Tonight is without a doubt the biggest night of the year for champagne and other sparkling wines. Everyone who has any designs on staying up until at least the New Year is celebrated in Auckland, Sydney, or even London, has at least one bottle of sparkling wine on hand to toast the coming year.
As I have mentioned numerous times in this spot, wine appreciation is all about context. It makes absolutely no sense to open a bottle of 1995 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay ($4000+) for a crowd of your son’s fraternity brothers who somehow landed on your doorstep New Year’s Eve morning.
Nor does it make much sense to pop a plastic cork from a bottle of Cook’s “Champagne” ($7 at most) for your potential father-in-law who is sporting a 5,000 bottle cellar and owns a vacation home in the middle of To Kalon Vineyard (to my knowledge, no such home exists, but you hopefully are picking up what I am putting down).
So you need to be judicious.
And I am here to help.
There are obviously countless types of New Year’s Eve situations, but they essentially boil down to about five general themes.
The “Clueless” New Year’s Eve: You have no idea where you are going, nor do you know who will be there. You just met your companion in a bar the day after Thanksgiving when the most you had hoped for was a competitive game of foosball. Your newfound “love” interest has persuaded you to go to a NYE party with “friends.” And none of them are yours. You need to take something but you realize that your relationship has about a 50/50 chance of making it to the first time Ryan Seacrest says something idiotic. Be smart: go inexpensive but good.
2015 Juvé y Camps Cava Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva, Spain: Retail $16. Free-run juice of 55% Xarel·lo, 35% Macabeo, 10% Parellada. I do not have a ton of experience with Cava, particularly with Vintage Gran Reserva. Well, it is certainly not champagne (nor does it try to be), but there is a whole lot going on here: bright green apple (as in Jolly Rancher green apple) on both the nose and the palate. Look, this will not change the trajectory of your life, but it will give you some joy without killing your 401k. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
The “Poser” NYE: You know the crowd and therefore you know that everyone there is going to be flashing some bling. Be it a new Tesla, an ugly Armani sweater, or Beluga Caviar. You can’t show up in your seven-year-old Prius with just any sparkler. Opt for something that has both name recognition, and is completely baller bubbles. They don’t need to know that the wine has nothing to do with the automobile–let them believe what they want (but tell them that you have no idea how much it costs–you got it as a gift from Bernie Madoff).
NV Ferrari Brut, TrentoDOC, Italy: Retail $30. 100% Chardonnay. This Ferrari is totally unrelated to the cherry red bastions of speed on the highway, but they are rocketships on their own. Green apple and crusty bread on the nose. A fine bead rises steadily through the slightly golden wine and remains vibrant on the palate, delivering a delectable blend of tart fruit, a bit of yeasty goodness, and a lengthy finish. This is an incredibly consistent wine that always delivers. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
NV Ferrari Rosé, TrentoDOC, Italy: Retail $38. 60% Pinot Noir; 40% Chardonnay. Lovely salmon color with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb along with hints of freshly baked sugar cookies. The palate is quite fruity and frankly, delicious. Tart, lively, with some depth. I have been a fan of Ferrari for years and the wines have been amazingly consistent. I prefer this rosé slightly over the Brut. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
The “This might not actually be regrettable” NYE: By some stroke of genius (likely no thanks to you), you will be spending NYE with a bunch of wine geeks who know their way around a corkscrew. You need to opt for something slightly out of the mainstream, a wine with a bit of intrigue, but can hold up to even the harshest scrutiny. One word: Franciacorta. Most non-wine geeks have never heard of perhaps the premier Italian sparkling region (the other is TrentoDOC [above] but Franciacorta has something Trento covets more than life itself: DOCG status), but wine geeks will do cartwheels to get just a sip of this wine.
2014 Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Satén, DOCG, Italy: Retail $45. 100% Chardonnay. I really should try to drink more Franciacorta–it is right up there with TrentoDOC wines as to the best sparkling wines in Italy, it’s generally a bit less expensive than wines from Champagne, and it’s a lot of fun to say. Most, though, are either Chardonnay dominant or 100% Chardonnay, which means they are not exactly in my wheelhouse (I prefer sparklers with a healthy dose of Pinot Noir). Nonetheless, this is quite lovely. Slightly golden straw in the glass with nice aromas of peach and lemon curd. The palate is tart and angular with great citrus fruit and just a hint of yeastiness. I would say that this could use another 5 years of cellar time, easy. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
The “OK, I am going complete and all-out baller” NYE: There are times in your life where you might just need to throw caution aside. Times where you are among wine geeks who also drive Teslas. Times when just an “honest effort” won’t do. Such times call for rosé, and this is one of my favorites. No. No. No. Do not grab the Veuve and certainly not Moét. Grab this–perhaps the most innovative Champagne house of all time. Yes, I love the CEO, but that is irrelevant.
Multi-Vintage Bruno Paillard Champagne Rosé Brut Première Cuvée, France: Retail $85. “First pressing of mainly Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay, the amount of which remains a secret.” All cards on the table: I am a huge fan of Bruno Paillard. More truth: it is more about Bruno’s daughter (Alice) than it is about Bruno. While I have never met the founder of the winery, I have met Alice several times, and she has even stayed with us here in Houston. She is completely fantastic and a dynamo and I am biased. So there. But this wine is fabulous regardless of my connection with its CEO. An ever-so-slight pinkish-copper hue with delicate aromas of strawberry-rhubarb pie and dark flowers (violet?). The palate is tart and multi-faceted with tart red fruit, minerality, and just a hint of brioche. Really close to a whoa. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
The “I really don’t give a flying you-know-what” NYE: Look, I am not saying NYE is pointless (even though it is just another day on the calendar). Nor am I saying that it is pointless to join together with other homo sapien sapiens to celebrate. What I am saying is that if you believe there is no inherent need to be pretentious, pop a bottle of wine that is intended to bring joy and to be shared with food. This wine does not require contemplation. Much like Ryan Seacrest.
NV Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosso Labrusca, Emilia Romagna, Italy: Retail $18. 85% Lambrusco Salamino, 15% Lambrusco Ancellotta. I am the first to admit that I do not drink enough Lambrusco. There are a few simple reasons for that, I guess: 1) there is not a lot of Lambrusco to be found in this country, and 2) my wife is far from a fan of the wine. Sure, those are both cop-outs, but that does not make them any less true. Lambrusco is (typically) fresh, joyous, and fun. It is not intended to provoke intense reflection or discussion, it is supposed to be a fairly simple red, with a bit of bubbles, that should be enjoyed with food; food that is rich and hearty that the sparkle and acidity can help mitigate. That is precisely what we have here. A bit Bretty on the nose, but plenty of fruit and fun that continues onto the palate. Dry, tart, fruity. Lambrusco. Yum. Very Good. 87-89 Points.