Know who won’t have much to celebrate this holiday season? The companies that produce champagne and sparkling wine. The last two months of the year account for about one-quarter of all bubbly sales, and this year was already looking flat (sorry – the Wine Curmudgeon couldn’t help himself) before the fall’s stock market meltdown. Champagne sales had dropped 17 percent in the first six months of this year, mostly because the weak dollar drove up prices.
I saw this first hand. My favorite champagne, Ruinart, has gone up 20 percent this year, and I won’t be buying any. At $70, it’s a luxury. At $84, it’s an extravagance.
But that doesn’t mean we need to do without bubbly over the next couple of weeks. There is plenty of quality wine available, and at more than reasonable prices. And you don’t even have to buy Spanish to save money, which seems to indicate that retailers and producers that aren’t French are trying to step into the market void.
After the jump, some bubbly basics as well as some sparklers to try this season:
Keep four things in mind when you shop for sparkling wine. First, please try something other than the same old French labels, like Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. Second, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, thanks to a 2005 trade agreement (though some California brands like Korbel are grandfathered in). But if the label says methode champenoise or méthode traditionelle, it was made in the Champagne style. The other production technique, called charmat, generally produces less bubbly, sweeter wines.
Third, vintage isn't especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage – that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from several years instead of just one. It’s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality. Fourth, most bubbly sold in the U.S. says either brut or extra-dry. Brut means the wine is dry, while extra-dry means it’s sweeter than brut.
Some to try this holiday season:
• Lindauer Brut NV ($13): This New Zealand wine is one of my favorite cheap bubblies, but wasn’t available in the Dallas market for a long time. It’s softer than similarly priced cava, with a bit more fruit, thanks to a dollop of chenin blanc.
• Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut NV ($13): Quality inexpensive U.S. sparkling wine that isn’t made in California, but Washington state. It’s a touch sweet for a brut, but well done nonetheless.
• Armand Roux Carousel NV ($9): Not all sparkling wine made in France is champagne, and not all of it costs $50 and up. This is solid and dependable, and I’m told some people even use it to make mimosas.
• Rotari Brut Talento NV ($14): Most Italian sparkling wine, like prosecco and spumate, is charmat. This is methode champenoise, and an interesting variation on the champagne style.
• Toad Hollow Risque NV ($14): Sweet wine that isn’t too cloying, made in a style called methode ancestrale (which is different from charmat and champenoise). It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a Toad Hollow product.
• Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV ($44): If you must drink champagne, this is quality at a more reasonable price.