Wine of the Week: Bubbles for the holidays (Part 1)

WASHINGTON — Christmas is just around the corner, and New Year’s will quickly follow a week later, so now is the perfect time to think about wines that are both versatile and celebratory in nature.

Both Champagne and sparkling wines pair well with a variety of foods and are enjoyable on their own. And now that the holiday season is in full stride, it’s a great time to reach for a bottle of bubbly. Whether you are hosting a holiday soirée, need a well-received hostess gift, or just want to start your own tradition of enjoying these wines, try a few of the following suggestions and have fun popping the cork.

Before diving into specific recommendations, here is a quick primer on sparkling wines. While just about every wine-growing region on the planet produces some version of sparkling wine, it is helpful to remember that only wines made in the tiny Champagne region of France can be called Champagne (as denoted by the capital “C” in the name). They are produced using the strict Méthode Champenoise, in which the secondary fermentation — responsible for those wonderful bubbles — occurs in the bottle. All other Champagne-style wines are referred to as Crémants or “sparkling wines.”

For example, wines that use the term “Crémant” on the label are a sparkling wine that is made by the Méthode Champenoise — but they fall outside the boundaries of the Champagne region. Crémants might also be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne grape varietals. However, while Crémant d’Bourgogne, from the Burgundy region of France, does use some traditional grapes in their sparkling wines (chardonnay and pinot noir), they also will occasionally blend in Gamay, pinot blanc, and pinot gris. Crémant d’Alsace, from the Alsace region, often uses pinot blanc, Riesling or pinot gris in their sparkling blends.

Prosecco sparkling wines, from the Veneto region of Italy, are wonderfully crisp and refreshing. These wines are made using the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation occurs in large stainless steel tanks before the wine is bottled. While this may be a less-expensive way of getting bubbles in the wine, it actually works quite well with the Prosecco grape, because it preserves the fresh, delicate flavors that might otherwise be masked using the traditional Champagne method.

Here are four wines that will put a little sparkle in your holiday season. Next week, I’ll talk about Champagnes for the New Year!

If you’re hosting a party, Prosecco is a great way to enjoy a wonderfully crisp, refreshing sparkling wine that will make your guests feel welcome and your wallet say “thank you.” The Non-Vintage Da Luca Prosecco from Veneto, Italy, is perfectly balanced and aromatic, with crisp citrus acidity supporting notes of apple, ripe pear and white peach. Invigorating and playful, this easy-drinking sparkler is beautifully versatile and can be enjoyed on its own or paired with fresh cheeses, grilled vegetables, seafood and sushi. It’s a great value at $10.

The Domaine J.J. Vincent Cremant de Bourgogne Brut is made in the Méthode Champenoise style from chardonnay grapes grown in the Maconnais region of southern Burgundy, France. It offers a combination of intriguing aromas, including honey, baked pear, toasted walnuts and figs. The palate is layered with flavors of citrus, ripe pear, pineapple and fresh apple upfront and ends with notes of baked bread on the long, fresh finish. $15

If you’re looking for a sweet way to start a party or end a meal, the 2014 Roger Goulart Demi Sec Reserva is an excellent choice. It spends 18 months in the bottle before it is disgorged with a dosage of 35 grams of sugar per liter. But despite the level of the sugar in the dosage, the wine — made with Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada — remains youthful and fresh thanks to the vibrant acidity. It displays a white stone-fruit bouquet on the nose and flavors of ripe peach, pear and apricot in the mouth. There are slight hints of yeast on the sweet-yet-balanced finish. Enjoy this as an aperitif or with a fun dessert. $23

Balletto Vineyards is a family-owned estate winery in the Russian River Valley region of Sonoma, California. The area is renowned for growing two of the traditional grape varietals found in Champagne: pinot noir and chardonnay. The 2013 Balletto Vineyards Brut Rosé is elegant with plenty of racing acidity and has just a tinge of pink. $44

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