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Bubbles for Holiday Cheers

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Sparkling wine and the holidays go together just like turkey goes with Thanksgiving. They’re refreshing, festive and perfect with a variety of foods.

So, let’s pop a cork and get the party started. Following is a list of some sparklers I’ve tasted recently that I hope will help you wade through all the bottles that occupy the store shelves this time of year. If your holiday budget is a little tight, don’t worry, as most of these recommendations are very nicely priced and delicious so you can proudly serve them at your next celebration.

Champagne: The Real Thing

We Americans call anything with a cork and bubbles Champagne, but that’s not an accurate description: Only sparkling wines made with designated grape varieties, produced with a specific method from the Champagne region of France, can be called Champagne. They are some of the best known and most expensive wines in the sparkling category. You can find them in vintage and non-vintage bottlings; the vintage Champagnes are more complex and more expensive. The non-vintage wines are still very good and much easier on your wallet.

Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut N/V: Epernay, France

Many of you may remember Moët & Chandon White Star. Well, this is the same thing. It’s now called Imperial. This is a very easy drinking Champagne. It’s a brut (dry), but done in a slightly fruity style. You will find aromas of apple, pear, peach and honey, with some floral notes and a hint of fresh nuts. The palate is rich, smooth and flavorful with a fresh, crisp finish. You’ll find this on the shelf for $50 to $60.

Champagne Aubrey Brut N/V: Reims, France

This is one of my favorite grower (meaning Champagne made by the same guy who grew and picked the grapes) Champagnes. This wine, from a small, family-run estate, has peach, raspberry and fresh lime on the nose. The palate is silky and round with a vibrant and mouthwatering finish. Priced in the mid $40s.

Prosecco: Italy’s Favorite Sparkler

Prosecco is sparkling wine from the Veneto region of Italy. It is made from the glera grape and gets is bubbles using the tank method. That means the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in a large tank, then the wines are bottled; that’s unlike Champagne, where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. Since this is so much less labor intensive, Prosecco is much less expensive.

Mionetto Prosecco Brut N/V: Veneto, Italy

This is the perfect wine for any occasion because it is priced right and tastes good. It has an intense and fruity aroma of yellow apples, a little vanilla and a mineral note. The finish is fresh and very dry. Excellent for making Bellinis and other sparkling wine drinks. Priced in the mid- to upper teens.

La Marca Prosecco Extra-Dry N/V: Veneto, Italy

This wine is very elegant for its price. It is delicate and a little less bubbly than the Mionetto but just as satisfying and refreshing. On the nose, you will find fresh citrus, a hint of honey with floral notes. The flavor is fresh, with citrus, lemon, green apple, grapefruit and a toasty note. The finish is light and crisp; and since it is extra-dry (that’s a little sweet, in sparkling wine-speak) it has a touch of sweetness. Nicely priced at about $15.

Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne

Cava is a sparkling wine which is produced mostly in Catalonia in northeast Spain. It may be white or rosé. Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo are the most popular and traditional grape varieties used in cava production, but there are a few other grapes that are allowed. The bubbles are put in the bottle the same way they are in Champagne — by secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Anna de Codorniu Cava Brut N/V: Cava, Spain

This wine takes advantage of the fact that there are grape varieties other than the traditional selections and uses 70% Chardonnay in the blend. On the nose, you will find aromas of pineapple, citrus, grapefruit and lime carrying over to the soft and elegant palate that prove well-balanced and refreshing, with fine and persistent bubbles. They’re excellent for making Mimosas. Priced in the low teens, this one’s a real bargain.

Anna de Codorniu Cava Brut Rosé N/V: Cava, Spain

Pinot Noir makes up the lion’s share of this blend. Aromas of red berries, cherry and strawberry with hint of green apple. Creamy on the palate with a good balance of acidity and sugar, and a clean, refreshing finish. Also priced in the low teens, it’s also a real bargain.

Etc.

Just for fun, here are a few random sparklers; in the case of the last two suggestions, it just goes to show you that they can make sparkling wine anywhere.

2012 Gerard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux Brut: Languedoc-Roussillon, France

I just tried this wine earlier this fall and it has already become one of my go-to sparklers. The persistent bubbles give way to aromas of pear and apple, with a hint of biscuit, hazelnut and a floral note. It’s elegant, balanced, complex and well-structured with a long, smooth and crisp finish. This is a lot of wine for around $17.

Gruet Brut N/V: New Mexico

That’s right, it says New Mexico. Champagne maker Gilbert Gruet moved to New Mexico in the 1980s and found a nearly ideal climate for growing grapes. Hot daytime temperatures dipped 30 degrees (Farenheit) at night, cooling the grapes and allowing them to maintain their acidity. This is a crisp and full-bodied sparkling wine with green apple, grapefruit and citrus aromas and flavors. It’s priced in the high teens.

Colmant Cap Classique Brut Reserve N/V: Western Cape, South Africa

The Colmant family is dedicated to making the finest sparkling wine and it shows. This wine is simply delicious. The clean and elegant nose gives way to aromas of Granny Smith apple and lemon with a spicy toasty/yeasty note. Plenty of freshness on the palate, with good acidity on the long, smooth finish. Priced at about $30.

It’s time to raise a glass of one of these sparklers, or your own favorite bubbly for a toast. And here’s to a happy, healthy and safe holiday season, and a prosperous New Year. Cheers.

Sam Audia is a former advertising and marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience in the wine and spirits industry. He is a wine specialist at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, in Annapolis, holds a Certification Diploma from the Sommelier Society of America, and Intermediate and Advanced Certificates from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. He can be reached at sippingwithsam@verizon.net.