Great Sparkling Wines For New Year's Eve

You want to please your New Year's Eve guests with some good sparkling wine, and you definitely want something better than the $5 brands you see at the supermarket. What's good?

Two local wine experts recommend Argyle Brut 2001, priced at about $21-$25 a bottle. "It's a very well-made, sparkling wine from our own state with incredible consistency," says Jason Doss of the Chateaulin Wine Shop in Ashland.

Opening a bottle of sparkling wine

If it's your turn to open the sparkling wine this New Year's Eve, the key words to remember are "sigh" and "whisper."

"The idea is to let the champagne sigh, and not to use the cork to shoot the party hat off of your best friend," says Michael Giudici, owner/winemaker at John Michael Champagne Cellars in the Applegate Valley.

First off, make sure the wine is properly chilled, he advises. Then remove the foil, exposing the wire-hood, hold the bottle in your left hand with your thumb tightly over the top of the cork, unwind the wire-hood and remove it.

Now here's the crucial part: ";Place a bar towel or linen napkin over the top of the champagne cork and slowly twist the cork out, releasing the pressure with a sigh, not a pop."

Similar advice comes from Jason Doss of the Chateaulin Wine Shop in Ashland." The most important thing is to keep a firm grip on the cork at all times," he says. "If you hold onto the cork and twist the base of the bottle the cork will start to give and will easily be worked out of the bottle. Take your time while doing this; there should only be a whisper out of the bottle, not a loud pop."

What's wrong with shooting off the cork? "This abrupt way of opening a bottle will change the amount of bubbles in your glass," says Doss, ";and more than likely you will lose some of the champagne when it flows out of the bottle."

"Generous and elegant," adds Larry Richie, wine executive with Gold River Distributing in Medford. "Aromas are a delightful blend of lemon grass, pear and spicy ginger root. Creamy texture and micro-bubbles take hold, giving way to a long, pleasant finish."

Not many Southern Oregon wineries produce sparkling wines, but there is one that makes this field a specialty - John Michael Champagne Cellars of the Applegate Valley. So, if you want to go bubbly and local, consider picking up a bottle of John Michael Champagne Cellars Estate Bottled 2000 Blanc De Noir, Brut. It costs about $29.

Owner/winemaker Michael Giudici describes it as "a salmon-colored, crisp sparkler, finishing with a berry tang." He says it goes with all appetizers, and complements sweets, fruits, cheeses and desserts.

John Michael sparklers are different because they are produced using the "Methode Champenoise" process (aged at least two years in the bottle), not mass-produced using pressure tanks, says Giudici.

Want something good for a little less money? Consider Avinyó Cava Brut (non-vintage) from Spain. It costs less than $13 a bottle.

This is "the world's best value in champagne-styled dry sparkling wine," says Victoria Guantonio, co-owner of the Pacific Wine Club store in Medford; "Generations of winemaking and traditional methods set this producer apart from many of its peers." She says the wine goes especially well with shellfish, quiche, soft cheeses and even potato chips and fried foods.

Still too much money? Doss of Chateaulin recommends Cristalino Gava (non-vintage) from Spain which costs $7.50 to $9.75. "Excellent wine for the money especially if you have a large group," he says.

Want to sip Napoleon's favorite brand of Champagne? Don't mind spending $42 a bottle? Then get some Campagne Jacquesson Cuvee No. 730 Brut (non-vintage) from France, Guantonio suggests.

Not only did Napoleon take it into battle, he served it at his wedding as well. Last December, the French wine publication Le Revue du Vin de France rated the top 50 Champagne houses and Jacquesson came in third.

"The style is dry, rich and full, and works well with cheeses and heavier seafood dishes," says Guantonio.

Of these five, the Argyle bubbly is easiest to find, stocked by some supermarkets. For the others, check with your local wine shops.

Two other locals to consider are Foris Brut ($20) from Cave Junction and Longsword 2005 Accolade Chardonnay ($18-$20), a light bubbly made at RoxyAnn Winery in Medford.

And now, if money is no object and you don't mind searching for something rare and special, consider these French champagnes:

-Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose is the choice of Ben Qualkinbush, dining room manager and wine buyer for Amuse Restaurant in Ashland. "Most notable is the LONG finish. It just keeps going!"; Price is about $70.

- Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec (non-vintage). "The wine displays both roundness and mellowness, combined with a delightful freshness due to its gentle acidity," says Richie. Costs $45.

-1996 Duval Leroy Brut. It got 93 points from the Wine Spectator. At $52.50, Doss considers it a "great value for a vintage champagne."

How many bottles do I need?

How much bubbly should you buy for that New Year's Eve party?

"I usually plan on half a bottle per person for a two-hour party," says Victoria Guantonio, co-owner of the Pacific Wine Club in Medford.

Here's her formula: A bottle contains 25 ounces. A champagne glass holds about four ounces. That's about six pours per bottle – or three glasses per guest sticking around for up to two hours.

If your friends are light drinkers, or the opposite, you may want to adjust accordingly.

"It is best not to fill a champagne glass too full," adds Jason Doss of the Chateaulin Wine Shop, because bubbly changes temperature more rapidly than still wines and may not stay chilled for as long. "Half a glass is usually the best way to go."

And if you are expecting 30 or more for your party, consider buying larger sized bottles. "A 6-to-9-liter bottle can be a lot of fun and definitely makes an impression on your guests," says Doss. You also would have fewer corks to fuss with.

As with any time of the year, drink and serve responsibly so everyone starts off the new year safely.


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