Story by Dave Eckert
We are fast approaching Valentine’s Day, perhaps the most romantic day of the year. Nothing, in my opinion, says romance any better than a glass or two of sparkling wine. With the wide array of delicious and affordable sparklers on the market from a host of countries and producers, there’s no reason not to treat yourself or your sweetheart this year. With that in mind, I reached out to some of my bubble-loving experts for their thoughts on sparkling wine along with some recommendations.
First up, Wanda Mann, a Certified Specialist of Wine and creator theblackdresstraveler.com. “Sparkling wine instantly adds elegance and a dash of drama to every occasion. A popping cork is a signal to let the good times roll! Whether you’re pairing bubbles with casual take-out or haute cuisine, sparkling wine sets a marvelous mood,” Mann shared.
Mann says her love of sparkling wine started with Champagne (mine too). Her go-to Champagne is the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut (SRP $47), but she also loves a good Cava like the Valirnau Brut Reserva (SRP $15), which she describes as “impressively fresh and fruity but crisp and lively.” Lastly, Mann gives a nod to one of my personal favorites, the Ferrari Brut (SRP $28) from Northern Italy’s Trentodoc region, which she says is “a superb introduction to this elegant Italian wine from the mountains of Trentino.” Mann finds this 100-percent Chardonnay to be ‘fresh and energetic with fine bubbles and lovely crisp fruit flavors with warm hints of crusty brioche that add a delightful richness,’ I concur!
From fellow New Yorker and wine and sake journalist, Shana Clarke, came these thoughts.
“Sparkling wine is like a chameleon; it can hang out with something as casual as french fries, but you’ll find it’s the drink of choice at celebrations. Honestly, do you even need to pair it with food? It’s pretty perfect on its own,” Clarke weighed in. Clarke tabbed sparklers in particular: the Champagne Pierre Gimmonet & Fils, Special Club, the Filipa Pato Bieras Brut Rosé “3B,” from Portugal, which she describes as “beyond quaffable,” and the Colmant, Blanc de Blancs, Method Cap Classique (MCC) from Western Cape, South Africa. Clarke calls the (MCC) sparkling wines “the best kept secret in bubbly,” another opinion I share.
Next, the musings of world traveler, Renaissance Man, wine lover, restauranteur, professional musician, and all-around great guy, Rafael A. Nazario. “It’s not just the bubbles. It’s HOW they bubble. It’s also the resulting change in attitude that results. Could a case be made for effervescent wines producing an effervescent mood in people? I think so. As for recommendations, Nazario is all Champagne, all of the time. His favorites include vintage Krug, Dom Perignon, and Taittinger Comptes de Champagne (my personal favorite), and less name-droppy (his words, not mine) Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Billecart-Salmon Rose, and Pol Roger Brut.
Locally, I tapped the knowledge and passion of Katrin Heuser, co-owner of the wonderful Affare restaurant and curator of its excellent wine program. “One of the fascinating things is that there is a style for every type of food. You could, or even should, drink sparkling wine with every dish,” Heuser suggested. Some of her favorites are: Raumland Cuvée Marie-Luise Brut, Blanc de Noirs, 2013 from Germany (imagine that?), the Raventós i Blanc “de Nit” Rosé Conca del Riu Anoia Cava from Spain, and the Field Recordings Dry Hopped Pet Nat Sparkler from Paso Robles.
Eric Willey, Food and Beverage Director of The Reserve at The Ambassador, also noted sparkling wines affection for cuisine. “They work from an aperitif to a salad, as well some versions pairing nicely with dinner. And there’s no question that a nice glass of bubbles can be the perfect ending to a great meal with dessert,” Wiley noted. For great value in sparkling wines, Wiley heads to France’s Loire Valley and the Charles above Sparkling Touraine, which Willey says is “zesty with aromas of yeast and toast followed by the citrus of Chenin Blanc.” For a richer wine, Willey enjoys the The Moutard Brut Grand Cuvée Champagne, which he says “over-delivers for the price with its rich nose that evokes notes of butter, almond and brioche.”
And for dessert, Willey recommends a Brachetto d’Acqui, a semi-sweet fizzy red wine that Willey says “goes great with chocolate or is great on its own.” Willey suggests you look for the Castello Banfie Rosa Regale.
Finally, I coaxed some comments out of longtime wine enthusiast and professional, Joyce Walsh of Vox Vineyards. “I love a good bubbly because it makes me feel like I’m treating myself. I don’t wait for a special occasion either. It’s great with any food, or without. And I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but bubbles give you a different sense of inebriation that is particularly lovely!” Walsh exclaimed.
For her picks, Walsh started with the home team, a Missouri sparkler, the Les Bourgeois Brut Rose. Walsh says she was “impressed by its clean, complex fruit and fine persistent bubble,” and noted that “it valiantly stood its own ground next to a sparkling Pinot Noir and was awarded a Jefferson Cup for best in class!” Like Clarke before her, Walsh also loves grower Champagne, smaller houses that produce unique, high quality bottlings. Walsh singled out the Chartone – Taillet Cuvee Ste. – Anne Brut and the Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve as two of her personal favorites.
So, there you have it, six experts and more than 20 bubbly bottle recommendations. If you don’t have a lovely Valentine’s Day with those numbers, you’re not trying.