New Year's Eve is, quite emphatically, the worst day to try to buy booze. Instead of getting the party started at a proper hour, hundreds of people wanting to toast the New Year scrounge through picked-over shelves before waiting in line for an intolerable amount of time.
So save yourself the headache of hitting your favourite Liquor Mart/wine shop this Dec. 31 and jump on buying your bubbly sooner rather than later. Here's some useful information for navigating the sparkling wine section so you can avoid the throngs of revellers this New Year's Eve.
Most bubbly isn't sweet. Of the sparkling wine we see in Manitoba -- be it from our own backyard or the Champagne region of France -- nearly all of it is fermented dry. And while bubbly with the word "brut" on the label is always dry, those with "sec" on the label (French for "dry") will often have a touch of sweetness to them.
If you want sweet, look for words like "Asti," "demi-sec," or "halbtrocken," or check the labels for alcohol by volume that's lower than 11 per cent, otherwise your bubbly will be pretty close to bone-dry.
The fizz factor. There are a number of ways a bubbly can get its fizz. Bulk producers can inject carbon dioxide into the wine to make it fizzy, the same way your favourite soft drink is made. Alternately, the wine can undergo secondary fermentation in tanks and then be bottled under pressure -- typically called the Charmat method.
But for the finest, most well-integrated bubbles, look for sparkling wine that was made the "traditional method" or "methode champenoise," whereby secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle -- the same way they do it in the Champagne region of France.
Bubbly -- the perfect food wine? There's certainly merit in the argument sparkling wine is universally better with food than either whites or reds. Generally speaking, bubbly is great with hors d'oeuvres, salads, lighter cheeses, Asian/Thai/Indian fare, poultry and lighter pork dishes. A fresh cava works wonders with oysters and other seafood, prosecco and fresh fruit is fab, Asti and dessert marry marvellously and vintage Champagne can even work with milder beef dishes.
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Here are a few bubbily reviews to get you started -- and I'll have more bubbly reviews on the Winnipeg Free Press website (www.winnipegfreepress.com) as the New Year approaches:
- FREIXENET NV CORDON NEGRO BRUT (Cava, Spain -- $14.29, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This bubbly in the iconic frosty black bottle doesn't need any help moving units, but it just so happens it's a really good bang for your buck. A blend of indigenous Spanish grapes (Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo), the Cordon Negro brings tight chalky, lime, grapefruit and modest herbal notes on the nose. It's light-bodied and dry, with loads of lemon rind, fresh lime, chalky notes on the palate and crisp acidity that'll get your mouth watering. This great-value bubbly scored as well as (or better than) most bubblies at the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada, many of which were twice the price. 4/5
- JACOB'S CREEK NV BRUT CUVéE (Australia -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend -- as is typically the case with French Champagne -- the Jacob's Creek brings green apple, bread dough, tart lemon and mineral aromas. While it won't ever be confused with pricier French bubbly (it lacks the Champagne's complexity), what it does bring is pleasant tart apple notes as well as crisp peach and pear flavours. It's a simple, pleasant bubbly that won't disappoint for the price. 3/5
- BOTTEGA NV PETALO IL VINO DELL'AMORE MOSCATO DOLCE (Italy -- $17.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Moscato is a highly aromatic grape, and this sparkling wine delivers big time on the nose, with plenty of fresh floral, peach nectar, honey and light spice notes. It's a light-bodied, medium-sweet bubbly, with peach candy dried apricot and sweet lemon notes with soft, fine effervescence that brings good texture. For those that like their bubbly on the sweeter side. 3/5
- DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE NV BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT (Columbia Valley, Wash. -- around $19, private wine stores)
This Washington State bubbly is made from all-white grapes -- hence the "Blanc de Blancs" (white from white) moniker. And while I couldn't find the grape breakdown, it's safe to assume this is a Chardonnay-based sparkling wine. Toasty, doughy notes on the nose work well with red apple, pear and flint aromas. There's definitely some acidity on the light-bodied palate that's reflected in the lemon and green apple flavours, and a hint of residual sugar that keeps things from getting sour. It brings good intensity and will work well with typical New Year Eve finger foods. 3.5/5
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