Before shopping for a New Year's Eve sparkling wine, ask yourself, "What do I want from my bubbly besides bubbles?"
Whether dry or sweet; red, white or pink; imported or American made, elegantly austere or a fizzy mouthful of fun, the large sparkling wine category includes styles for every palate and pocketbook.
Ross' choiceBrut "Tache"
Tasmania and Victoria, Australia
Suggested retail and availability: About $16 at major liquor chains and wine shops (distributed by: Wirtz Beverage Co., Cicero)
A dash of red wine liqueur added to a classic blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir takes this sparkler one step over the line from dry to off-dry, with delicate salmon hue and just enough plump fruitiness to combine charm with elegance. Serve as an aperitif or with sweet vegetable dishes (acorn squash, carrots), sweet seafood (lobster, scallops, crab), fruity entrees (Waldorf salad), spicy dishes (barbecue, Indian and Asian dishes) and buffets, including dim sum.
The extra-value leader is cava, Spain's sparkling wine. With well-made, refreshing wines priced at less than $10, cava can be the beginning of punches, sparkling wine cocktails and mass consumption.
Gran Sarao "Brut" offers juicy apple and pear flavors with soft texture; Gran Sarao "Rose" is a mouthful of spiced cherries. Not bone dry, both wines are easy accompaniments to many dishes, including spicy cuisine. ($8.99)
Segura Viudas "Brut Reserva" is dry-ish and remarkably flavorful also for under $10. Segura Viudas "Heredad Brut Reserva" offers the complexity of minerals, roasted nuts and green apple and an impressive package. (about $24)
Prosecco from Italy is the trendiest sparkler -- and with good reason. Not as dry as "brut" Champagne, not sweet like Asti Spumante, Prosecco's delicate fruitiness makes it just right for breakfast (in a Bellini cocktail, originated at Harry's Bar in Venice, Prosecco's home market) lunch (all lighter dishes,) and dinner (international antipasti from Italian bruschetta to Greek dolmades and Asian spring rolls). Once produced with few standards, Prosecco producers stunned the wine world by enacting quality controls with legislation that is both timely and unified -- attributes in which Italian bureaucracy is not reputed to excel.
Nino Franco "Rustico" was the first Prosecco in the U.S. and remains one of the best. Creamy in texture with flavors of white peach and apple skin, snappy acidity, and a bonus of mineral complexity. Serve as a rich aperitif; flavorful enough for multicourse buffets. ($12.99)
The word "Champagne" evokes prestige, elegance and power and, so too, the wine. With the world palate shifting to velvety texture and extra-ripe fruit flavor, Champagne remains lean and steely by comparison, with descriptors of "minerality" and "toast" to add substance to a drink that is more experience than flavor.
Charles Heidsieck Brut "Reserve" (Champagne, France) is statuesque with supple flavors of toasted brioche, minerals and preserved lemon developing complexity and beckoning every sip. For an elegant aperitif and complement to lighter entrees. ($55)
Patriotism was once the primary reason to pay the premium for American bubbly over cava or Prosecco. Now, with mature vineyards and decades of experience, American sparkling wine producers offer the ripe fruit flavor that cold-climate winemakers can only dream of, combined with the structure and finesse of Old World technique.
Once it required a drive to Michigan's Leelanau Penninsula to enjoy wines from L. Mawby Vineyards, but now classic styles such as Blanc de Blancs and Cremant, along with proprietary labels including "Sex" and "Wet" are found in wine boutiques and liquor chains throughout the suburbs. ($18 and up). Visit lmawby.com for wine descriptions, local distribution and directions if you'd still enjoy the drive.
Follow the "sweeter for the sweets" guideline when serving bubbles with fruity sauces (quail with cherry sauce), "sweet" seafood (crab salad) and sugary desserts. These dishes call for the delicate sweetness of an off-dry sparkler (also called extra-dry or demi-sec). For dessert, choose a richly sweet sparkler, such as Moscato d'Asti.
Saracco Moscato d'Asti (Italy) is juicy sweet with refreshing acidity, like a perfectly ripe peach sprinkled with powdered sugar. Pour in small portions (3 to 4 ounces) to maintain chill. ($15.99)
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.