By Rick Riozza

Goodness! – if that doesn’t sound like one of the best toasts to a long-awaited new year, then I dunno squat!  And sometimes we simply do need a nice glass of chilled bubbly to ring in some fun and look at the bright side of things.  For in the immortal words of Mark Twain, ““Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Cheers!

All right then—let’s review our past year of sparklers we’ve written on or poured, and are available at the markets right now as we speak to celebrate this up-and-coming new year:

(But just a quick side note: I saw a brief clip of the latest CBS 60 Minutes program where climate change is definitely having a major impact on Champagne production in France.  We’ve written on this phenomenon previously, so you readers shouldn’t be taken by surprise.  The vineyards need to move north, and we need to be enjoying the stuff while it lasts.)


We continually write on the fact that the production of sparkling wine is as labor-intensive as winemaking gets.  And any wine enthusiast can distinguish immediately the good sparkling from the mediocre.  The vintners who can produce a wonderful, tasty bubbly for under $35 or so, really make our day.  Here are some the tastiest we’ve enjoyed this year:

California continues to lead the way with affordable sparkling wine. One of our favorites is the Domaine Carneros Brut Estate 2016 ($34). If you wish to treat your household to a vintage bubbly, this is the ticket for the price range. “Creamy, crisp, and luscious with layered Asian pear, brioche and fresh ginger flavors that build vibrancy on the rich lingering finish”, is what Wine Spectator lauds on this wine. This always does a great job. And if you’re counting, it’s one of the highest scoring sparklers out right now at 93 points!

First on the list of grab & go sparklers is the Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé ($18) This is the producer’s non-vintage bubbly with a new chic pink label. For years now, the wine and its main competitor, Mumm, trade back and forth as to which sparkling is the best for the year. This time it’s Domaine Chandon: It’s a festive bubbly to be sure: Vibrant is the word that most wine reviews shout out. You’ve got strawberry, ginger, spice flavors, stone fruits, fresh citrus. It all works very well and will be the hit of any party or meal. It is available everywhere and it would be a great bubbly for the New Year!

So many California wine drinkers are in love with the Duckhorn/Decoy brand.  And rightly so—they continue to produce world class wine.  Ditto that with their Decoy NV Brut Cuvée Sparkling ($20). Surely it’s a delicious work and everyone in the house is happy when the cork is popped. One enthusiast writes: “an enticing sparkling wine that offers alluring layers of baked apple, white peach and orange zest, as well as aromatic hints of honeysuckle and vanilla. On the palate, a delicate sweetness is perfectly balanced by bright acidity, which adds poise and energy to the lush, pure fruit flavors.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, we wrote on the Unánime wine portfolio from Argentina. And quite frankly the Unánime 2020 Sparkling Traditional Method Brut ($20), that is produced from both Chardonnay and Malbec grapes is a wonderful bubbly for the new year’s toasts. The unusual—for a sparkler—Malbec really gives this bottle a boost!  It’s of course a white full-bodied bubbly that broods with intense aromas of buttercream and honey and a palate of fresh fruit that can act as an aperitif and work as well as an accompaniment to dessert. There’s an elegant fresh finish that shows its quality production.

Perhaps one of the best—or the bestFrench Champagnes around for the price is the Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Brut “Blue Label” ($35).  I’m amazed at how many Champagne lovers still have not tried this extremely reasonably priced bottle. And truth be told: Of all the Champagne brands in France, the Nicolas Feuillatte portfolio is the top seller (no doubt, in part, because of the low cost!).  French wine writers have written, “Fruit of the growers’ work and sculpted by the cellar master, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte epitomises the savoir-faire and inimitable house’s style defined by precision, elegance and finesse.”

The bubbly starts off with aromas of juicy pear and apricot, along with notes of honey, wild strawberry and white chocolate that meld into its zesty complex palate.  It shows a great balance of fruit and acidity and continues to a long finish.  What’s not to like in this Champagne at such a price!

For an Italian bubbly, we’ve really enjoyed the Rotari Brut Rosé Trento ($20)  A lively rosé, with a delicate mousse carrying flavors of black currant, apricot and blanched almond.  A delightful sparkler for toasts, aperitifs, and dinner as well.  A real treat from the beautiful region around Trento.

And finally, do make sure that your Champagne and sparkling wines are properly chilled.  So often we wait till the last moment—not a good idea when the clock starts ticking close to 12 am!  But if pressed, just remember, the best way to chill Champagne is in a bucket full of ice with some water—all which takes about 10-15 minutes; or magnums, it’s about 25 minutes.

If you need to hurry things along, use a lot of ice, plenty of rock salt and a little water. The salt will melt the ice very quickly and the very cold melted water will chill the bubbly in less than 10 minutes flat!  Cheers To a Sparkling New Year!