Wines for saying adios to a year we’d like to forget.
If Queen Elizabeth thought 1992 was an annus horribilis, what might she say of 2020? For most of this year, there wasn’t much reason to celebrate, and perhaps no other product reflected our collective ups and downs as the sparkling-wine category—Champagne sales, in particular, which are “often used as a barometer of global crises,” reports euronews.com.
Drizly, the online retailer, cited drops in sparkling-wine sales at the beginning of the pandemic, but, along with other industry monitors, reported an overall recovery in the market in the last quarter—no doubt bolstered by the Biden-Harris election win (numerous media around the country reported jumps in sales) and the promise of a Covid-19 vaccine.
With the hope of a new turn in both politics and medicine, there are a few reasons to pop a cork—if for no other reason, than to bid 2020 adieu with a bang.
Here are a few ideas for your socially distanced celebrations, in whatever style you choose to celebrate.
MORE FOR YOU
YOU’RE KICKING IT OLD SCHOOL
Bollinger PN VZ15. This is your reward for making it through the year. Its historic James Bond and “AbFab” associations, Bollinger (“Bolly,” as the Brits call it) might make it the coolest of the Grandes Marques houses or, at least, with the savviest pop-culture marketing. And the new PN VZ15 reflects that with a very on-trend naming scheme: Pinot Noir from Verzenay 2015, which comprises 50% of the blend. The producer explained the wine was created as a “little brother to Vieilles Vignes Françaises,” Bollinger’s famous tiny-production wine made from pre-phylloxera Pinot Noir grapes ($500). This NV edition, also 100% Pinot—is a more accessible reach ($120, but can be found for less). It’s full-bodied with Bolly’s hallmark richness, more in the realm of earthy and dried-fruit tones, hazelnut but elevated by stone fruit compote —apricots and peach. A complete wine to enjoy with egg or mushroom/truffle dishes, aged cheeses.
Charles Heidsieck. The smallest of the Grandes Marques Champagne Houses, Charles Heidsieck is more like a modest boutique winery that happens to have renowned UNESCO-recognized chalk cellars. Recent relaunched, the Blanc de Blancs is a pale gold, full-bodied wine that’s sort of yin and yang: Chardonnay’s pristine character (more chalky here with some salinity) in play with more flamboyant floral and honeyed notes and mandarin. At $96, it’s a lovely splurge.
Lanson. Founded in 1760, Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne houses, and one of the most approachable in style and price. Appointed the official supplier to the Royal Court of England 120 years ago, the brand has recently rebounded with a new platform touting respect for the environment and humankind. The Black Label Brut ($50), one of three in the market, has everything you want in a brut: texture, apple, pear and lemon-curd flavors, toastiness and persistent bubbles. It spends one year longer aging than the white label, an off-dry frolic with ripe-peachy and white floral tones that remind me of late summer days ($50).
Pol Roger. Another legacy house and a favored pop of Winston Churchill, the classic “White Foil” is a reliable performer. A blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, it’s sourced and blended from vineyards in premier- and grand-cru villages, with the final blend containing at least two vintages. OK, so that’s too geeky for most of you, so just drink it. It’s a complete wine with notes of white flower, green apple/pear; some toasty tones and nice fizz. Very polished for the $50 price tag.
YOU’RE OFF THE BEATEN PATH, ITALIAN STYLE
Italy boasts a triumvirate of high-quality sparkling wines made in the same traditional fermentation method as Champagne. Translated for you: Champagne heritage, Italian style and quality at affordable prices.
Oltrepò Pavese, Castello di Cigognola “Moratti.” Pinot Nero is the dominant grape variety for sparkling wines in this DOCG, and three sparklers from the family Moratti reflect what winemaker Gian Matteo Baldi says is that grape’s expression of the region’s “natural ripeness and freshness.” The NV “Cuvée ‘More” is quite dry for a brut (4 g/l) and is a good gastronomic wine with round biscuit-ness and lemon curd notes ($30). The NV Cuvée ‘More “Pas Dosé” has almost zero dosage—lean, clean and balanced with light brioche notes and sprightly acid ($30). Top of the line Cuvée dell’Angelo 2013, also made as a no-dosage wine, spends six years on the lees, giving this a deeper golden color and a taste profile to go along with it—almonds, hazelnuts, medjool dates. Tastes like a decadent splurge without breaking the bank ($45).
