By now you’ve probably secured your New Year’s Eve plans, but have you finalized what you’ll be drinking?
If you’re like most Americans, Champagne — sparkling wine if it’s made in America, Prosecco if it’s from Italy, or cava if from Spain — is not something you drink every day.
Instead it’s reserved for special occasions, like New Year’s Eve. (Incidentally, in Italy and Spain people drink their sparklers on a daily basis, much like most Seattleites drink coffee every day).
Seeing as we’re not in Italy or Spain, chances are you don’t drink Champagne (or sparkling wine, Prosecco, cava, et al.) except for once or twice a year. If that’s the case, the thought of selecting a bottle, or two, or three, to ring in the New Year may not top your list of favorite things to do.
That’s where we come in. We called David LeClaire, founder and general manager of Wine World and Spirits, located just off Interstate-5 in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. LeClaire is also a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Needless to say, he knows wine.
So what does LeClaire recommend for this year’s celebration? That depends on what you’re looking for, he said.
If you’re planning a party for a number of guests (read: wide range of palates and likes and dislikes), LeClaire recommends serving Italy’s Prosecco.
“Prosecco, to me, is one of the best toasting Champagnes you can get,” he said.
The price is nice too — typically a Prosecco in the $9 to $10 range is going to be good. And it’s widely available.
This wine is favorable for large groups because it has a touch more sweetness to it, without being too sweet. Usually it’s liked by everyone.
If dry wine is more your style, consider cava over France’s Champagne. It’s cheaper, while still a quality wine.
General rule of thumb: look for wines in the $10 range, LeClaire said. Anything below $10 may cause you to regret your purchase, especially if you overindulge this year. That’s because sparkling wines in the $6 range have likely been injected with carbon dioxide, which produces the bubbles and often the headache.
“The saying is: The bigger the bubbles, the bigger the headache,’” LeClaire said.
The smaller the bubbles, the better the wine. During fermentation wine produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of yeast eating sugar in the grape juice. For non-sparkling wine gas is allowed to escape; to make it tingle on your tongue, the gas is kept in the bottle, producing the bubbles.
If you’re looking for bubbly from France, but don’t want to pay the markup on a wine from Champagne, consider one from the Alsace region that straddles France and Germany.
These wines are available in the $15 price range and are very elegant, LeClaire said. Unlike Champagne, which is made from chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, Alsatian sparklers are made with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, producing a softer wine. One brand to look for is Lucien Albrecht, which retails between $15 to $20.
A handful of Washington and Oregon wineries also have jumped into the sparkling pool. That includes Yakima’s Treveri Cellars, which was featured in 2011 at the White House for its State Department holiday receptions and was served earlier this year at the James Beard Foundation dinner. Treveri specializes in sparkling wines, offering Pinot Gris, riesling, Gewürztraminer, chardonnay and even Syrah. You can find most of its wines between $14 and $19.
If all this talk about bubbles has your head spinning — and you haven’t even had a sip yet! — don’t stress. Go to your local wine shop or grocery store and ask the wine steward for help. If you’re in Seattle, stop by Wine World, they’ve got wines you won’t find anywhere else, and staff eager to help.
Tell the steward how much you want to spend, what you typically drink and let them do the work. As LeClaire pointed out, most people who ask for advice will walk away with a better wine than what they would have selected on their own.