Thursday, December 30, 2010

Simple sparkling wine advice: drink more, worry less

It's never too early for bubbly
This week every wine writer in the world is advising you on sparkling wines -- top Champagnes, best values, offbeat oddities, safe choices.

I'm going to take a different, more straightforward approach.

Good sparkling wine costs more than good still wine because it requires more effort. The wine is fermented twice; once in a tank or barrel, and again in the bottle to produce the bubbles.

So unlike still wine, which Fred Franzia proved can sometimes be produced drinkably for as little as $2 a bottle, there's a lower limit to how much you can pay for bubbly and not expect to get swill.

What is that lower limit? About $10 for Prosecco, which is made more cheaply -- essentially carbonated like soda pop -- and about $15 for everything else.

So that's my simple advice: Spend at least that much.

If you think you don't like sparkling wine -- or you think it gives you a headache -- you almost certainly have only been drinking the cheap stuff. I can't count the number of people for whom I've had the pleasure to pour their first glass of good sparkling wine. It's a mind-opening experience; bubbly really does make life better.

But you don't have to spend $200 on a bottle of Cristal to experience this (although Cristal really is delicious).

However, you do have to resign yourself to spending $15 a bottle (nothing against Prosecco, which is a fun wine, but it is to good sparkling wine what Velveeta is to cheddar.)

I have in the past recommended specific bottles -- I had an article on this topic in Decanter this year* -- and every other wine writer in the world is doing just that. But having recently seen grocery stores full of Cook's and Andre and Asti Spumante, I think it's less important to send people on a single-bottle hunt, and more important to stress the basics.

(*Decanter keeps ratings behind a pay wall, but I will reveal that I recommended 2 Schramsbergs, 2 Gloria Ferrers, a J and a Roederer Estate.)

So spend at least $15; $20-$25 is better still.

I would buy, literally, any Champagne and not worry about it. Seriously. If it's actually from France's Champagne region, give it a shot. I'm saying this because I asked myself this question: Would I rather order a glass of my least-favorite Champagne brand, or a glass of a recommended Cava or Prosecco? For me, it's the former.

Or I would buy any of these fine American brands:

Domaine Carneros
Gloria Ferrer

And just don't worry about it. Drink more bubbly. There's a joke about oral sex that really should apply to Champagne or top-level American sparkling wine: Last night I had the worst glass of bubbly I had all year. It was terrific.


Spencer said...

Why do many American sparkling wine bottles have ugly, baroque labeling and heavy, heavy foiling around the neck? I'm thinking of even some of the good ones--Roederer and Scharffenberger, for instance. Is it just orthodoxy and pitching to what people expect? Thoughts?

Tobias said...

Prosecco is not done with the 'Sprite method'. It's done with charmat that is more sophisticated than fizzy pop. Prosecco isn't the greatest wine in the world but it deserves to be acknowledged as a wine instead of soda.

Anonymous said...

LOVE this post! People need to be more empowered to just go out and TRY. Nothing is more satisfying as a consumer than finding a wine YOURSELF that rocks! I think guidelines and tips are more useful than recommending a specific wine. Thanks!