Sparklers for the New Year

Sparklers for the New Year

I’m talking sparkling wine, of course. Not those sparkly fire-works things that are totally illegal in my neighborhood. (But if you’ve got ’em, outside at midnight on New Year’s is the perfect time to use ’em! Not that I’ve ever done such a thing…ahem.)

Sparkling wine, champagne, prosecco – this is, to me, the perfect wine. You can serve it to your sweetie with breakfast in bed; order it with a celebratory lunch, or woo your significant other with it prior to a romantic dinner for two. It’s also great with cheese and crackers as you sit on the beach.  I am a sparklingwineaholic and I’m not ashamed of it!

To get us started, let me run down the order of driest to sweetest in the sparkling wine lingo. Ready?

Rating Sugar content
(grams per litre)
Brut Nature (no added sugar) 0–3
Extra Brut 0–6
Brut 0–12
Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra seco 12–17
Dry, Sec, Seco 17–32
Demi-Sec, Semi-seco 32–50
Doux, Sweet, Dulce 50+

Thank you,  Wikipedia !  (I will say, I don’t know if I’ve ever drunk an “Extra Brut” sparkling wine – though I have had a Natural.) So, Dry = sweet. I can’t handle sweet sparklers any more – Asti Spumante is not my thing, but lots of people like it. Most of the wines below fall in the “brut” category.

There ARE sparkling wines out there under ten dollars and over the years, I’ve tasted them all. Well, almost all. But I’m bringing you my favorites first, those that haven’t seen a ten dollar price tag in years – if ever.

I mentioned one of my favorites, Etoile by Chandon, last week and you can find that post here. Go all the way to the bottom of the post, and you’ll see the gorgeous bottle. Last week, the hubby found it at BevMo for under $20 – but don’t expect to find it for that price for very long. Their lesser-priced sparklers, Domaine Chandon Brut and the Brut Rose are very good – and contrary to my faulty memory last week, usually go for $11.99 at Vons on sale. Not a bad price at all!

I’ll squeeze Piper Sonoma Brut in here, as it’s in this same price range between $11.99 and $14.99 on sale, depending on who’s doing the pricing at Vons that day. (Just kidding…) Also a great value, terrific flavor, a real nice sipping sparkler.

Another tasty favorite is by the Mumm’s brand. Mumm’s Cuvee Napa with the dark blue label is another go-to bottle for me This usually goes for $14.99 at Vons on sale – when I can find it for lower, I grab two bottles, just in case. Right now, I believe it’s at $13.99. Mumm’s also has another, black label champagne that runs the same price but it’s just a little different.

Going pricier, and unfortunately no longer available, is the French  Moet & Chandon’s White Star non-vintage champagne. It ran around $50 full price a year or so ago, but you could usually find it in the $30’s price range (and I remember when it was really expensive at $25 a bottle). This wine won all sorts of awards, and in 2010 M&C pulled the plug on it. You can’t find it anywhere, it’s not being made, and those people who have a case stowed away in their wine cellar aren’t talking – and they’re not selling, either.  A real disappointment.

There’s a reason Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label  is a favorite of mine. It was one of the last Christmas gifts my brother Scott gave me. Plus, it’s tasty! Another non-vintage champagne from a terrific house. This wine is found in wine shops – maybe your grocery store around New Year’s eve. You can also find this at BevMo for about $35 – it’s got a traditional, French yeastiness to it (or, maybe that’s just me) that I really like. On the splurgy side, but hey – the bubbles are REALLY small. If you want to spend the big bucks to impress that special someone who’ll know you spent the money (I’m talking between $120-$150 per bottle), then you want to go for the Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame 1998 vintage.  I had the 1996 vintage  – and it was superb.

Others that I’ve had that are on the pricier side of things: Roederer Estate Brut, about $25Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, $36.  Piper Heidsieck Brut Cuvee, $45. These are all straight prices found on the internet, no discounts or sales. If you look about, I’m sure you’ll find them for less.

On the less expensive side of things, I do appreciate Korbel Brut. The low man on the totem pole is often under $10; if you go for Korbel Natural (with the green label, instead of the white label), it goes up a bit to around $14.99 and can be considered on a par with Piper Sonoma. But this is the sparkling wine without any sugar added (see table, above).  BAREFOOT  also puts out a decent sparkling wine, and it’s around $8.99. I’ve had it, I liked it, and I will buy it again, but it’s not my all-time favorite.

ONES TO STAY AWAY FROM: (And please remember, this is just my opinion!)  Cooks , $5.99. Frexienet (the black bottle), $7.99. ANYTHING under $4. These wines tend to be sweeter than the others and have big bubbles, both of which will give you a huge headache the next day (or maybe that same night). They might be okay if you’re using them for mixed cocktails; but still, buyer beware.

I speak with full knowledge of both these wines. Way back at the dawn of time, when I was  young and unemployed, my best friend Tammy and I would sit and drink Cooks or Frexienet and eat french bread pizza and watch General Hospital (this was the Luke and Laura wedding year). I have put money into those bottles, and loved them well at the time. Now, however, I like to think my palate has grown more sophisticated and as such, I can’t – literally, can’t – drink these wines.  (They’re really too sweet.) This doesn’t mean that you can’t drink them and enjoy – as I am sure many people do! They definitely fill a niche in the market.

So, there you go. I’ve given you a lot of different sparkling wines (and a couple Champagnes) to think about for your New Year’s celebration. Here’s another handy tip – keep a few bottles of Sparkling Cider around, for those designated drivers or those who don’t drink who may want something more exciting than cola. It comes in a lot of different flavors, not just apple; and as the commercial says, it’s festive! (Plus most places have a deal on it right now.)

