Champagnes, sparkling wines to toast the new year

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 25, 2013 

As 2013 draws to a close, you're either ready to celebrate its glories or drown your sorrow over its shortcomings. Either way it's time for bubbly.

Champagne. Sparkling wine. Vin mousseux. Spumante. Sekt. Cava. Whatever you call it, you need a glass of wine with bubbles in it as you watch the ball drop, the orange rise, the digital clock boop its way to midnight.

You have a lot of choices and a wide range of prices and quality levels. If the bubbly is superb, you can sip it slowly and contemplate its complexities. If it's not-so-much, you can add orange juice, creme de cassis, peach nectar or whatever floats your worries away for a moment.

Here's a guide to some of bubbly's widely varying styles.

The lightest bubbly style is "blanc de blancs." It translates as "white from whites," signifying a sparkling wine made of all white grapes, often chardonnay. These are light and delicate -- great as aperitifs or with raw oysters, light fish or chicken dishes.

Blanc de noirs, on the other hand, means "white from blacks," signifying a white or very slightly pink bubbly made mostly of red grapes, often pinot noir, often blended with a bit of chardonnay.

Here's how this works: Both white and red grapes have white juice. If the juice from red grapes is removed from its red skins immediately after crushing, the juice will remain almost pure white. If the skin-juice contact is longer, the resulting sparkling wine will be darker.

Blanc de noirs and rose bubblies are fuller in body, with red berry flavors and sometimes even a hint of tannin -- good for light red meats such as ham or pork, soft cheeses, or fatty fish such as tuna or salmon.

Rose sparkling wines can be quite full-bodied and flavorful, a good match for spicy Thai or Szechuan Chinese dishes. True fanatics might even sip these with roast beef. These are the true believers -- the people who indulge in multi-course, all-bub

bly dinners.

Another way sparkling wines are classified is by sweetness, measured by how much unfermented natural grape sugar is left in the finished wine. The scale is counterintuitive: The driest sparkling wine is "brut nature" or "brut sauvage," meaning no sugar is left. "Brut" is next, with so little sugar left that it is more noticeable in the viscous mouth-feel than in sweetness. The next level, "extra dry," actually tastes a bit sweet from more sugar. "Demi-sec," or "half-dry," is even sweeter, and the sweetest is called "doux," which makes sense again because it's French for "sweet."

Highly recommended

• Nonvintage Gloria Ferrer "Va de Vi Ultra Cuvee" sparkling wine, Sonoma County (89 percent pinot noir, 8 percent chardonnay, 3 percent muscat): yeasty aroma, lush, rich flavors of ripe apricots and lemons; $22.

• Nonvintage J Brut Rose, Russian River Valley (66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay, 1 percent pinot meunier): aromas of roses, flavors of citrus and red raspberries; $38.

• Nonvintage Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier, Champagne (two-thirds pinot noir and pinot meunier, one-third chardonnay): yeasty aroma, complex flavors that taste of breakfast -- toast, butter and honey; $52.

Recommended

• Nonvintage Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine, Carneros, Calif. (92 percent pinot noir, 8 percent chardonnay): lively bubbles, crisp, rich red berry fruit flavors; $22.

• 2009 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, North Coast (87 percent pinot noir, 13 percent chardonnay): persistent tiny bubbles, firm structure, aromas and flavors of ripe peaches and apples and a hint of candied fruit; $40.

• Nonvintage Chandon Extra-Dry Riche, California (39 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir, 25 percent muscat canelli, 1 percent pinot meunier): soft and honeyed and rich, with flavors of ripe peaches and apricots; $22.

• 2005 Millesimato "Lo Sparviere," by Gussalli Beretta, Extra Brut Franciacorta DOCG (90 percent chardonnay, 10 percent pinot noir): persistent tiny bubbles, rich and concentrated, with flavors of ripe tropical fruits and spices; $25.

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