No matter the occasion, sparkling cocktails add an extra touch of excitement. When it comes to the New Year’s Eve countdown, something bubbly is a must! But for some, the champagne and sparkling wine section can be one of the most daunting areas of the wine department.
With that in mind, here’s a champagne primer to help get your bubbly supply sorted out in time to celebrate!
Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
Just as some wines and cheeses are only produced in a specific geographic area, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be officially labeled “Champagne.” Other European countries use other names for the sparkling wine they produce: Cava in Spain; Prosecco, Asti or Spumante in Italy; and Sekt in Germany.
Bubblies from California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the several wine-producing countries of South America are generally referred to as sparkling wine or sparklers. Many sparkling wines rival true champagne in taste and complexity and can be a better value.
How Do I Choose? Here are a few basic terms that are used on both champagnes and sparkling wines. These should help narrow your search to match your taste preferences.
Brut: The driest one, but not to be confused with “Extra Dry,” which, ironically, is not as dry as Brut. Brut is the most food-friendly of champagnes. The smoky, salty nature of caviar makes for a classic match. For everyday occasions, try potato latkes and sour cream or any number of salty tidbits.
Extra Dry: A touch of fruity sweetness but finishes on a dry note. These are quite versatile and can be served as an apertif or after dinner. They’re more or less in the middle of the spectrum.
Sec: Next in line for dryness, but you don’t see it very often.
Demi-sec: The most residual sugar of the bunch (outside of Doux, which is rare). This is the ultimate dessert wine and, perhaps, the most romantic of the bunch. Never sweet in a cloying way, these have a caramelized quality that is absolutely delicious. Avoid pairing these with fare that is sweeter than the wine, as the bubbly will come off harsh and dry. Fresh fruit works best.
Blanc de Blanc: This bubbly is made from 100% Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grape lends sparkling wine its toasty, nutty and rich quality.
Blanc de Noir: This bubbly is made from mostly Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grape gives it the refreshing, fruit driven, citrus quality.
Once you’ve chosen your bottle, try a few of these add-ins for customized cocktails. Consider offering the entire selection at your party so guests can choose their favorite flavors.
Currants soaked in bitters
Pomegranate juice and seeds
Berries, muddled with mint
Pear juice and a rosemary sprig, like in our Rosemary Pear Bellini
Orange or grapefruit juice with a twist
Sugared cranberries with a sugar- and black-pepper rimmed glass
Fresh pineapple and rosemary for our Pineapple Rosemary Crush Cocktail
Whatever you’re toasting with, here’s to a happy new year!