Sparkling wines that will blow your cork

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Cheers to the new year. - PHOTO: Provided

Are you strapped for ideas for celebrating New Year’s Eve? Have you received a last-minute party invitation and don’t know what to bring?

Relax. Nothing shows sophistication like Champagne – if you can afford the product from the Champagne region of north of Paris, where the concept of sparkling wine originated. Lesson one: All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine can legally be called Champagne.

Lesson two is that there is a broad array of delicious sparklers produced around the world that sell for a variety of prices, often much less than Champagne. You can broaden everyone’s palate by serving a sparkling wine they never experienced before.

Here are some suggestions to help add a little effervescence – at a reasonable cost – to the last night of 2012.

Some of the best inexpensive wines come from Spain, and the Absidis Brut Cava ($11) from the Catalonia region is an appealing sparkler. The wine presents with a citrus nose that has a slight floral edging and a buttery lemon flavor with soft bubbles on the palate. It’s made from 40 percent Xarel-lo, 30 percent Macabeo and 30 percent Parellada – the traditional Cava grapes. This one’s bright and breezy.

The same vineyard also produces Absidis Rosé ($12), a wine produced from 12 different varietals. In addition to the Spanish grapes mentioned above, the rosé also contains the classic Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, along with the Champagne grapes pinot noir and chardonnay – and even a little muscat thrown in. The resulting complexity gives way to a surprising simplicity and freshness that delights the palate.

Those who like it a little sweeter might opt for the Moscato Dolce Spumante ($14), an Italian sparkler from the Veneto and Piedmont regions. The white-peach-and-honey nose gives way to similar flavors on the palate punctuated by the crisp effervescence caused by tiny, but insistent bubbles.

Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blanc ($17), Piper Hiedsieck’s California cousin, draws on a 95-percent chardonnay blend for a very pleasing delivery. The wine presents with a citrus-floral nose with a touch of green apple and has a dry, delicate body with tiny bubbles on the palate. It’s very refreshing and crisp.

There aren’t many sparkling reds, but Australia’s Bleasdale Vineyards offers a noteworthy Red Brute Sparkling Shiraz ($16). Produced entirely from shiraz (syrah) grapes, the wine pours a vivid ruby color and offers a cherry/raspberry nose. The palate experiences the same red fruits, with a bit of pepper, spice and a fine, rich finish for a very nice change of pace.

For something a little special, try J Cuvee 20 ($24). It’s the Russian River Valley vineyard’s 20th anniversary wine, produced from an equal blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes with a little pinot meunier thrown in. The nose is redolent with lemon peel and honeysuckle, edged with a little yeast. The citrus carries over to the palate with apple, pear and almond notes. The lively acidity and lingering finish make this a pleasing choice.

We didn’t know North Carolina’s historic Biltmore Estate had its own winery, but it appears to have a rather prolific winemaking operation located in the estate’s former dairy. The winery produces a variety of sparklers, including the Blanc de Blanc “Method Champenoise” Brut ($20) from chardonnay grapes harvested in California’s Russian River Valley. With a nose of yeast, hazelnut and honey, along with a well-balanced palate of green apple and pear that adds an acidic effervescence, the wine makes a very good showing.

Korbel Natural ($16) offers a similar profile from the same region using the same grape varietals, but with a slightly crisper, drier quality. It’s almost as good as the wines above, but at a slightly better price.

Finally, a flute of the Henkell Blanc de Blanc ($14) is a fitting accompaniment to any end-of-the-year celebration. Light and bubbly, the German sparkler delivers notes of white peach and grapefruit with a little yeast at the edges, tiny bubbles and an acidity that offers just the right amount of refreshment.

Any of these wines will help your celebration, whether your year was a challenging or cherished one.

Cheers!