How To Buy Sparkling Wine

It’s the last few days of December and that means one thing: New Year’s Eve (the worst holiday of all time), the pressure to have fun and/or “A Night to Remember,” and to also buy a decent bottle of Champagne.

I normally hate NYE, because it’s a really charged night of emotions: if you go out, you’re usually in a big group of people where, undoubtedly, there will be a fight or someone crying (you know it’s true); if you’re home, you’ll probably be asleep by 11:30, and then wake up feeling like it was kind of a waste.

I’ve only been to one party in the past few years, that was before I even started dating David. I went to a party where I knew only one person (mistake!), flirted with a very nice boy from college but got no smooch (mistake!), and then drove home in pea-soup fog (mistake! But thankfully didn’t get into a car accident).

I’ll probably end up at a shindig thrown by a friend who lives very close to my apartment or maybe David and I will be old farts and stay in. Regardless of what I do this year, I will be wearing these:

gold glitter heels

They’re like Champagne for your feet.

Speaking of Champagne, I want to give you a rundown of what to look for if you’re buying bubbly for yourself, or a large party.

  1. Champagne (if the label says CHAMPAGNE)by law has to be grown in the Champagne region of France.  In the entire region, farmers only grow a few kinds of grapes– Chardonnay, Pinot Nior, and Pinot Meunier.  You’ll rarely find a “real” Champagne for less than $20; obviously, the sky’s the limit on the price of this stuff.  But a good Brut Champagne should hover around $40-60, and it will be quite drinkable.
    1. Blanc de Blanc Champagne is made exclusively from Chardonnay. This will be somewhere between $60-80.
    2. Blanc de Noir Champagne is usually just Pinot Noir.  Sometimes it’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  You’ll know by the price.  PN-only is going to be a bit pricier, somewhere between $60-85. It’s a big window.
    3. Rose Champagne is made two ways.  The classier way is to ferment the red wine grapes (the pinots) in their skins for a red color.  More often than not, though, just a bit of still pinot is added to a bubbly brew for the pinky color. This, too, will be about $60-80.
    4. “Vintage” means that all of the grapes in that bubbly were grown and harvested the same year.  Good vintages now coming to market are 2002 and 2004.  You’re going to pay a premium for Vintage Champagne– $100-150+.
  2. California Champagne is a complete misnomer, usually made by inferior wine houses who want you to think that their Sprite-like swill is classier than it actually is. California Champagne usually costs less than $10, and is fine if you want to mix it into cocktails. But really, I just try to avoid it on principle.
  3. Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wine is what you really want. It means that it is sparkling wine made in the Champagne Method. It tastes about as close to real Champagne as you can get. Pay about $25-40 for this stuff and it’s well worth it! One great label is Iron Horse, from Central California, or J Vineyards‘ Cuvee 20 Brut.
  4. Cava is sparkling wine made in Spain from Cava grapes.  It’s drier than Champagne– which usually means you can drink more of it without feeling like you’re going to barf.  You can get really great Cava for about $6.  It’s pretty much the best budget sparkling wine, in my humble opinion.
  5. Asti is Italian sparkling wine, made in the Piedmont region.  It’s also commonly referred to as Asti Spumante (essentially, fizzy Asti).  It’s usually pretty low in alcohol.  Don’t pay a lot for this, though it’s perfectly quaffable.  More than $10 a bottle and you’re being had.

If you’re wondering what “Brut” means, or what level of sweetness you’re looking for, consider these levels of sweetness:

  • Brut means that it has less than 15g of sugar per liter. This is your entry point for sweetness of Champagne, and what you’ll find the most of in stores. Goes great with cheese, a light dinner, and dessert. Most Cava and Asti are also “Brut” in flavor.
  • Extra Brut has less than 6g of sugar per liter. This stuff is SUPER dry, and took some getting used to for me!
  • Sec or Demi-Sec means that the Champagne is sweet. Goes great with dessert, but hard to finish a whole bottle!

Let me know if you have any questions about buying bubbly for your New Year’s Eve! I have tons of resources at my fingertips and am happy to help!

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