I am an unabashed fan of sparklers – so much so that an editor once called me Bubbles Melnik.
Every year I get excited for the bubbly tastings and this year, as I tasted through two flights of sparklers, I was taken by the quality of the top scorers. It made me think of the tasting I had once where I gathered a panel of American and French palates. I’ll never forget the surprise on the faces of the French tasters when the sparkers were unbagged. They were amazed at the quality of California bubbly and had thought some to be French. It was a “California comes of age” moment.
This week I roll out the first of two flights of California sparklers — the first $35 and below and the second, $36 and above. As we discover these sparklers and others during bubbly season, I figure it’s a good time for a few pointers for the practical consumer:
1) Yes, it is possible to budget the good life. Tasty top picks under $25 include:
Roederer Estate’s NV Anderson Valley Brut
Domaine Chandon’s Brut Classic, NV California
Mirabelle NV North Coast Brut
2) If you’re curious as to how much bubbly to buy for a gathering, here’s all
you need to know: There’s roughly five servings from each 750 ml bottle.
3) When value shopping, it’s key to find bottles that are made in the
traditional method that Champagne is produced. Look for this wording on
the label: “Traditional method” or “fermented in this bottle.” If you see a
label that says “Charmat Process” or “fermented in the bottle,” beware.
The sparklers’ secondary fermentation was in a big container or a tank
and this process will create big soda pop bubbles, not to mention a less
complex, refined sparkler.
4) Two key serving tips: A) When chilling bubbly, never put bottles in the
freezer. Just put them in the fridge for a few hours or if you’re in a hurry
put a bottle in a champagne bucket half filled with ice and water for 30
minutes. B) When choosing glassware, opt for the deep fluted glasses over
the tulip –shaped to get the best aromas and flavors, not to mention the
best view of the spiraling bubbles.
5) Good eats with bubbly include: Hog Island Oyster, Sterling Caviar, smoked
salmon, steak tartare with cilantro or avocado, Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese and
sliced pears with prosciutto and hazelnuts.
6) Finally, a life-saving reminder: Cork can fly 250 miles per hour so by all
means uncork with care and keep this secret in mind. Contrary to common
belief, the best way to open a bottle is not to pop the cork, but rather to
slowly allow for the cork’s release, achieving an ideal “sigh” as the cork
exits the bottle. One last tip: be sure to make the process look easy.