Pop the Cork on Bottles Beyond the Usual Champagne
Champagne isn’t the only bubbly wine that makes meals festive. Sparkling wines from Italy, Germany, Portugal, the United States and even other regions of France provide similar sensations often for a lot less $$ and better margins.
Sure, holidays are high season for sparkling wine sales with the span from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day popping more corks than at any other time of year. According to Nielsen, the Christmas to New Year’s stretch sees sales explode more than 270 percent. “For many diners, adding sparkling wine to meals is a big part of the festivities,” says Francesca Maniace, wine director for Che Fico restaurant in San Francisco.
And make no mistake, Maniace builds lists that give guests lots of options to indulge these thirsts, including at least one classic Champagne, but also more price-friendly alternatives, including selections from Italy, Spain and California. In fact, she admits that sparkling wines are over-represented on the list.
“I’m a big fan,” Maniace says, adding that she encourages guests at the red-hot, 46-seat restaurant to override old-school ideas that they’re strictly for celebrations. “That idea is spreading. More people think of sparkling wines all year. Prosecco has helped break down seasonal associations.”
Sparklers also have traditionally been saddled with high-end hype, a notion Maniace wants to leave behind. “These aren’t just special-occasion wines. They have the same textual components of other wines, they’re carefully made, are very accessible and their clean acidity is great with lots of foods,” she says. “They just happen to have bubbles.”
At Henrietta Red in Nashville, sommelier Allie Poindexter has made it a mission to build affinity for sparkling wines, taking customers along for the fun. “With guests, the universal word for sparkling wine is Champagne,” she notes. “That gives me an opportunity to engage them, introduce them to alternatives from around the world that are well matched to food.”
For daily happy hours, the restaurant serves $5 glasses of Spanish cava. “It’s a delicious wine, but price and promotion are what sell it,” Poindexter says.
Some alternatives to classic and costly Champagne:
Hungary: Che Fico’s Maniace praises the country’s relatively recent move into production of sparkling wines. “They do a fantastic job in terms of value and character,” she says.
Germany: Called sekt, they tend to have a sweeter finish and lovely balance, notes Poindexter. She also points to German sparkling roses as being excellent.
Loire Valley, France: Bubbly made here starts with chenin blanc grapes instead of chardonnay for a light, crisp finish.
Portugal: Maniace also likes the dry, flinty nature of Portugal’s bubbly, especially those from Filipa Pato.
South Africa: MCCs—methode cap classique wines—are South Africa’s response to Franco bubbles.
United States: California and Oregon, cited by Maniace and Poindexter, are just the stateside starting point for excellent methode champenoise wines. Michigan, New York and Virginia craft lovely, well-balanced wines.