You can't ring in the New Year without bubbles. The ball won't drop. The calendar page won't turn. Go ahead and toast with sparkling cider or a non-alcoholic punch dosed with club soda—it's the fizz that counts. If you're not shelling out for real Champagne, there's a dizzying array of options, and some of them are awful. (Four dollar André we drank in college, I'm looking at you.) Luckily the Serious Eats (and Drinks) team has sorted out the delicious from the drainpours and now present to you our top choices in bubbly for ringing in 2011.
The prize for best New Year's party guest will go to whoever shows up with a bottle of Moissenet-Bonnard Cremant de Bourgogne (hint: they carry it at Astor Wines, right near my apartment.) This sprightly blend of mostly Pinot Noir with a touch of Chardonnay balances dense pear and roasted apple notes with a wonderful acidity. You'll taste toasted bread with cinnamon-and-clove spiced apple butter, a whiff of peaches, freshly baked sour cream coffeecake, and lingering honey on the finish.
This isn't soda-pop bubbly, it's real wine, with a lovely richness and energy. It's so much more interesting and satisfying than many other sparklers in this price range, and would be excellent with fresh scallops, smoked-salmon topped latkes, or uni butter smeared on toast. (Or top that toast with foie butter, while you're at it.) (Around $18, find this wine)
Cheers from California
A sip of Mumm Napa Brut Rosé is sure to get you in a celebratory mood: it's full of fruit and light, with a mouthwatering sour cherry note and a hint of creamy almond. Did we detect grapefruit and cotton candy? Could be. This wine is fresh and festive, and though it's not as complex as true Champagne, it's a great value around $20. (find this wine)
Our recent favorites in California bubbly both came from Schramsberg Vineyards. Their 2007 Blanc de Noirs is chewy and rich (barrel fermentation of some lots adds body). This is a fruit-driven, appealing wine with apricots and roses on the nose, and a flood of juicy strawberry and butterscotch flavor. This decadent wine (which gives a slight impression of frothy sweetness) would be superb with pad thai or egg rolls, or (as the winemaker suggests) with nut-crusted halibut. Delicious! (Around $30, find this wine here, other vintages here). For those who prefer a more mineral-forward, dry pink sparkler, Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé is just the ticket. This focused rosé has fine lively bubbles, and a burst of cranberry linzer tarts and a bushel of raspberries. This wine clocks in at 13.1% ABV, which is party of why it feels so potent and dense, but the toasty, yeasty, and tart berry flavors make it a showstopper. (Around $23, find this wine)
Cava can be a terrific value. We'll happily drink Segura Viudas Brut Reserva or Extra Dry, and we like the richness of Bodegas Muga Casa Conde de Haro (though some of our tasters disliked a slight bitter note on the finish of that one.) Even better is Freixenet's Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut, which is pretty widely available and worth the extra few dollars. Good body, light toasted marshmallow and yeast notes, hints of hazelnut, figs, and toast with lemon tea. Pair it with Manchego, olives, and ham. (Around $17, find this wine here and here.)
Our recent cava obsession, though, is for a slightly more challenging golden wine made from 100% Macabeo that has just a light fizz but a ton of flavor. Torre Oria Cava Brut is a serious sipper: potent and intense, with rich notes of crabapples and golden raisins, a hint of caramel, and a dry finish. If you close your eyes, you'll taste juicy Rainier cherries, lemon peel, clay, toasted biscuits and apricot jam. If you're hosting a New Year's Eve dinner party, pour this with paella or turkey cutlets cooked with mushrooms and a touch of sherry. (Around $18, new arrival.)
Our longstanding top affordable prosecco pick is Col Vetoraz (reviewed here) and we're big fans of the Astoria Lounge series (reviewed here). But we're always up for sampling prosecco and found a few more to love this winter.
We poured Bisol Crede Prosecco di Valdobbiadene at our office holiday party. It's light and refreshing, with tart apple and perfumey floral notes and a not-so-subtle hint of peach. This would make the perfect bellini, and though it's not super complex, it's a fun wine to drink. ($17-$20, find this wine)
Another festive choice is Adami Garbèl Prosecco Brut, a light and likeable fizz with intense peach and pear notes and a hint of honeydew. This refreshing wine has just a hint of fragrant sweetness, making it an excellent match with shrimp or crabmeat. (Around $15, find this wine) We also like Adami's slightly more sophisticated Bosco di Gica, which has finer bubbles and a delicate musk, but at a party, we'd go for the easy-drinking Garbèl.
Disclosure: All wines except the Moissenet-Bonnard Cremant were provided as press samples for review.