Perhaps the most traditional beverage for those who like to mark the end of one year and the start of the next in celebration is bubbly wine. From the pop of the cork, to the rush of the bubbles, sparkling wines are firmly lodged in the wine drinking world’s collective psyche as fun, luxurious, celebration-inducing wines.
This is all the more intriguing when one considers that historically the bubbles were initially deemed a “bug” not a “feature,” to use IT speak. It started, in fact, when French wine was being bottled before it had fully fermented, so the fermentation continued in the bottle creating fizz, and often enough explosions. Indeed, for years the bubbling fizz was considered a mask for poor-quality wine.
It took roughly a century of fine-tuning for producer to perfect Champagne as a crisp, stable, delicate, bubbly beverage. By then, royalty clamored for it across Europe, so then the nobility also demanded it, and then, of course, the rising merchant class began baying for it too. Champagne as an aspirational beverage quickly became a permanent part of its identity.
So, as with many things in life, the modern prevalence of Champagne as the traditional, if not altogether necessary, component of deluxe festivities is largely a result of the successful marketing of Champagne as a brand of sparkling wine — albeit a regional one rather than a producer-specific one.
As historian Kolleen M. Guy points out in her fascinating 2003 book, “When Champagne Became French,” it was really during the 19th century that Champagne producers figured out its enduring marketing approach. Thus, Guy notes, “newspaper advertisements, particularly around [the] holidays … associated family gatherings with Champagne.” With the rise of the Industrial Revolution’s newly created middle classes, the popularity and sales of Champagne skyrocketed. In 1800, around 300,000 bottles of Champagne were being produced annually; by 1850 the number was more like 6 million, and by 1900 it was around 28 million. That’s a lot of bubbly!
Little has changed, of course, and today annual production of Champagne is roughly 300 million bottles. This is just the stuff that can be legally called Champagne — that is, the sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France, as per E.U. regulations. If you factor in all the other sparkling wines being produced elsewhere around the globe one gets a picture of just how successful, conceptually, bubbly wine has become.
Of course, Champagne is simply the most famous and luxury-branded bubbly wine on the market. There are plenty of other often great options too. Here are some options to consider:
Pavolino Prosecco, Extra Dry (DOC Prosecco, Veneto; $12): dry, crisp, clean and refreshing sparkling wine with a savory-sweet nose of earthy, floral, fruity notes, a balanced dollop of lemon acidity and a lovely, energizing finish. Serve chilled at any part of the meal or even on its own.
Cantine del Borgo Reale, Prosecco, Brut, Italy ($16; mevushal): This is a light, dry, bubbly and a most friendly wine. It offers aromas and flavors of warm brioche, subtle citrus notes, and a crisp apple quality, while being refreshing, palate reviving and very drinkable. Serv chilled.
Freixenet, Excelencia, Brut Cava, Spain ($16; mevushal): this delightful dry sparkler opens with stone fruit, apple and floral aromas that expand nicely into melon and citrus flavors.
Elvi, Cava, Brut, Spain ($20): Charming and easy drinking, with fresh berry fruits, and bright citrus aromas and flavors that ride on a light frame of tight bubbles and notes of apples and yeast, along with a mild spiciness in the pleasantly long finish.
Backsberg, Brut, Paarl, South Africa ($34; mevushal): This 100 percent Chardonnay dry bubbly offers enjoyable aromas and flavors of lychee, apple, pear and freshly baked bread. Its finish is fresh and lingering.
Koenig, Crémant d’Alsace (Nonvintage), France ($30; mevushal): Charming and delicious, this Alsatian sparkler is clean and brisk with aromas and flavors of citrus, apple, melon and white peach, with fine, creamy and assertive bubbles that tingle the senses and drive home a lemony goodness.
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden Rosé, Brut, 2011 ($40): a delightful blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir, this lightly pinkish beauty offers aromas of citrus, strawberries, stone fruits and brioche, all draped in flowers. The bubbles are nicely sharp and concentrated, and the acidity is zippy and zingy.
Hagafen, Brut Cuvée, 2015 ($48; mevushal): A delightful blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, this is a lovely, refreshing and simply delicious bubbly — with fine, concentrated bubbles, enchanting aromas and flavors of citrus, strawberry, guava and stone fruits, with hints of brioche, beautifully balanced with lively acidity, ending in an enchanting, creamy finish. Hard to put down, and dangerously easy to drink.
Champagne Drappier, Carte d’Or, Brut, France ($50; mevushal): Opens with citrus, tart apple, and toasty aromas that lead into lemon, stone fruit, red berry, and yeasty bread flavors with accents of spice and minerals extending into a lingering brightly acidic finish. A solid and most enjoyable bubbly.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier, Brut, non-vintage, Kosher Edition ($80): This first-rate, light-to-medium-bodied bubbly is refined and balanced, yet fun and easy, with fine, concentrated, endless bubbles and notes of citrus peel, minerals, and nuts, all with a lovely dollop of fresh berries in the lengthy finish. This is superb champagne. L’Chaim!
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].