New Year's sparklers

Looking back on the year, I know I'm not alone in marveling at how quickly it flew by. It's time once again to write about bubbles, so here is a broad range of sparklers to enjoy over the New Year's holiday.

  • Cava. This Spanish sparkling wine is crafted in the traditional French Champagne method called methode Champenoise — an intense, hands-on approach to making sparkling wine. Cava sparklers are seen on the shelves for as little as under $10 or as much as $50 in our marketplace. These little gems offer a good bang for the buck and come in a variety of dry to sweeter offerings. The more expensive Cavas are quite good and rival the French offerings in quality in the nose and on the palate.
  • Prosecco. Prosecco started to become a staple of American bubble drinking in the late 1980s, arriving on the heels of the ubiquitous Asti Spumante, after the Italians realized there was a need for a drier offering in the United States.

Years ago, I spoke with a well-known importer of Italian wine. He believed the Italians were frustrated they were not getting recognition on the shelf or on the American palate for their drier releases, which, of course, were well-known and enjoyed in Europe.

A blitz ensued, spearheaded by Italian trade tastings with restaurateurs and retailers in many of the larger, wine-savvy cities around the U.S. I remember attending many trade tastings in Oakland and San Francisco at which these Italian sparkling wines were given front stage. At the time, the Italians had an uphill battle against Cava and some of the non-Champagne French sparkling wines from regions such as Limoux.

Today, thanks to this effort, Prosecco has become a scrappy contender in the sparkling wine world and offers superb quality for the dollar spent.

  • American sparklers. In the middle 1970s, Chandon in Napa Valley hit the bubble scene with three wonderful releases, the blanc de blanc, blanc de noirs and the crement. A success story in American bubbles, Chandon joined the Champagne houses of Schramsberg, Korbel and Hanns Kornell in dominating the high-end sparkling wine scene. Now we have a few more fine Napa and Sonoma houses competing for a slice of the pie, as well as Oregon houses such as Argyle, Capitello and the venerable John Michael Cellars in the Applegate Valley.
  • French offerings. The higher-end offerings from the Champagne region are, of course, legendary. I do not have to list the obvious by extolling the virtues of the great Cristal or Dom Perignon, but I should mention there are very good producers emerging from some of the little villages within the appellation. Here you will find some very good wines that offer terrific value for the money spent.

I am not averse to buying from the bigger houses, but sparkling wines from some of the little producers are really well-made, clean and fresh with lovely flavors. The best way to find these releases is to frequent retailers who can give you some guidance on the history of these little grower houses and the taste sensations associated with their wines.

I firmly believe you can leverage your high-end bubble money by experiencing these hidden gems from Champagne. I believe the $40-to-$70 range sparkler money is best spent here.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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