tasted, something this sparkling has earned. Adami’s “Giardino” is considered the benchmark of fine Prosecco’s today. David of Grape and Bean also confirmed this review in his literature. If you like Prosecco, this is well worth buying.
If you’re a Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin NV lover, a Champagne in the same price range that takes it down with yummy crisp cleanness and bright authority is NV Voirin-Jumel Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru. Hadn’t tried this one and fell in love with it. It is one of the most elegant bubblies I’ve ever had for the price of around $40 or so and worth every cent.
I’ve written about Crémant sparkling wines before, because I so enjoy the yeasty flavor, as I taste it. Try Jean-Paul Brun Crémant de Bourgogne Charme Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, which is very dry, something I so enjoy.
Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Blanc de Blancs Extra Dry 2010… Bright, easy to drink and one of the best sparkling wines for well under $25, depending on where you live (or shop online). This one absolutely owned me, for some reason, even though it’s very inexpensive for a serious sparkling. (We also purchased it, the ultimate test.)
Last but hardly least is the Finca Valldosera Cava MS 4.7 Brut Nature from Spain, which could fool a wise Champagne drinker if served blind in a taste test. Mark’s a Scotch and whiskey man, but fell for this one. It’s spectacularly sophisticated. Wine Advocate gives it 91 points, which I believe is earned. (We bought this one, too, which proves its power.)
A champagne I recently tried from Unwined, a tiny little wine shop also in Alexandria, is François De Rozay Champagne, a non-vintage brut blend, which is composed of 35% Pinot Meunier, 55% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. It’s easy to find and a lovely bubbly.
As for well known NV Champagne bubblies worth your hard earned bucks, they include the higher end Pol Roger, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, as well as the lesser priced Piper Heidsieck or Moët & Chandon, but I’m only touching the labels, of which there are many.
But if all this is too much and you’re a Costco shopper, don’t be afraid to try their non-vintage Champagne. Put a fancy towel around it in a nice bucket of ice and no one will know it’s Kirkland, at $19 your guests will enjoy it.
As you saw from the list above, I’m not a domestic sparkling wine fan. Love the big reds of California, with some of the Cabernets rivaling anything French, though not the Super Tuscans, which is a whole ‘nothing subject, but the sparkling wines just don’t do it for me.
For Mark and me, there’s nothing like the sound of a cork popping on a seriously chilled bottle of bubbly. You can’t go wrong with any of the ones listed above.
Nothing says Christmas like Champagne and bright sparkling wines, with a popping cork sure to start any festive party off right. …especially if it’s just the two of you.
Taylor Marsh, is a veteran political analyst, a former Huffington Post contributor, Broadway babe and talk radio dabbler, and is the author of The Hillary Effect, available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media magazine www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women, foreign policy, and the politics of sex.