Franciacorta, Castel Faglia Cuvée “Monogram” Brut Satèn. Satèn, which is Italian for “silk,” is a proprietary production method in Franciacorta, using slightly less pressure. The resulting wines are creamier and silkier in style. True to that process, this Chardonnay-driven wine is soft and creamy with small bubbles—not too lees-y … kind of like a plush fleece wrap. A delicate expression of orchard fruits, white flowers, ample acidity ($32).
Trentodoc, Cesarini Sforza Brut. This was on my list last year, but it’s so good, it bears repeating. From the Dolomite Mountains, this high-altitude, 100% Chardonnay is clean as a whistle with a nice interplay between a bit of salinity and creaminess. Delicate green apple and pear tones. At $23, it’s a super steal.
Not made in the traditional method, but in the event you’re partying solo or six feet away, the ever-reliable Mionetto—kind of the O.G. of Prosecco—comes in mini bottles and a swinging carrying case, so you can responsibly distance and still have fun in small doses. And seriously, it’s more stylish than a can. $30 for the six pack.
YOU’VE BEEN WATCHING THE CROWN & BRIDGERTON
All that pomp, circumstance and drama calls for something regal in the glass and three from Nyetimber are jolly good. The signature NV Classic Cuvée is a classic old-school multivintage blend of the traditional grapes, with round notes of apple-pie yumminess ($55). Cuvée Cherie, so named for the winemaker, is driven by fresh-cut apples and soft lemon chiffon-like notes, with a honeyed off-dry finish ($70). The Blanc de Blanc 2013 is a richer expression, with five years of aging on lees and a higher residual sugar level (9.5 g/l). Buttery pastry and apples (think tarte tatin) with a tinge of lemon and soft creamy bubbles give this lots of old-school finesse ($82).
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2014. This is a shimmering expression of mineral/chalk-bed Chardonnay, with some impressive power behind it. Rich and round with creamy bubbles, ripe yellow apples, warm pastry and nuts ($89). The Brut Reserve 2015 almost splits Pinot Noir and Chardonnay 53%40%), with a bit of Pinot Meunier, giving this more of a fruit profile—red and green apples, pear, zings of lemon and tinges of clementine with yeasty tones, supported by sprightly mousse and some flinty/chalky streaks ($65).
YOU’RE HAVING A GIRLS’ NIGHT
Domaine Carneros by Taittinger. Long-time winemaker Eileen Crane recently retired, but left a sound legacy for her successor, Remi Cohen. The France via Sonoma winery can quench the thirst of the budget or splurge-minded celebrant. The 2015 Estate Brut ($36) is everything you want in a fizz: reliable performance, sprite bubbles, and round, apple-pie notes and baking spice. Le Rêve, the tête de cuvée made from 100% estate-grown Chardonnay, is a full-bodied, low-dosage wine with round pastry and honeycomb notes, baked apple and pear and marzipan—another yummy tatin in a glass. At $120, a deserved splurge.
Gloria Ferrer, Carneros. The NV Sonoma Brut ($22) is a well-priced gateway sparkler to Ferrer, the region’s first sparkling winery. Made in the traditional method with Pinot Noir dominating the blend, there’s a subtle red-fruit aspect, ample acidity, pleasant creaminess. Step it up a few notches to Carneros Cuvee 2010 ($80), Ferrer’s tête de cuvée in a sleek bottle, and you’ve officially got a party. Aged nine years with its lees, this tastes like a mature wine that has worked out all its youthful kinks with ripe orchard fruit, a lush texture and some exotic spice notes. If a wine can be called confident, this is it.