Choosing a wine over the festive season can be daunting. Here are some options that are sure to impress in every occasion—from gift-giving, to a friend’s party, to hosting your own soiree.
Let’s start with a nice bubbly. A sparkling wine is good for any celebration, and you can start with Champagne or, depending on your budget, have Cava or Franciacorta or Prosecco, just to name but a few possibilities. There are excellent versions of these sparklers and you don’t really have to break the bank, if you don’t want to.
If you have a high budget, there are a couple outstanding Champagnes that I would recommend. Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades is pale yellow, quite dry with a strong bead and has a lovely brioche, pear, honeysuckle and white fresh flowers aroma and a smooth and long lingering finish. As a Tête de Cuvée, i.e. an absolutely top quality product, it is priced between $225 and $270 retail in New York City.
Another top possibility, but a rosé Champagne this time, is Nicolas Feuillatte’s Cuvée Palmes d’Or Rosé-Brut. It is a vintage Champagne with very subtle strawberries, roses, and minerals on the palate. The bottle is dimpled and comes in an individual plastic case, in a red velvet bag. Average pricing for the 2003 vintage now in the market, $154.
But, as I said before, you don’t have to pay top dollar. There are excellent sparklers, both from Champagne and from other parts of the world that will enable you to celebrate in style. For example, non vintage Champagnes, such as Veuve Cliquot, Moet & Chandon, and Taittinger, hover around the $50 price mark, while a non vintage Nicolas Feuillatte, is about $30.
From Italy’s Lombardy region, great Franciacorta sparkling wines range in the $20 to $50 retail price. I especially like Antica Fratta’s non-vintage “Essence” Rosé, a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend which is refined and sensuous, a pale-rosé spumante (sparkling) wine that spends 36 months sur lie, thus acquiring a lovely nose of dark forest fruit and cranberry, with an interesting rose and toasted almond undertone. This wine’s minerality is an unexpected bonus. At an average retail of $28, it is very well priced.
Grapes for the Berlucchi wines are hand-harvested on a lot-by-lot basis, and the Guido Berlucchi Franciacorta is considered a top sparkler. Produced from a blend of 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir, this Franciacorta spends 18 months on the lees of the secondary fermentation. With aromas of honeysuckle, a lemony citrus, and hints of white flowers, it shows a pleasingly elegant and mouth-filling mousse. Priced from $25 to $37, these wines present very good value.
Most Cava is born in the historic D.O. of Penedès, which lies within Catalonia’s borders near the Mediterranean coast. The taste differentiation between Cava and Champagne is the result mostly of climatic differences. The grape varieties used are also different. Cava is usually produced from all indigenous Spanish white grapes Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel.lo, versus Champagne’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, one white and two red grapes. The production method is the same for both—the traditional méthode Champenoise.
I like the Agustí Torelló Mata Rosat Trepat. This lovely rosé sparkler has a definite personality. It is made 100 percent from Trepat (an indigenous Catalan grape) and matured for at least 16 months in bottle. It has an attractive cherry pink color with medium-violet highlights. It is rich and dense on the palate; meaty but light with fresh summer raspberries standing out, and very appealing notes of strawberries. Priced at about $30 per bottle, it is an excellent Cava.
The Cava called Albert de Vilarnau Gran Reserva Barrica is created as a 50 percent French barrel fermented Chardonnay, 20 percent stainless steel fermented Macabeo, 20 percent stainless fermented Parellada, and 10 percent stainless fermented Chardonnay. The base wines are initially fermented separately, then blended and bottled for the secondary fermentation to achieve consistency. This yellow/light-gold with gold reflections cava is gently aromatic, round and powerful on the palate but well balanced with sweet tannins. At a retail of $14 to $20, it is a very nice wine to bring to an office party.
Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Conegliano/Valdobbiadene region, near Venice. I personally consider Prosecco a summer wine, but it is a nice sparkler that any host would gratefully accept at any time of the year.
The Mionetto Prosecco Brut is widely available. Dry, fresh, and balanced, it charms with aromas of green apples, fresh pears, and a hint of apricots. It pairs very well with appetizers (antipasti) or fruity desserts. It also acts as an exceptional base for Venice’s favorite libation: the Bellini—white peach puree and a touch of peach schnapps topped by the Prosecco. It is priced at $15 per bottle suggested retail, or even a bit less.
The other Prosecco that I really enjoy is a Superiore bottle from Vinicola Canella (the house creates both vintage and non-vintage Prosecco). A light and not too dry golden-hued sparkler made from Glera—the new name for the prosecco grapes, adopted by the DOCG (Controlled Designation of Origin) governing board to avoid the confusion created when the wines, the grapes, and the wine-region all use the same Prosecco name. Discounted at $12 to $15 per bottle.
Bottega Petalo – Vino dell’ Amore is a fine sparkling, highly aromatic, demi-sec spumante from Moscato grapes. While a number of Moscato sparklers we had in the past were cloyingly sweet, this is a delicate sweet wine, crisp with enough acidity to be very enjoyable. Aromas of roses with notes of peach, melon, and sour apple. Palate is well balanced; fruity with a fine persistent mousse. At a suggested retail under $15, it is a real bargain.
To your health!
Manos Angelakis is a well-known wine and food critic based in the New York City area. He has been certified as a Tuscan Wine Master, by the Tuscan Wine Masters Academy, as well as being an expert on Greek, Chilean and Brazilian wines. He judges numerous wine competitions each year and is the senior Food & Wine writer for LuxuryWeb Magazine www.luxuryweb.com and The Oenophile Blog www.oenophileblog.com