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New Year’s Eve Bubbly!

December 28, 2009

by Monsieur Anton

Nothing says New Year’s Eve like partying with good friends and family and getting sloshed in the process.  Now throughout the evening you can, and should drink whatever you like.  It is your hangover after all, and how you get there is up to you.   Once the clock approaches midnight however, you have but one choice with which to toast in the New Year, and that is bubbly.  There is something about the pop of the cork and the tickle of the bubbles to place the past year behind us, and actually look forward to the future.

There are many sparkling wines to choose from that will not cause you fiscal distress.  And yes there are choices that may require you to cash out your 401k.  I’ll leave the latter of these choices to the Gusteau’s of the world.  As those of you who have read this blog know, I tend to be the frugal (poor) one who seeks out value.  Happily there are a number of fine sparkling wines that don’t break the bank.

Remember that all champagnes are sparkling wines, yet all sparkling wines are not champagnes.  To be champagne, the wine must be from the Champagne region in northeast France.  It was here that the two-step fermentation process known as Methode Champenoise originated where the grapes are fermented, then re-fermented in the bottle with small amount of sugar and yeast added before sealing the bottle.  The resulting carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle creating the tiny bubbles we cherish so much.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

While this method comes from France, wine makers throughout the world have adopted it, and in doing so, have come up with some fine sparkling wines.  Spanish sparkling wines are known as Cavas, Italy produces fine Proseccos using vat fermentation, and here in the US we have sparkling wines.  OK, we lose points on the creative naming, but we are damn fine copycats of other’s styles.

Be careful when opening a bottle of sparkling wine from anywhere in the world.  There are ninety pounds per square inch of pressure inside that bottle, and if opened carelessly the cork becomes a projectile that can put an eye out.  Even worse, the wine may foam up and flow out of the bottle resulting in the loss of our precious bubbly.  It’s easy to wear an eye patch, not so easy to suck up expensive champagne from the carpet with a straw!

Dry the bottle off, and remove the foil cover.  Then carefully remove the wire cage that the cork is enclosed in.  Here’s a fun fact that can win you a bar bet with someone who’s already drunk before midnight.  It is universal that it takes exactly six turns to unscrew the wire cage.  Once removed, point the bottle away from any innocent bystanders and place the palm of your hand over the cork. Slowly twist the bottle (not the cork) until the cork eases out of the bottle with the joyous “pop” that signals to all in the room that it is time to get the party started.   Pour the precious nectar into a flute glass.  Never use the wide rimmed glasses you see in old movies.  They just quickly dissipate the bubbles the winemaker worked so hard to produce.

There are many fine sparkling wines from regions all over the world to choose from.  With an eye on getting the most for your dollar (who knows what the economy will be in 2010), here are some sparklers you might want to look in to.

Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley   An intense California sparkling wine with bright green fruit flavors, this may be the best balance of a fine wine with a reasonable price checking in at about $20.  Always a crowd pleaser, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Domaine Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley   At under $15, this Washington state sparkling wine is bursting with intense fruit flavors.  Not quite as dry as some California wines, this is a terrific value if you like this fruit forward style.

Mumm Napa Brut, Napa   A staple as a split or glass pour in many restaurants because of its value and reasonable quality, at about $17 a bottle this is an affordable choice for larger parties.  Dry, with a lot of small bubbles, it has a crisp, spicy finish.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, Napa   Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, think nuts and apples and lots of bubbles.  At about $30, this is a fine way to ring in the New Year.

Domaine Chandon Brut Rose, Carneros   Don’t forget the roses!  This $30 sparkler is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, and has a nice balance of citrus and strawberry.  I love roses!

Freixenet, Cordon Negro Brut , Spain   A dry, yeasty cava, this is a real bargain.  You can find this at under $12 a bottle.  With light citrus and low acidity, this is a smooth, yet very carbonated wine.

Seguda Viudas Brut Reserva, Spain   A crisp yet floral cava from a winery that is making a name for itself.  Look to spend $18-$20.

Prosecco di Valddobiadene “Frizzante,” Italy   Proseccos are made using the Charmat method of fermenting in large tanks rather that in the bottle.  They get their name from the prosecco grape used in making them.  This one has a pleasantly yeasty quality with a sharp lemony finish.  Look to spend about $15.

