Sparkling Holiday Wines for the New Year

No day proves more appropriate for popping bottles than the start of a new year, and Lauren Mowery knows great wine. Discover her recommendations for sparkling wines from all across the globe this holiday season.

From Champagne to Carneros, Sip on Bubbles from Around the World

Pop, sigh, fizz. It’s official: Americans adore bubbles, embracing them not only for special occasions but as an everyday drink. In 2017, for example, U.S. sparkling wine sales grew 25 percent, with similar growth on pace for 2018. Of course, no day proves more appropriate for popping bottles than the start of a new year. As you pick wines to celebrate the close of 2018, consider bottle-fermented and aged sips from Champagne to Carneros. Because nowadays, high-quality fizz comes from every corner of the globe.

Champagne, France There’s a reason Champagne, France reigns as the queen of bubbles: the terroir, comprised of climate and soil, is inimitable. It’s cool, both at night and across the growing season, which contributes electric acidity. Chalky soil from an ancient seabed lends mineral crunch. Then there’s the long history of winemaking and technique. Working mostly with the noble trio of grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier – no other wine in the world achieves the same thrilling levels of ageability and complexity after being aged on lees for years.

French Crémant While Champagne is the OG of French bubbles, the bottle-aged category known as Crémant is no second-rate slouch. Rules for Crémant production require the same labor-intensive techniques used in Champagne, though minimum aging requirements are usually a few months shorter. Crémant is made in a variety of regions, from the Loire Valley (usually employing Chenin Blanc) to Alsace, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. Stopping to consider that latter category, one wonders: if Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Burgundy produces the finest still wines from those grapes, shouldn’t Burgundy make excellent bubbles? Turns, it does, and it’s called Crémant de Bourgogne.

Franciacorta, Italy Exceptional bottle-aged bubbles aren’t solely the domain of France. In fact, Italy has two regions boasting fine fizz. Producers in Lombardy’s Franciacorta consider themselves Italy’s top producers of Metodo Classico, or sparkling wine made in the traditional method like Champagne. Though wines mirror the style and complexity of Champers, they transmit a sense of place. Franciacorta sits in the province of Brescia tucked into the hills near Lake Iseo in the north. Between the cool climate and moderating influence of the lake, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, plus Pinot Blanc, excel.

Trentino, Italy After Franciacorta, Trentino is the second source of superior sparkling in Italy. Tucked into the beautiful Dolomite mountains of the north, the sparkling appellation of TrentoDOC focuses on traditional method wines. As a result of high elevation, bubbles are taut and mineral-flecked, precise and elegant, with riveting acidity. The most famous producer in TrentoDOC is Ferarri, as the winery was founded by Giulio Ferrari, the genius who brought Champagne’s techniques back to his village in 1902.

Cava, Spain Cava, made in the Penedès region of Catalonia, is synonymous with sparkling. The appellation requires secondary bottle fermentation and traditional aging techniques like Champagne that lend yeasty, toasty autolytic notes to the wine. However, in recent decades, too many brands peddling in marginal quality diminished the category’s reputation. In response, the legacy winemaking family behind Raventos left the appellation, despite being credited with producing the first cava in 1872. Instead, they created a new denomination, focusing on terroir and sustainable farming along with the use of indigenous grapes Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo. Since their departure, Cava producers, put on notice by global attention to the dispute, have upped overall quality. Today, it remains a category of great value for lees-aged bubbles.

California As America’s leading wine state, it’s not surprising that California’s producers have honed their sparkling wine techniques. And advancements have often been made through the investments of the French. Taittinger set up shop in Carneros; Roederer built a house in Anderson Valley. These French sparkling specialists, along with homegrown brands, selected these sites in Northern California for their cooler climates and ability to ripen Chardonnay and Pinot Noir without relinquishing the key ingredient of a great sparkler: acidity. In fact, Roederer is frequently spotted on Master of Wine exams as a ringer for Champagne.

England A market skeptical of British ambition has finally admitted: English fizz is excellent and it’s here to stay. The category has not only found favor with a domestic audience, it’s winning prestigious international awards, prompting global importers to seek wines for their portfolios. So how did England, a climate considered too cool to ripen fruit, turn the tide so quickly? First, the chalky limestone soil beneath Sussex behaves similarly to Champagne. In fact, it’s born of the same geological shelf some 90 miles south in France. Add a changing climate, and suddenly harvests of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir deliver grapes now ripe with flavor instead of bracingly tart. Clearly, England is a region to watch.

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We appreciate the knowledge of wine expert, Lauren Mowery, J.D., D.W.S. She really knows great wine! Lauren is a journalist, award-winning blogger, photographer, and second stage Masters of Wine candidate. She currently contributes regularly to Forbes, USA Today, and Wine Enthusiast.

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