It’s a time to let the world sparkle with bubbly love and affection.
Let’s break out the Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, American sparkling wines and French champagne.
To me, Valentine’s Day is every day when it comes to sparkling wine. I don’t wait for a special occasion to enjoy their silky elegance and neither should you. Here’s my rundown:
Cava represents one of the best values among sparkling wines. This Spanish bubbly is made just like French champagne with two fermentations, the second in bottle, which creates tons of tiny, bursting bubbles and a creamy, distinctive mousse. The biggest difference is the grapes. Cava is made from three principal Spanish varieties: Macabeau, Xarel-lo, and Paralleda (French champagne is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pino Muenier). Cava sells for as little as $8 a bottle, but most bottlings ring in at $10 to $25. My favorites are: Freixenet (prounounced “Fresh-en-net”) Cordon Negro Brut ($13.99) and Dibon Cava Brut Reserve ($12.99). Both are fruity, silky, and dry.
When it comes to Prosecco, there are many fine producers in the Veneto region where this easy-drinking, sparkling wine is produced from the Glera grape. La Marca, Valfonda, Mionetto, Ruffino, Jeio Prosecco Bisol and Zonin consistently make good Prosecco in the $12 to $15 range. For a few bucks more ($19), there is Sensi that comes in an elegant “18K gold” bottle – an instant conversation piece at dinner parties. Marketers have seized on Prosecco’s growing millennial audience and are designing luxurious labels to capture attention. As long as the price stays the same, it doesn’t bother me. There is a top of the line Prosecco made from grapes grown in the historic zone of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Asolo. The wines receive Italy’s highest quality DOCG designation. Intense and fragrant aromatics of flowers, pears, roses, citrus and apple combine with an almond finish to give these sparklers distinction. Even more prestigious is DOCG Prosecco labelled from Cartizze which can be purchased for less than $30. I highly recommend the Carpene Malvolti Valdobiadene-Conegliano (now on sale in New Hampshire for $17.99).
Champagne the region, located northeast of Paris at the 49th parallel, is about one-eighth the size of the state of Rhode Island. Yet this tiny growing range turns out the world’s entire annual volume of 350 million bottles of bubbly in an around the historic city of Reims. I have never tasted an inferior bottle of French champagne, so I am not going to dwell on it. You get what you pay for, and there are plenty of outstanding offerings in the $40 to $60 price range. I prefer crisp, clean, chalky (dry) and fruity champagne that finishes with nutty notes. Here are some favorites: Heidsick Monopole Gold Top ($44.99), Verve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label ($44), Louis Roederer Brut ($42), and Chuerlin Speciale Brut ($39.99). Also, Costco’s Kirkland Brut Champagne ($22.99), made in Epernay, is an excellent buy.
Over the past few years, I have become enamored by the wonderful sparkling wines being crafted in the United States. While the word “champagne” is avoided on the label for trademark reasons, these bottlings follow the same French process. Place a paper bag over the label of these gems and you’ll never tell the difference – except for the price. Here are my favorites: California’s Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs (100 percent Chardonnay), a creamy, lemony, silky sparkling wine selling for $25.99; and Mumm Napa Valley Brut Prestige ($18.99); from the Finger Lakes region, Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Brut Methode Champenoise ($22.99); and from New Mexico, Gruet Blanc de Blanc ($25.99) and Gruet Brut ($14.99).
Finally, if you want a sparkler that seems to be powered by the Energizer Bunny, try Chandon’s Bubblebar ($14.99) from California. I poured a glass of this recently and watched for 10 minutes while the golden beads kept bursting to the surface. It was mesmerizing, as was the crisp, pleasant taste.