Once more, 'tis the season for trying to decipher the world of sparkling wine to toast the holidays and ring in the New Year. When you shop for sparkling wines, it doesn't take long to recognize that there are a multitude of styles and makers of bubbly. Some wines are light and fruity, while others are fuller-bodied with distinct flavors. Some are priced for poor grad students, others for Rap stars. There's no right or wrong kind of sparkler. The important thing is to enjoy the experience. Here's some guidance as you search for the right sparkler, whether you're hosting a large party or a special someone by the fire.
We'll start with prosecco, a fun friendly sparkling wine from Italy that offers a bit of bubbles without costing a lot of bucks ($10-$15 per bottle). Proseccos are generally crisp, with some that skew a bit sweet while others are dry. Prosecco is perfect for hot summer months, but it's also great option for a sparkling wine beginner on a budget -- or for a unique hostess gift. Check out the offerings of Zardetto or Canello.
Prosecco's geographical and stylistic neighbor is cava, a sparkling wine from Spain's Catalonia region, near Barcelona. Like prosecco, cava is not meant for aging, but for drinking early. It has a budget-friendly price point ($6-12), making it a great choice for parties. Check out standbys Freixenet, Segura Viudas' Aria Estate Brut and Paul Cheneau Brut Blanc de Blanc.
Sparkling wines encompass many styles and prices. You can find a sparkling burgundy from France for $15 and a vintage sparkling wine from California for $200, depending on the year and label. A great many sparkling wines hail from California, although it's now possible to find offerings from the state of New York and from Australia and France. Several Northern California sparklers from the Napa and Sonoma areas are worth checking out; quality bottles go for $20-30. Labels to look for include Iron Horse, Roederer, Mumm Napa and Domaine Chandon.
Of course, the big daddy of the sparklers is champagne. While many people refer to sparkling wine as champagne, those in the know will remind you that to be called "champagne" the wine must originate from the Champagne region of France. It comes with a higher price tag, although values can be found. Plan to spend $40-$50 or more for a bottle of high quality champagne, where there are many choices from Bollinger, Deutz and Pol Roger, to name a few. If you happen to have a little extra coin, spring for the famed vintages from 1990, 1995 and 1996 for that really special holiday occasion.
You can find affordable champagnes for under $30, but you'll need to do a little digging. Check out Lanson Black Label Brut NV, Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV, Chartogne-Taillet Brut NV and Gossett-Brabant.