For many, New Year’s and weddings are the only times they drink sparkling wine. More than 25 percent of the Champagne and sparkling wine sold each year is sold the week of New Year’s Eve.
If you’re buying bubbly today, here’s a quick primer.
Champagne is made only in the Champagne region of France using a process called méthode champenoise in which a second fermentation “in the bottle” creates carbonation. This involves considerable work and prices reflect it. Expect to pay $30 or more—even a lot more—for a good bottle of Champagne.
Quality méthode champenoise sparkling wines made outside of Champagne go by different names: Spumante in Italy; Cava in Spain; Cap Classique in South Africa; Crémant in France. All can be excellent.
Two other methods produce sparkling wine of lesser quality and lower price.
The “Charmat” or bulk process uses pressurized tanks to retain carbonation created during original fermentation. Charmat wines range from quite good to ordinary; they usually lose their bubbles more quickly than Champagne.
Finally, there are sparkling wines created by injecting carbon dioxide into table-grade whites. André is a leading example. A quirk of U.S. law allows makers to call this “champagne”—but it is not true Champagne and often not very good wine.
New Year’s strategy: Purchase a quality méthode champenoise bottle; enjoy a taste of the real thing. Open a good Charmat bottle for the next round. Open the cheap stuff when the party gets rowdy and no one will notice.
• Cristalino Brut Cava. Great value, crisp, bright, medium-full body. Spain $8
• Chandon Riche. Luscious, soft velvety texture, flamboyantly Californian. $21
• Moet White Star Champagne. Soft, peach flavors, No. 1 selling French Champagne in USA. $47