Few sounds say “Celebrate!” like a popping cork.
“When it comes to bubbles, I dare people to have a sad face when they hear that sound,” says Kevin Hodge, sparkling wine enthusiast and owner of Cellar Rat Wine Merchants, where he carries more than 100 sparkling wines and Champagnes. “There’s nothing better to bring to a holiday celebration than chilled bubbles to spread happiness.”
Apparently America agrees: according to the Wine Institute, a California-based advocacy group for the U.S. wine industry, 40 percent of sparkling wine sales occur the last few months of the year.
So if you’re looking to spread holiday cheer with a bottle of bubbly in the next few weeks, here are a few ways to mix things up a bit.
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Taste by the glass
Move over, champagne flutes, and don’t even consider serving your bubbles in a coupe. According to sommeliers and distributors alike, the iconic tall, slender flutes don’t make for the most flavorful tasting experience. And coupes, the wide, bowl-like glasses of champagne fountain fame, allow the bubbles and aroma to escape too quickly.
The new recommendation? Serve your sparkling wine in white-wine glasses. You know, like a wine.
“Sparkling wine is vastly different when you taste it out of the white-wine glass,” explains Caitlin Corcoran, the general manager at Ca Va, a champagne bar in Westport that carries 32 varieties of sparkling wines ranging from big names to small labels.
The size of the glass “allows the wine to open up more, so you get a lot of the aroma,” she says. “Smell is 85 percent of what you taste, so if you really want to geek out about it, the white-wine glass is the way to go. Get your nose in there.”
If you do prefer a flute, Corcoran says to fill the glass high enough for the sparkling wine to “tickle the nose.”
Mix it up
One-ingredient mixers such as honeysuckle syrup, an elderflower liqueur such as St. Germain’s, or a raspberry liqueur such as Chambord are easy ways to give a dry Prosecco a bit of flair.
More adventurous mixers might consider adding a shot of absinthe to create Earnest Hemingway’s beloved Death in the Afternoon or Beefeater gin for a French 75, the iconic Parisian-born champagne cocktail that celebrates its 100th birthday in 2015.
For a creative holiday blend, check out the recipe for the Plaza Lights Champagne Cocktail created exclusively for The Star by Corcoran (recipe below), who won the 2014 Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better
One trend is to break away from big-name makers of sparkling wine such as Veuve Clicquot or Moet.
“We want people to see that these are like any other wines, that there are top small growers and small producers that make brilliant wines that are worthy of attention,” says Jim Cooley, wine director at Gomer’s Fine Wines and Spirits.
Not only are those small growers worthy of attention, but many are also American labels, like Argyle Vintage Brut from Oregon, a classic, dry, sparkling wine with vibrant hints of apple and pear.
Extend the celebration
Budding sparkling wine enthusiasts will be delighted to hear that even after the holiday season is over, they can and should still savor their favorite bottle of bubbles, as Europeans have been doing for centuries.
“People feel like they have to have an occasion to celebrate. It’s actually one of the best food wines because it goes with so many different types of food,” Corcoran says.
A quick guide to sparkling wines
Sparkling wines are described on the label by the amount of sugar they contain in their blends.
▪ Ultra Brut/Extra Brut: Totally dry — no added sugar.
▪ Brut: Dry, no perception of sweetness. (Less than 1.5 percent sugar)
▪ Extra Sec: Off-dry, slightly sweet. (Less than 2 percent sugar)
▪ Sec: Dry, noticeably sweet. (Less than 3.5 percent sugar)
▪ Demi-sec: Sweet. (3.3 percent to 5 percent sugar)
▪ Doux: Sugary sweet. (Up to 10 percent sugar)
Champagne is always sparkling wine, but sparkling wine isn’t always champagne, because only sparkling wines from the Champagne region of northern France can be called classic Champagne.
For sparkling wines that have the same fine, delicate bubbles as a true Champagne, look for “methode-champenoise” on the label, such as Spanish Cava and Italian Asti. This means the secondary fermentation process happens in the bottle.
Sparkling wines without this designation, such as most Italian Proseccos, will have bigger bubbles. The secondary fermentation process of Prosecco usually happens in stainless steel tanks.
Sparkling wine recommendations
▪ Da Luca Prosecco, $10, Cellar Rat: This Italian bubbly is a great, affordable starter wine.
▪ Jacquesson Cuvee, $60, Gomer’s: Napoleon drank this classic Champagne — a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes — in victory or defeat.
▪ Henri Billiot Rose, $65, Cellar Rat: A staff favorite at Ca Va, this sparkling rose from Champagne recalls flavors of “a buttery croissant with strawberry jam.”
▪ Krug, $225, Gomer’s: Looking to make an impression? The Krug Grand Cuvee received 95 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and is a top choice among elite sparkling wine drinkers.
Plaza Lights Champagne Cocktail
Makes 1 serving
1 ounce J. Rieger and Co. Kansas City Whiskey
1 ounce Calvados Apple Brandy
1/2 ounce Stirrings Ginger Liqueur
2 dashes aromatic bitters
3 ounces sparkling wine
Pour in order into a highball glass, finishing with the wine. Garnish with a dash or 2 of cinnamon and an apple slice.
Note: For a punch to please a crowd, multiply the measurements by 8, and add 10 ounces of water to mix. Do not stir.