Pick your sparkler for the holidays the way you'd make up a guest list--by personality. Here are a dozen different characters to consider.
Choosing a sparkling wine is one of those things in life that is worth doing right if you're going to do it at all. There are literally hundreds of brands on the shelves, and they are definitely not created equal. Not even close.
Here are a few tips for finding your bubbly bliss.
Yahoo! BuzzShop around before taking the plunge.There are wonderful sparklers from about $15, like the Marques de Gelida Cava 2004 Brut Exclusive Reserva, a perfect party pour.
In Pictures: 12 Party-Perfect Bubblies
For those in mood to splurge, the prices go (way) up. A complex, age-worthy champagne like the elegant, all-chardonnay Taittinger 1998 Comtes de Champagne, Blanc de Blancs, will set you back $150. Thibaud, Count of Champagne, is said to have brought chardonnay to champagne on his return from the Crusades, and the Taittinger family not only owns his palace, dating from 1240, but is among the handful of winemakers who most notably amplify his vine's legacy.
Even from a sunny, ripe vintage like 1998, what strikes you about this all-chardonnay wine is its pinpoint elegance, a refined texture and closely woven harmony that comes in part from its nine to 10 years of cellar age before it hits the market. But graceful does not mean shy or retiring; this is an impressive mouthful, filled-in front-to-back.
You'll pay about $25 more for the richer, more pinot noir-influenced Krug NV (non-vintage) Grande Cuvée, Champagne. Many non-vintage champagnes--many delicious ones--are essentially "vintage" wines in disguise, made almost entirely from lesser lots of current harvests, with a modest lick of older, reserve wine to steer the blend toward the house style. Krug gives the reserve wines a prominent pride of place, employing reserves from six to 10 different years in this bottling, according to the winery.
Integrated into the already distinctive nature of the Krug style--all base wines fermented in small oak casks, the finished wines aging for at least six years before release--it creates champagne as high-wire-act, a balanced tension between a dry, taut crispness and a mellow, juicy, full-flavored fruitiness. Do not drink this champagne too quickly, or too cold.
But buyer beware: Especially at the high end, the price tags often seem as if they've been pulled out of a hat. A recent spin around Wine-Searcher.com discovered, for example, that the new Bollinger Rosé, non-vintage, was selling at one store online for $85, at another for $129 and elsewhere at nearly every price in between. The 2000 Dom Pérignon went for between $110 and $185 at various retailers on that same day. This presents a juicy opportunity if you live in a state that allows interstate wine shipments.
Know your palate. One easily avoided--but often made--mistake is to mix dry with sweet. A "brut" style sparkling wine, like the Soter 2004 Brut Roséfrom Oregon, will be a drier style wine, which simply means it contains less sugar. Serving a brut with a sweet dessert can make the wine taste almost sour. A much better bet would be something like the Zardetto 2007 Prosecco "Zeta," from Italy, which has a pleasing touch of sweetness itself.
Ultimately, your choice comes down to a question of personal taste, budget and ultimate purpose. For a business gift, there's probably no competition: a French champagne like the Pommery "Wintertime" Blancs de Noir, or the Henri Goutorbe CuveéPrestige Brut, still carries the full payload of prestige.
But--not to shock you--some people actually prefer the richer, generally less acidic balance of many top American sparkling wines, like the Roederer NV Estate Brut or the Schramsberg 2005 Blanc de Blancs, both from California. To others a lean, Old World edge of crispness is the glory of the thing.