Sparkling wine is appropriate for any occasion any time, but the holidays are its prime time. Whether for a celebration or to drink with your meal, these fine bubbles from France, Italy and California are just the ticket. All wines here are nonvintage unless otherwise noted.
Champagne sets the standard, and Nonvintage Brut is notable as it represents the signature style of a Champagne house and tends to be the most affordable. Look for these fine examples. Unless otherwise noted, all are blends of pinot noir and chardonnay with dollops of pinot meunier.
- Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé ($100) - 100 percent pinot noir, intense, pure red berries, elegant, structured, amazing
- Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee ($50) - fresh yeasty, lively citrus, refined
- Henriot Blanc de Blancs ($60) - 100 percent chardonnay, vibrant pear, citrus, vanilla, graceful
- Henriot Souverain ($45) - rich, elegant, citrus, pear, mineral, toast
- Charles Heidsieck Réserve ($65) - rich, red fruits, toasty, nutty accents
- André Jacquart Expérience ($60) - "Premier Cru Blanc De Blancs", 100 percent Chardonnay, brisk, pure lemon
Here are two other winners from my tastings:
- Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec ($50) - slightly sweet, fruity, delicate
- 2005 Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime ($110) - pure pear, nectarine, fresh bread, honey, nut, silky, spectacular
While Champagne is the benchmark, good sparklers come from elsewhere in France, usually labeled Crémant. Try Pierre Sparr Crémant d' Alsace - lively, flavorful Rosé ($25) and refreshing, citrusy Brut Reserve ($23). Also, Côté Mas Crémant De Limoux - fresh, fruity Brut ($16) and soft, citrusy Rosé ($16). Haute Couture "French Bubbles Blanc" ($30) and Le Grand Courtâge "Limited Edition" Blanc de Blancs ($18) source grapes from various regions.
Prosecco is Italy's most popular bubbly in the U.S. made from the native glera grape, its fresh, delicate pear and peach fruit is easy drinking and modestly priced. Here are some recommendations:
- Valdo "Oro Puro" ($21) harmonious and savory
- Tommasi "Tenuta Filodora" ($18) smooth, elegant
- Bervini 1955 Millesimato 2016 Extra Dry ($19) frothy, organic
- La Marca ($19) fruity, refreshing
- Valdo Brut ($16) clean, crisp
- Martini & Rossi ($13) floral, fruity
Lambrusco (not the sweet, mass-produced red bubbly) is seeking a reintroduction to American consumers as exuberantly fruity, dry, artisan-made from regional variations of the lambrusco grape. One of the best is Cleto Chiarli. Try these delicious, versatile, inexpensive wines:
- 2016 Premium Vecchia Modena ($15) floral, lightly spicy
- Vigneto Cialdini ($15) effusive, firm, savory
- Centenario ($11) semi-sweet, juicy
- Brut di Noir Rosé ($15) tart red berries, quaffable
Of course, California also makes fine sparkling wines. Two of the best come from Sonoma.
J Vineyards in the Russian River Valley has been making highly regarded bubbly for 30 years. Try these:
- Brut "Cuvée 20" ($38) zesty apple, citrus, cranberry, almond cream
- Brut Rosé ($45) raspberry, strawberry, fresh, delicate, hints of spice
Gloria Ferrer in Carneros produces some of the best, most reliably sparkling values from California. My favorites include:
- Sonoma Brut ($22) pronounced red berries and nice, creamy pear, apple and citrus
- Blanc de Noirs ($22) vibrant cherry, hints of apple, and cola with a creamy palate
- Blanc de Blancs ($22) crisp lemon and apple with vanilla and hazelnut
- Brut Rosé ($27) rich blend, enticingly aromatic and flavorful with tart red berries, apple and caramel