4 Bottles of Bubbly to Pop
Sparkling wine is not just for the holidays! To help us comb through the clutter, we tapped Kat Hawkins, Assistant General Manager & Beverage Director of Shaw’s Crab House – Chicago and one of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Best New Sommeliers of 2019 to share her favorites. From value-driven options to a unique pick from Champagne, here are four bottles of bubbly perfect for any occasion.
Everyday sparkling: Cava
Recommendation: Mestres ‘1312’ Cava, Penedes, Spain, NV ~$19.99 retail
Cava is Spain’s contribution to the sparkling wine game and generally are very affordable options. Like French Champagne, it’s produced in the traditional method, which allows the bubbles to form during fermentation in the bottle in which you open and consume it from. This method is extremely important in quality sparkling wine production, as it produces the finest bubble for the best texture. Cava is primarily made from the native Spanish grapes of Xa-rello, Macabeo and Parellada.
Italy’s best-kept secret: Franciacorta
Recommendation: Barone Pizzini, ‘Animante’ Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy, NV ~$36.99 retail
Franciacorta is another sparkling wine that makes a big impression without a hefty price tag. These wines have been made since the 16th century, but had been little-known until a resurgence in the 1950’s. Generally made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, the wines are gently pressed and then fermented using the traditional method. They see extended aging, just as Champagne does in France, and this imparts depth and complexity that is a hallmark of quality sparkling wines. Bring Franciacorta to any gathering where you want to turn friends and family on to something new and delicious.
“Champagne” from England
Recommendation: This vintage selection from Chapel Down is a way to really show you’re “in the know.” Chapel Down “Three Graces”, Tenderten, England, 2011 ~$75.99 retail
When you think of the hills of Dover, you don’t generally think of sparkling wine; however; you should. The chalk hills in England are a continuation of the famed chalk hillside vineyards of Champagne in northern France. The English have done their homework, leaned into the similarities in soil and climate and are making extremely high-quality sparkling wines. These are rich yet focused, with Chardonnay as the base in the majority of the quality production. Legally, they can’t call it “Champagne,” but it is about as close as you are going to get outside of France.
Back to Basics: Champagne
Recommendation: Billecart Salmon Brut ‘Sous Bois’ , Champagne, France, NV. ~$79.99 retail
There is a lot of Champagne on the market. It’s important to understand the blend of the base wines, and how they are handled during production. Individual Champagne houses have specific styles that they are known for. For example, Billecart Salmon is a family-controlled house that cares deeply about the land, the grapes, and above all else wants to convey that Champagne is a wine before it is sparkling. They use all three classic grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier) in this blend, however, they are one of the few who emphasize the Meunier grape for its power and texture. ‘Sous Bois’ translates to ‘with wood,’ and the base wine is wood-aged before being made into sparkling wine. Sous Bois is rich and opulent with a toasty character that is offset by luscious fruit and crisp acidity.