You know the feeling when you’ve happened upon a bottle of something momentarily extraordinary, and it seems like you’re the only one to even notice?
All around you, laughter and conversation, which is really the point of most evenings after all, not the wine, and you wish you could stop everyone and everything so they would pay attention to what they are drinking. But you don’t, because they won’t. And besides what’s the fun in that? And then the moment (and the wine) is gone.
That’s the loneliness of crowds — or at least a wine drinkers’ version of it — which also pretty much explains why it’s rarely a good idea (unless you have money to spare, and don’t really care) to open great or even very good champagne on New Year’s Eve.
And that’s a shame really.
So maybe this is the year, with sparse crowds and smaller gatherings (if at all), to take the opportunity to try a sparkler that won’t or shouldn’t just slip into the woodwork.
Perhaps a cult grower-producer champagne like Pierre Péters ‘Cuvée de Réserve’ Brut, 100 percent chardonnay, blending 60 percent of the 2017 harvest with vintages dating back to 1988. It’s a champagne that’s bright and full-bodied, brimming minerality, walnuts, sherry and a herbaceous note of… fresh celery or parsley? At about $65, with a long finish, it’s a terroir-driven sparkler meant for quiet evenings and for sharing.
I called on Greg Tinti, owner of Center Wine and Spirits in Glastonbury –one of my favorite small shops in eastern Connecticut — and his pick for champagne (also from importer-distributor Skurnik Wines & Spirits) was a non-vintage L. Aubry Fils Brut.
Here again we have a grower-producer champagne, which Tinti calls “an exceptional value” at around $45, “impeccably balanced” with notes of citrus, “delicate apple,” and a “silky texture” finishing with a “slight toasty and smoky note.” It’s an idiosyncratic blend of half reserve wine dating to 1998, and the balance chardonnay in used oak, pinot noir, meunier, and 5 percent local varieties, including arbane, petit meslier, and fromenteau.
Rounding out our picks from France is a crowd-pleasing Grande Réserve Brut from André Clouet, 100 percent pinot noir, kept six years on the lees, with ripe apricot, red fruit and biscuit, a comparative bargain at about $40. Perhaps less contemplative, but easily as fun.
And moving away from France, Tinti suggested good values in Spain and Italy — a Jeio Prosecco DOC Brut at about $16 — which was our pick last year as an ideal sparkler for cocktails — with abundant lemon and lime “fresh and lively on finish” leaving you “wanting another.”
A 2017 Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rosé Cava rivals its counterparts from Champagne at a fraction of the price, according to Tinti, delicate with red berry and floral notes at about $25.
Last, I tried two sparklers from California, every bit as refined as their French counterparts, a 2014 Carneros Blanc de Blancs from Frank Family Vineyards by Napa Winemaker Todd Graff with a nose of flowers and narcissus that seemed to leap from the bottle, creamy, medium-bodied, with citrus and the distinct flavor of fresh sultanas with a long finish at about $55. A 2013 can be had at Toast Wines by Taste in West Hartford.
The other, a 2015 Extra Brut Luxe Cuvée from Inman Family Wines in the Russian River Valley, is a blend of 28 percent Chardonnay and 72 percent Pinot Noir, zero-dosage and nearly four years on the the lees, it has crisp, racy acidity, balancing flavors of marzipan, bread and chalk for about $78.