We tend to save Champagne and sparkling wine for special occasions, which is a shame—it’s a great way to start or end most meals, and some of the better rosé Champagnes (or those with a high percentage of Pinot Noir) can accompany main dishes as well. Regardless, odds are that you’ll be popping a bottle on Friday evening, and good choices exist in all price ranges.
If money is no object, spring for a tête de cuvée Champagne. These tend to be the top expressions of a particular brand; the best known are Dom Pérignon (2003, $160) and Cristal (2005, $195), made by Moët et Chandon and Louis Roederer respectively. Other fabulous bottles include Pommery Cuvée Louise (1998, $150), Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne (2002, $175), Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’Or (1998, $125) and Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires (1995, $180). Krug Grande Cuvée ($150), a multi-vintage, is a rich and satisfying blend of six or eight different years.
When in doubt, look for the non-vintage Brut that serves as the entry-level offering from a Champagne house. This will bear some stylistic resemblence to the tête de cuvée, at a fraction of the price. Some of the most popular are Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial ($50), Roederer Brut Premier ($45), Pommery Brut Royal ($40) and Nicolas Feuillatte Brut ($30).
Many of the major Champagne houses have established joint ventures in California. If you want to buy American, consider Mumm Cuvée Napa Blanc de Noirs ($20), Roederer Estate ($20) and Domaine Carneros by Taittinger ($25). The most highly regarded California sparkling wine is probably Schramsberg, which offers a full line of choices ranging from $25-50.
Looking for a real bargain? Try Cava, which is sparkling wine made by the Champagne method in Northern Spain. One of the most respected brands is Codorniu, with a number of choices retailing for $12-15. At some point in time, most of us have had Freixenet. Cordon Negro Brut, in the familiar black bottle, is a bargain at $10, while the vintage Segura Viudas Brut from the Heredad Collection costs around $18.
Prosecco has been the rage recently—while not produced by the Champagne method, it tends to be easy to drink, affordable and packed with accessible fruit. Mionetto ($15), one of the more popular brands, also offers their upscale Sergio bottling for about $25.
Finally, there’s an old superstition that whatever you drink on New Year’s Eve will determine your fortunes for the rest of the year, so choose carefully and enjoy.