I hate to burst your bubble, Snooty Sommelier Guy, but expensive French Champagne isn’t the only acceptable bubbly with which to ring in the New Year. That “Ooh la la!” factor can really cost you. But you should drink what you like, not what the sommelier wants you to like. So if the traditional stuff just isn’t your bag, I say bag it and move on to something that is, beginning with these alterna-bubbles.
• Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut, California
Established in 1973, Napa, Calif.’s Domaine Chandon was the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the U.S., making great méthode champenoise American sparkling wine using California-grown grapes. Chandon also produces the top-of-the-line Étoile label. I recently worked my way through a bottle each of the Étoile brut, Étoile rosé and the 2003 Étoile Tête de Cuvée, a winery exclusive. If sparkling wine is still the order of the day, and you’re proud to be ’Merican, but (shhh …) you still want bubbly with some old-word characteristics, here’s the ticket. $20 Brut, $25 Rosé at BevMo.com; Chandon.com.
• Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige, Lombardy, Italy
“Vino spumante metodo classico” is a mouthful to explain that this is an effervescent wine made in the traditional method, but the Italians prefer to call sparkling wine bollicine, or “small bubbles.” Italy’s Franciacorta region has a winemaking history that goes back millennia. However, since the 1960s, Franciacorta’s producers have been turning out world-class sparklers, which received DOCG status in 1995. Established in 1968, Ca’ del Bosco champions quality, excellence and cutting-edge technology. The flagship brut blend (pictured) is a delicious fusion of elegant yeastiness, tropical fruits and a hint of citrus. $33 at Marché Bacchus Wine Shop, CaDelBosco.com.
• 2008 Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Reserva Cava, Penedès, Spain
All Agustí Torelló Mata’s cavas are estate-vinified in the traditional method from estate-grown, indigenous varietals hailing from the Penedès region of Spain. The youngest vines are 60 years old, imparting concentrated flavors and aromas. The flagship brut is an elegant, versatile sparkler. Like all of this producer’s cavas, it has an appreciable dryness and acidity. $26 at Valley Cheese & Wine, AgustiTorelloMata.com.
• Okunomatsu Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo Sake, Fukushima, Japan
Affectionately called “Japagne” in some circles, sparkling sake makes a chic statement as your final sip of 2012 (or, if you prefer, the first sip of 2013). Master sake sommelier (kikzake-shi) Tiffany Soto of Sake2You.com suggests this sparkling junmai daiginjo by Okunomatsu Brewery, founded in 1716. Gently effervescent, this sake is fruity, yet dry. 290 milliliters, $15 at various Lee’s Discount Liquors locations.
• Die Hochland Imker Honigbier, Austria
If you didn’t pass out when I suggested a sake, then kudos for having an open mind! And it’s about to be blown: This is beer. Actually, it’s an extra-dry sparkling mead, and Public House cicerone (beer sommelier) Russell Gardner thinks it’s perfect for toasting the New Year. If you’ve never attended a Renaissance Festival, mead is simply fermented honey and water—honey beer. Therefore, “the beverage is dry, refreshing and totally gluten free,” Gardner points out, and coming soon to local liquor stores. $72 at Public House in the Venetian, DieHochlandImker.at.
• Taittinger Cuvée Prestige Brut Champagne, Reims, France
There is, however, something to be said for tradition. This summer, I was fortunate to get a private tour and tasting at Maison Taittinger in Reims. When one sees firsthand the care that goes into the makings of a truly iconic Champagne, it’s easy to understand why such care comes at a cost. Fortunately, Taittinger offers a range of price points. Taittinger Cuvée Prestige brut is widely available, as is the brut rosé, but a worthy splurge—if you can find it—is the 2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. $40 Brut, and $60 Rosé at Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Taittinger.fr.