In the past, my journalistic son has accused me of burying the lead, so today I’m just going to get it right out there. Mr. Smith and I are staying in on New Year’s Eve. This isn’t exactly front-page news as we have spent more New Year’s Eves at home than out painting the town, occasionally visiting New York City for a special New Year’s. A cozy yet festive dinner party at home with family and/or friends wins hands down over the often-forced gaiety of a raucous night out. This year it will be Mr. Smith and me, so luckily there are just a couple of things I now need to make my New Year’s celebration memorable and an important one of those is Champagne.
Since 1693 when the near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon first stumbled upon and then developed an effervescent pale colored wine that caused him to exclaim, “Come quickly, brothers! I am tasting stars!”, Champagne has grown to be synonymous with celebrations. Mr. Smith and I didn’t always ring in the new year with bubbly. There were years when we had small children that we were just pleased with ourselves if we stayed awake until midnight, but for the past couple of decades as empty nesters, it has been de rigueur.
A glass of bubbly has become my drink of choice and no longer limited to special occasions. I have sampled Champagne, Cava, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine and learned some of their differences. Champagne, of course, must be made in the Champagne region of France from traditional Champagne grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – and follow the traditional winemaking techniques developed by Dom Pierre Perignon. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also fermented in the bottle like Champagne but using less expensive grapes resulting in a lower price tag. Prosecco is from Italy and made from the Charmat method, meaning it is fermented in tanks first and then bottled. Sparkling Wine is a general term for fizzy wines that do not follow any traditional wine-making techniques and can come from any location, from California to Switzerland.
When you are searching for your bottle of bubbly, I believe the most important factor is the sweetness factor. Check the label for:
Doux: This is as sweet as they come. It might pair well with a dessert, but it is not for me.
Demi-Sec, Sec and Extra Sec: This on the label lets you know that they are still on the sweet side, pairing well with desserts, but sometimes also with spicy foods.
Brut and Extra Brut: Now you are in dry territory. You can invite me over for a glass as soon as we are all vaccinated!
Your bubbly should be served at 47-50 degrees F and never in prechilled glasses. And if you are using an ice bucket, it is best to use ice water rather than all ice. This helps the bottle chill more evenly plus it is easier to get the bottle in and out of the bucket.
You have your bottle chilled to the perfect temperature and now you are ready to “pop” the cork. Cut the foil below the large lip of the bottle, untwist the cage while putting pressure on the cork to keep it from popping prematurely, cover with a napkin or towel to prevent the cork from flying across the room or at your eye, and the best tip I ever learned for opening a bottle of Champagne – turn the bottle, not the cork. I don’t think I have opened a bottle of bubbly in the past twenty years without repeating this mantra to myself over and over until I hear that perfect POP!
After opening your bottle like a pro, you need to pour it into a glass. Many vintners recommend serving it in a white wine glass. The larger bowl enables you to enjoy all the aromas and flavors. Traditional Champagne flutes are better at showing off the bubbles, but their narrow shape limits your experience of the aromas and flavors. Coupe glasses with their extra-wide mouth are said to expose the Champagne to the air, allowing the bubbles and aromas to quickly escape. I don’t care. You will never separate me from my elegant vintage coupes. I simply pour small amounts.
While scouring the internet for any hints or suggestions that might be helpful for your New Year’s Eve toast, I came across some information that necessitated an apology to Mr. Smith. While pouring me a glass of Chandon recently, I asked him to please hold the glass and pour down the side to lessen the foam and lessen my wait time between pouring and drinking. Turns out, I was wrong. You should hold the bottle by the punt (the divot in the bottom of the bottle) by inserting your thumb and splaying your four fingers on the bottle to hold it. You can use a couple of fingers on your other hand to support the top of the neck as you pour. You leave the glass totally straight and level and pour directly into it from above. You don’t pour all at once, you “wet” the glass with just a splash, allow the bubbles to settle, then finish pouring slowly, about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. Sorry, Mr. Smith, and thanks for still being my sommelier.
I have never had Dom Perignon, but here are a few sparkling wines I have savored over the years and recommend. My preference is for crisp, dry bubbly.
G. H. Mumm Grand Cordon (We drank this at our wedding in 1978 and we’ll be drinking it this New Year’s Eve!)
Veuve Clicquot Brut
Mumm Napa Brut Rose
Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut
Chandon California Classic Brut
La Marca Proseco
Freixnet Sparling Cordon Negro Brut Cava
Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blanc (at $5.99 a bottle, this a a great value!)
I am lucky that Mr. Smith is often happy to share a glass of bubbly with me. We usually have a bottle or two tucked away in the wine frig and don’t require a special occasion to indulge. Sometimes a Friday night is occasion enough.
But right now, my favorite bottle in the house doesn’t contain any wine. It is an empty Chandon bottle from New Year’s Eve 2010, the last time Mr. Smith and I were together with all our sons and their spouses to celebrate. I had found a New Year’s Eve questionnaire online and printed up copies for everyone to fill out. The completed quizzes are in the bottle, waiting to be revealed the next time we are all together on New Year’s Eve. I have completely forgotten what the questions were, so it will be fun to pull these out and see both the questions and the answers. I hope we get to all be together before another ten years pass!
This year I won’t have all my peeps, but I’ll have Mr. Smith, Champagne and a kiss at midnight. I’ll take it.
May you always have love in your heart and Champagne in your belly.
C’est la vie.