I would be remiss to not mention a more expensive alternative.  After all, champagnes signify indulgence, so why not splurge a little?  I would try Veuve Cliquot NV Yellow Label, France .  If you’re going to shell out for pricier French champagne, pass on the Moet and Dom Perignon, and spend $50 on the Veuve Cliquot.  You won’t be sorry.  With great apple pastry flavors it is balanced with minerality and sharp acidity.  Pour the less expensive bubbly for your party guests, and save this one to share with that special someone after everybody leaves.  That is how you start a New Year right!

Chef Gusteau: “Anton, here’s to a wonderful New Year’s!  And armed with your list above, our readers will have a great time partying, while saving their money for more important purchases, like expensive Chef’s knives (see previous post)!  One bit of sparkling wine fact that I like to share is that although a sparkling wine appears white in color, it doesn’t mean that only white grapes were used.  In fact, some of my favorite Champagnes are made with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meuniere…red grapes!  The key in these cases is that the winemaker doesn’t let the grape juice sit in contact with the skins for a long period of time, which would change the color of the resulting wine.  Look for a nice bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs for a fun, inexpensive example.

Now, for quick food pairing with sparkling wines.  The bubbles and acidity of sparkling wines cleanse the palate, and leave behind a crisp finish in your mouth.  Foods that would do well with these wines include rich, slightly fatty, mildly spicy, and non-acidic characteristics.  Based on these notes, you can see why blinis with sour cream and caviar are the traditional hors d oeuvres served with champagne.  Liver pate’s, shrimp, smoked salmon, chocolate, cheeses en croute , and even mildly spicy tapas would be wonderful as well.  Granted, with a special friend(s) and the right bottle of sparkly, any food would be wonderful.  Have fun and enjoy a safe and fruitful New Year’s!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2009 8:01 am

    I was sad to not see my favorite affordable bubbly, ToadHollow, $18 @ Heinens, listed. Anything Schramsberg, especially Cremant, is excellent although pricey when having more than one. New Years Eve and Christmas Eve are dedicated to champagne in our house. The other 363 days are open bar.

    • December 29, 2009 8:11 am

      I haven’t tried ToadHollow sparkling, yet..but thanks for the note on it. I am always willing to do “research” for the sake of the blog. Granted, you can expect Anton has already done this for us. And the open bar comment at your place…keep the doors locked…Anton is such a mooch when it comes to that! Happy New Years! Chef Gusteau.

  2. January 2, 2010 7:14 am

    Thanks for creating such a terrific website. Your blog happens to be not only useful but also very inventive too. We find very few people who are capable of write not so easy content that creatively. we keep looking for knowledge on this topic. We ourselves have looked through several websites to find knowledge with regard to this. Keep up the good work !!

    • January 2, 2010 2:26 pm

      Thanks! We’re trying to keep it fresh and different from other blogs out there. Not that there is anything wrong with those blogs. I think both Gusteau and I read and enjoy many of them, and even include a few in the links section. What I think we are hoping to do with At the Pass is to reflect the voice and viewpoints of Gusteau and myself…and that is not always the same! Thanks for reading. We love to get feedback and opinions, so that we may learn more ourselves.

      Monsieur Anton

  3. January 10, 2010 4:55 pm

    Thank you so much, there aren’t enough posts on this… or at least i cant find them. I am turning into such a blog nut, I just cant get enough and this is such an important topic… i’ll be sure to write something about your site

  4. January 12, 2010 11:05 am

    Great post! keep them comin… thanks for all your hard work.

    • January 19, 2010 7:30 am

      Thank you very much…I need to start cranking out more fun stuff! Maybe some fun surprises await! Thanks for tuning in. Chef Gusteau.

  5. January 21, 2010 9:44 am

    Great Article. I hope you don’t mind me posting here. I love your site, I’m looking forward to your next piece

  6. January 23, 2010 11:50 pm

    Hieverybody . First off wonderful page . I loved reading your post.Just wanted to tell u, I voted your site up at delicious . Have a good one

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