Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sparkling Wines For New Year’s Eve



 USQ Sparkling Wines Tasting Menu

Recently, I attended a tasting of Champagnes and sparkling wines at Union Square Wines & Spirits ; they hold this tasting every year around this time for people looking to purchase some bubbly with which to ring in the new year.  If you’re planning on having a little shindig at your place to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I’d like to share with you some high end Champagnes and reasonably priced sparkling wines that were served up at this tasting. 

The tasting featured of a total of 20 bottles, consisting mostly of genuine Champagnes or Cavas, with a few rosés thrown in; there was even one American-made sparkling wine from an area that you’d least expect.  Although I didn’t get a chance to try all of them (I intentionally skipped the rosés for fear that they might be a bit too sweet for me), I did sample most; this review won’t include all 14 I tasted, but rather, just some of the highlights.  I was a little surprised (not to mention slightly disappointed) that there was not a Prosecco to be found; I’m not sure exactly what was the reason for this, but nevertheless, I was glad to see that quality non-French sparkling wines were present. 

USQ Sparkling Wines Part 2

Let’s start with some of the more exclusive ones simply to satisfy some folks’ curiosity, then move on to a couple of sparkling wines for us hoi polloi …


Moët & Chandon NV Champagne Brut Impérial (Épernay, France) - $42

One of the things I learned at this tasting was that sometimes, the higher-end Champagnes can be somewhat less sparkling, which I found a bit surprising.  The reason for this, I found out, was due to the fact that the manufacturers do this intentionally to enhance the drinkability of their product.  Basically, the belief is that the gentler the sparkling wine, the easier it is to digest.  Arguably, one of the best examples of this strategy is the Moët & Chandon; I found this to be a particularly tasty, extra-dry Champagne with a slight citrus taste.  It consists primarily of Pinot Noir, with considerably smaller concentrations of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. 

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin NV Champagne Brut “Yellow Label” (Reims, France) - $40


By comparison, the Veuve Clicquot is considerably lighter than the Moët & Chandon, but is decidedly more acidic, containing only 10% Chardonnay.  Interestingly, one of the grapes is a stilled Pinot Noir, which presumably accounts for its reserved appearance, not to mention its taste.  Given that the Veuve and Moët are fairly close in price, I suppose you could say that it’s a bit of a toss-up between the two.  My own personal preference was for the Moët simply because I appreciated its fuller body and could envision myself sipping this on its own, whereas the Veuve almost calls out to be paired with some kind of food, even if it’s just hors d'oeuvres as opposed to an entire meal. 

Dom Pérignon 2002 Champagne Brut (Hautvillers, France) - $185

Dom differs not only in its price, but also in its combination of grapes – it consists of only two grapes, resulting in a Champagne that is half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir.  One of the reasons that justifies the price is the fact that the grapes from which it comes have been extremely highly rated by the experts.  Even with the one-day only discount which brought the price down to “only” $150 per bottle, I still couldn’t afford it, but make no mistake, it was most tempting. 

Now, if you’re going to splurge for your once-a-year Champagne, any of the above would definitely be a superior way to celebrate the new year.  Unfortunately, these were all a bit over my budget, so I didn’t purchase any of them, despite the discount.  However, I am also of the opinion that sparkling wines should be enjoyed more frequently – just the fact that you’ve managed to survive a work week is, in my humble estimation, a reason for celebration (and if you’ve already read my previous posts about brunch cocktails, you’ve probably guessed that by now).  That said, I did make two purchases on this day of some of the more affordable selections:  The Sonim NV Cava Brut Reserva and the Gruet NV Sparkling Wine. 

A sparkling wine from Spain – also known as a Cava – the Sonim was priced at under $12.  This was the first one I tasted on the afternoon and found it nothing short of delightful.  Spending approximately two years living in the bottle, I felt its rather sweet smell was deceptive as it had somewhat of a dry taste, in contrast.  If you like your sparkling wine to overwhelm you with carbonation, this would be the one to choose as it is extremely bubbly. 

Finally, the Gruet may be the closest thing you will ever find to being an “American-made Champagne”, if you’ll pardon the obvious oxymoron – but this was not at all said lightly.  This sparkling wine is actually produced by a French family that historically made Champagne.  About 20 years ago, they came to the United States to try to make inroads in this market and looked all across the country for a location that had both the terroir and climate of the Champagne region of France.  What they settled upon, surprisingly, was Albuquerque, New Mexico where they produce this sparkling wine of two grapes – consisting of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.  By the way, I characterized this as an affordable sparkling wine and it is – don’t be fooled by the price listed on the tasting menu as that was a typo.  With the discount, I was able to score this one for only $13. 

That’s about it – whether you’re going to stick to a budget or impress your guests with a fancy label, these are my picks for New Year’s Eve. 

In closing, as always, please remember the words of philosopher Rene Descartes, who said, “I drink, therefore, I am!”