Whatever you choose to do this New Year’s Eve, whether it be to curl up with your new Kindle Fire or to party hearty in Las Vegas, may you have a safe and joyous New Year’s Eve.  Cheers – and remember to drink responsibly!

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The opinions above are mine and mine alone, based on years and years of taste-testing Champagnes and Sparkling Wines. If YOUR favorite sparkling beverage wasn’t listed here, feel free to send me a bottle and I’ll be happy to give it my thorough attention – and an honest review.



White, Rose´, Red, and Sparkling Wine

White, Rose´, Red, and Sparkling Wine

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10, unless noted otherwise.

In the spirit of the holidays, I’m going to pass on to you three wines – a terrific white, a fair rose´, an okay red, plus –  an outstanding sparkling wine.

Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, 2009 Alcohol 13.5% by volume $9. at Vons on sale.

On the Label: “The rewards of patience are remarkable. For three decades, my family has nurtured coveted vineyards along California’s cool coast. Our Jackson Estates Grown 100% Chardonnay is bursting with tropical flavors such as pineapple, mango and papaya along with citrus notes that explode in your mouth. Crisp, green apple flavors and a smooth, creamy teture add even more depth. To balance this intensity, we age the wine in small oak barrells. I’m very proud of this wine. I hope you enjoy it.” –Founder, Jess S. Jackson

My Take:  I could have sworn I just posted about this wine, but when I gave a quick look in my archives I couldn’t find it. Anyway – this is a lovely wine. Crisp, with a mere hint of oak – not a big, buttery chardonnay, but neither is it a sterile, steel-casked wine, either. It is quite possibly the best of the “new” style chards, and I for one love it.

If you have a little more cash to spend, and want to impress someone (and treat yourself), go for this wine’s big sister, Kendall Jackson’s Grand Reserve (about $16, if memory serves). You won’t regret it.

My Rating: ~ Very, Very Drinkable! ~  By the way – The Grand Reserve has a “Stay Away! This is MY Wine, You Slut!” rating. Just FYI.

Chateau Marouine Rose Wine 2010 Cotes de Provence, France –  Alcohol 12% by volume – made with organic grapes. $7.99 at Costco.

On the Label: Not a thing that hasn’t been mentioned above.

My Take: The same day I bought the Chameleon wine, I bought this wine. After being properly chilled, we tasted. And while it didn’t take us an entire week to drink the bottle, it did take a couple of days. The flavor is crisp and cool, very laid back, with a lean toward bland. It wasn’t bad wine; it was unremarkable. Which is always a pity.

My Rating:  ~ Drinkable ~

Vigilance Petite Sirah Red Hills, Lake County Geyserville, California – Sustainably Farmed  –  Alcohol 14.5% by volume –  $9.99 at BevMo!

On the Label: Front: “As vintners, it is our honor and responsibility to care for the land that sustains us; to preserve the environment for our children and generations to come. Every bottle of wine that we make is truly a harmonious expression of this earth and our commitment to it.”

Back: “Having children reaffirmed our dedication to the planet. That’s why our vineyards are sustainably farmed using cover crops and sheep to control the weeds between the rows. Ever vigilant, our watchful sheep dogs stand guard over the flock and vines,protecting them from harm. It is this same spirit that drives us in our obsession to craft wines that honor and respect the earth.” – Clay and Margarita Shannon, Vigilance Vineyards

There was other stuff on the back, but I gave up – the type is tiny, the color absurd (orange on a black label) and I’d had enough.

My Take: With that chatty a label, you’d expect the wine to be something amazing. Alas, all their sustainable farming didn’t do squat for this wine. It wasn’t amazing; it was pedestrian. Drinkable. Something to pass the time while you wait for the grown-up wine.  Not watery but not thick either, it lacked character. We had the Petite Sirah with oven-cooked ribs – you’d think the wine could stand up to the heartiness of the ribs, but…not…quite.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~  Like I said, it wasn’t a bad wine. (I believe our quote last night was “emminently drinkable”.) If you’re offered it, by all means feel free to take a glass – you might really enjoy it.

Etoile Brut Sparkling Wine NV Domaine Chandon, Napa Valley  – Alcohol 13% by volume  $19.99 on sale at BevMo!

On the Label: “As Chandon’s prestige cuvee, Etoile is the ultimate achievement in sparkling wine, personifying grace, elegance and balance.”

My Take:  I’ve been a fan of Chandon since visiting their winery in Napa back in 1987. The glass of Tete de Cuvee I had there will forever remain in my memory as the best sparkling wine, ever.  Aside from that, if you choose a Chandon sparkling wine, you’re in good hands. The founders of Domaine Chandon are/were (?) a part of Moet et Chandon; they came over from France, and have been putting their expertise to work for the past 30 years.

This wine in particular has tiny bubbles (as my boss says, the bigger the bubbles, the bigger the headache) and a creamy, spicy taste that is perfect for any special occasion. (Festivus, anyone?) Yes, it’s twice the price of my usual bottle of wine, and on sale no less; but if you’re looking to impress, or just spend a wonderful, relaxing evening with a special someone, this is definitely the bottle to get. Worth the splurge for a special occasion.

On the other hand, for still-festive but less expensive bubbles, go for the Domaine Chandon Brut or Brut Rose – those bottles run about $13.99 on sale at Vons (usually). That is one of my favorite go-to bottles for occasions (like, um, a Friday).

My Rating: ~ Stay Away! This is MY wine, you slut! ~

As usual, these are my opinions based upon my tastebuds, how cold it is outside, and whether or not I’ve managed to get some exercise in that day. Your impressions and tastes will invariably vary.

Happy Festivus, Happy Hannukah, Sweet Solstice, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwaanza, and all good things to you during this holiday season. Remember to appoint a designated driver if you must go out and drink (I prefer to drink at home, but that’s me); and above all, drink responsibly.

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