Well, it’s the end of 2020, a more than regrettable year, and as it ends, I will be popping a few more bottles of bubbles. This month, I cracked no fewer than 96 bottles of sparkling wine (I desperately wanted to get to 100, but it just didn’t happen), which averages out to 3.2 bottles of bubbles a day.
No, I did not drink them all (although I did try)–I gave many an open bottle to neighbors in my little ‘hood here in Houston and, regrettably, poured a few down the drain. My goal was simple: to taste and evaluate every last bottle of sparkling wine that had been sent to me over the past few months (or so) and post the tasting notes before Sparkling Wine’s “Super Bowl” (that’s New Year’s Eve in case you were wondering).
Well, mission accomplished.
With all those bottles of bubbles in my belly, one might think that I have grown tired of what has become the celebratory wine. Au contraire! While I am not quite sure what I will be popping tonight as I try desperately to stay awake until the minute hand inches past midnight, I am sure that it will have bubbles in it.
Our “celebration” as such, will be decidedly low-key. I just received an unsettling message from Harris County (Houston) that basically said: “We are experiencing a cataclysmic increase in the number of cases in the county. Stay at home. See no one. Don’t even look in the mirror. Don’t celebrate the end of the year and the beginning of a new one with anyone other than the same person you have been spending every waking moment with since March. And even that might be stupid.”
Being married to a health care provider, I have no choice but to follow the guidelines put forth by health care professionals. Luckily, nowhere does it say that I have to abstain from consuming alcohol tonight, so, like many others out there I will be popping some bubbles tonight. Which one(s)? I have no idea yet, but I have several lined up, chilled and ready (actually, I just have a bunch of champagne in my cellar and I will make my decision based solely on whether my wife’s parents will be joining us or not).
If, like me, you are hoping to open some bubbles tonight but, unlike me, you do not have 300 some odd bottles of champagne already in the house, here are a few last-minute suggestions that any reputable wine shop (and many grocery stores) will have in stock.
Bubbles on the cheap (less than $15)
Since you are (hopefully) celebrating the coming of the New Year with someone that already knows you quite well, he/she/they will likely not be upset when you approach the evening frugally. There are many wines from which to choose in this price range, and here are two of the best.
NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé Washington, Columbia Valley:
Retail $13. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Faint pink with an orange tint, fruity aromas of strawberry, a touch of rhubarb, and a hint of sweetness. Tart, fresh, fruity, noticeable sweetness, but good depth, flavors, and length. Nice. Very Good. 89 Points.
Domaine Ste. Michelle also comes in a non-rosé Brut, which is also good, but I prefer the rosé (I mean, come on, it’s pink!).
2017 Korbel Natural Méthode Champenoise, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $14. 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. On the verge of golden here, this is clearly the darkest thus far. Sweet on the nose with caramel, walnut, and a touch of golden apple in the glass. The palate is rich and on the verge of decadent with baked apple pie, an infusion of tartness, and an active sparkle. While the nose was a bit odd, the palate is close to a whoa. While I would guess that there is a bit of dosage here, it certainly works. Excellent. 92 Points.
Be careful with Korbel, the standard Brut is not very interesting, but the Natural (which essentially means they did not add (much) sugar, is far better and only a couple of bucks more.
Stepping it up a notch ($15-25)
If you just can’t make yourself buy a wine that hovers around ten bucks, here are a couple of domestic sparklers that still won’t break the bank and will still get your year off on a bubbly path. Again, both of these are rosés and the standard Brut from both are also Very Good, I just give the slight nod to the rosés.
NV Mumm Napa Brut Rosé, California, Napa Valley: Retail $24 (but sells for around $16 in grocery stores). 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. A subtle pinkish-orange in the glass with a muted nose with eventually some red berry fruit comes through. Lovely nose. The fruit comes forth on the palate, and there is some acidity, but honestly, this is a bit flabby. Don’t get me wrong, it is a solid sparkler and I would go back for more, but it pales a bit in this lineup. Still? Giddy-up. Very Good. 88 Points.
NV Domaine Chandon Rosé, California: Retail $24. 73% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir, 1% Pinot Meunier. Like Mumm Napa, Chandon is fairly ubiquitous across this country and while we normally prefer Mumm, I purchased a few bottles of this wine to give it a test drive (it has been a while). A bit on the dark side, at least as rosé sparklers go, with a fruity and somewhat floral nose. The palate is initially a bit sweet (the dosage is 10g/l, which is relatively high), but also quite fruity with a nice level of tartness. I picked this up for about $15, which seems about right. Very Good. 88 Points.
Getting your passport ready (at around $20)
In a normal year, I would have traveled overseas around a dozen times and would have made it out to the west coast at least that many times. This year? The only place I have been beyond the Houston area code? Arkansas. Yeah, how depressing is that? So if you plan to make up for lost time in 2021, here are a couple of bottles to get your juices flowing.
NV Nino Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rustico, Italy: Retail $25. 100% Glera. Lovely citrus aromas and flavors along with a bit of yeastiness and tartness. This is easily my favorite entry-level DOCG Prosecco not only because the wine is fabulous, but the people behind it, Primo and Silvia Franco, are two of the nicest people I have ever met. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, France: Retail $24. 100% Pinot Noir. I have little hesitation in saying that this is my favorite French sparkling wine outside of Champagne. Lovely pinkish-orange in the glass with strawberry, melon, and a touch floral. The palate suggests a touch of sweetness, but the tartness quickly balances it out. Fruity, tart, lovely. Excellent. 92 Points.
A Little Splurge ($30)
I have to include this wine here since it was the clear winner in my Third Annual Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wines. It is also a rosé. I think I see a trend.
NV Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé, California, Carneros: Retail $45. 72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay. Pale, really pale, with just a hint, a subtle hint, of an orangeish-pink. Flinty. Gunpowder. Rhubarb, creaminess, a splash of yeastiness. Tart, fresh, subtle fruit, really, really nice. While this does not have a ton to offer regarding fruit, it more than makes up for it in every other aspect. Long, deep, layered. This is really stellar. Outstanding. 95 Points.
If it Has to be champagne (~$50)
I get it. Believe me, I get it.
NV Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut, France: Retail $60. 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier. Over 85% Grands and Premiers crus. Another young bottle, but this time, when I went to pull it from my cellar, I noticed that a bottle was missing. While this was far from the first time this has happened, in fact, it happens quite more often than I care to admit, this was a Bolly that I was missing. A Bolly. So I asked (accused?) my wife if she happened to know what may have happened to the missing bottle. She expressed (feigned?) ignorance. Hmmm. J’accuse! Bright and tart, bubbly and vibrant. Slight hints of oak, citrus, and fresh baked goods, plenty of sparkle, loads of bubbles, and a lingering finish. Wonderful, but proof that this needs time, even as a non-vintage. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France: Retail $65. Disgorged October 2019. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% of which was fermented in barrel. This is the third bottle of Premier Cuvée with a 2019 disgorgement and based on my notes, this just might be the best bottle of the three. While I have never met M. Paillard, I have met his daughter and CEO, Alice, on several occasions and she might be the single nicest person I have ever met. While that is a lot, I don’t know how much that has to do with the wine (although I choose to think it means just about everything), which is fantastic. Nutty, yeasty, and loaded with citrus on the nose, brilliant acidity, creaminess, and a walnut aspect on the palate. While I have tried a number of champagnes from Bruno Paillard, it seems as though each wine is better than the previous. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 93 Points.