The holidays are stressful enough as it is. Don’t let choosing a great wine for your celebrations add to your stress level. When in doubt—go with bubbles! Be it Champagne, Prosecco or cava—there’s a sparkling wine for every celebration, every cuisine and every budget.
Champagne originated in northern France, in the region of Champagne, where long cold winters had an unusual effect on the wines. Grape juice would be fermented, but the resulting wine would go through only a partial fermentation before winter temperatures dropped so low as to halt fermentation. Later on, after the wine had been bottled, the outside temperatures would increase, fermentation would recommence and carbon dioxide would be trapped in the wine. Those bottles that didn’t explode due to pressure would be effervescent when poured into a glass.
Eventually the process was understood, controlled and refined. A classic example of true Champagne is the Jacquart Brut Mosaïque, which hails from Reims, France. A blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, it exhibits all the qualities of a great glass of bubbly. The bubbles are tiny and soft. Aromas of yeasty toasted bread and subtle ripe fruits greet the nose. Flavors of citrus (especially light grapefruit) and a hint of flinty minerals and a crisp acidity caress the palate. This wine is a great value for the price. It can easily stand alone for a New Year’s toast, but also pairs beautifully with food.
The Naveran Brut Vintage 2014 Cava is the Spanish version of Champagne, produced in certain northern regions of Spain utilizing the same method but with different varieties of grapes. It is also notable that it is a vintage cava, a designation that producers give their wines when they believe the grapes from a certain year are of exceptional quality (normally these wines are assembled from blends of grape juice from different years to achieve a consistent product from year to year). The Naveran exhibits small bubbles, a clean citrus nose, a good bit of fruit on the palate and a hint of yeast. I tried it with sesame-coated seared tuna and found this wine really came to life with food and has a pleasantly long finish.
The Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene DOCG Extra Dry from Villa Sandi is from northeastern Italy. Prosecco is a very easy-going wine, low in alcohol, great as an aperitif. To quote Italian wine expert and restaurateur Joe Bastianich, Prosecco is a wine “of the moment—usually the kind of moment you don’t want to spoil by thinking too much.” The Villa Sandi Extra Dry is an exceptionally refined Prosecco with creamy effervescence and hints of apple and pear, wonderful floral notes on the nose, and a velvety finish. It has the refreshing fruitiness and acidity one expects in Prosecco, plus pleasant hints of honey in the lengthy finish. The Prosecco grape is a late ripening variety, and the Valdobbiadene is one of the best areas for the grape due to the interplay of cool Alpine breezes and warmer air currents sweeping off the Adriatic.
These conditions help preserve the fruity aromas and acidity of the grapes, and like many of the white wines in the region, they were traditionally frizzante, or lightly fizzy. In 1868 the French Charmat technique was adopted for Prosecco. In this technique, the secondary fermentation that the gives the wine carbon dioxide bubbles is done in a large pressurized tank rather than in individual bottles. Because of this, Prosecco tends to be less expensive and more aggressively carbonated than Champagne or cava, but it also lends itself to being a great accompaniment to some of the wonderful traditional antipasti of the area. Drink this wine with Montasio (or almost any) cheese, a slice of smoked prosciutto and a lazy sunset.
No matter the occasion—holiday celebration, wedding, christening a ship, toasting your mother-in-law, or ringing in the New Year—don’t forget the bubbly. And by the way, the infamous Champagne headache the morning after has nothing to do with the carbonation and little to do with the residual sugar content. It has everything to do with how simply delicious and easy it is to drink (too much).