Much like most writers, I keep a running tally in the back of my mind of all the foolish, misinformed, or otherwise ridiculous things that I hear people say. My proverbial cup runneth over these days, especially in the realm of eating and drinking alone: The non-celiac-suffering gluten-intolerance faker who at one point probably heard one of the Kardashians’ cousins’ cousins say that wheat is bad for your health and now treats all pasta as if it’s laced with polonium; the bewildering trend right now of whining about cultural misappropriation vis-a-vis lousy Americanized foods from other parts of the world; the geniuses who conceived of last year’s Super Bowl ad for Bud Lite in which they portray all craft-beer lovers as militant hipsters with old-timey facial-hair predilections as opposed to people who just want their beer to taste like…well, beer.
Every year, however, around this time, one specific group of proselytizers jumps to the top of my list: Those who, since New Years Eve has come and gone, are pretty much through with drinking sparkling wine until next December, announcing that they're done with the fizz for the next 11 months, barring any major birthdays or anniversaries, life accomplishments, or fancy-pants meals in need of an aperitif of the non-spirits variety.
All those people, it seems to me, must live such a joyless life.
Which is why this year, rather than write my reviews of all the standout sparklers I tasted in the lead-up to December 31st, I’ve decided to hold off a couple of weeks, allow everyone’s fizz-induced hangover to finally abate and fade from memory, and start the discussion in mid-January. Because here is the truth, as verifiable and unarguable as other statements of fact, i.e., the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and General Tso’s chicken is never as good as you want it to be, and the menu at the Cheesecake Factory is more tangled than any minotaur's cave of myth:
You should be drinking sparkling wine throughout the year, not just on special occasions, and especially when you’re eating.
Whether it’s Champagne, MCC, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Lambrusco, Brachetto d'Acqui, Cava, Cremant d'Alsace, Sekt, Crémant de Bordeaux, or some other graceful glassful of fizz, your life and your meal will be infinitely better with a glass of bubbly accompanying it. Even, in the case of a slightly off-dry one, alongside a vaguely disappointing plate of General Tso’s chicken, which is made a whole lot better in the context of a bottle of great bubbly.
Here are some of the highlight sparkling wines I’ve tasted recently. I recommend each and every one of them—now, next month, and throughout the year.
Saltare MCC Brut Reserve NV
This is yet another example of the fantastic Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines coming out of South Africa right now, a Chardonnay - Pinot Noir blend from Swartland that’s beautifully leesy, concentrated, and balanced, with lemon curd, melon, and mineral carried on a texture both creamy and well-structured. Seek this wine out—it’s delicious.
Freixenet Cava Casa Sala Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2006
This is the Cava that will challenge everything you thought you knew about great Spanish sparkling wine. I tasted this last Monday night, and it was remarkable, as always: A show-stopping wine with loads of brioche, mashed apricot, apple fritters, crème brûlée, lemon curd, mineral, and a comforting, honeyed finish that lasts forever. Fabulous now, but still with a decade of life left if you have multiple bottles.
Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé
Floral notes on the nose are joined by apple, cherry and wild strawberry, and lead to a palate bright and a tad sappy, with flavors of red-cherry liqueur, rose petal, and mineral. Excellent acid and balance, and just the slightest bit yeasty on the finish, which lends it a nice bass note against all the vivacity.
Paul Cheneau Cava Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserva
Rich gold color with aromas of distinct earthiness, joined by lemon curd, apple, and mashed pear fritters. On the palate, this shows creaminess, sweet fruit and balanced acidity, with flavors of apple sauce, Seckel pear, mineral, flint and stone fruit. Drink now or hold for five more years.
Lemon and unexpected yeasty aromas frame a rather full-bodied nose. On the palate, this is full of character, with distinctive mineral, lemon meringue, crunchy green autumn apple, a hint of herb on the finish, and honeysuckle.
Acinum Prosecco DOP Extra Dry
Aromas of lemon, toast, and apple turn to a palate of bracing fruit, spice, fennel seed, anise, Chinese five spice, persimmon, and crunchy green apple. The finish is slightly honeyed against the mineral. Great value at just around $10.
Valdo Prosecco Superiore Vandobbiadene Oro Puro
Sweetly fruited, fresh, and decidedly springlike nose of white-blossomed flowers, pear, and honeyed aromas turning to a palate of bright acid and sweet stone fruit, with white peach, ripe pear, mashed yellow apple, and mineral.
Bisol Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene “Crede” 2014 Brut
Beautifully floral on the nose, as well as notes of apple and pear and a bit of pastry dough. Lovely and giving and with a hint of sweetness at the edges. On the palate, this boasts much more assertive acid than expected, with Granny Smith apple, fresh lime, and a drying minerality on the finish that lends this a serious sense of structure. Excellent. Drink now or hold for five years.
Weingut Odinstal Riesling Brut Nature
Only bottled in magnum, the nose of this stunner is run through with a beautiful leesiness, taut mineral acidity, and apricot skin, all leading to a palate of fennel and caraway seed, lemon, nuttiness, and a beguiling hint of puffed rice. Fantastic.
Gruet Brut Rosé
Aromas of cinnamon and toast that lead to a palate of cherries, strawberries, cream, and more toast, with a bit of cinnamon and ginger. All of this from one of my favorite American sparkling wine producers…in New Mexico!
Champagne Canard-Duchêne Authentic Rosé
Cherries and wild strawberries, a hint of toast, and mineral are subtle and feminine on the nose. Once sipped, this is creamy yet cut through with excellent acidity, and shows sweet-fruit flavors of tiny wild strawberries, a hint of candied ginger, multigrain toast, and a very subtle note of flowers on the softly honeyed finish. Very elegant.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut
Rich, deep burnished gold in color. Aromas of lemon and lemon oil, mineral and a hint of honeyed almonds. Bright and deep at once. On the palate, this shows zippy acidity, mineral-tinged lemon and lemon oil, a hint of lemongrass, and a finish of honeysuckle and orange blossom with honey-roasted almonds, as well as persimmon and spice.
Cleto Chiarli Figli “Vecchia Modena Premium Mention Honorable” Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco
Aromas of cranberry and fresh ripe fig, as well as a hint of cherry syrup and rose water, are undergirded with something resembling meat, which provides excellent tension. On the palate, this is crisp and so much higher-toned than the nose implies, with a gorgeous note of rose petal sweeping in on the finish to soften up the mid-palate’s cranberry and tart red cherry flavors. Zipped through with mineral and a hint of subtle spice. Excellent.