Wise and wine!
There's nothing like an effervescent sparkle in a champagne glass to inspire thoughts of warm, sunny days ahead.
So let's break out the Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, American sparkling wines and French champagne.
To me, every day is a good day for bubbly -- not just Valentine's Day or other festive occasions. It's uplifting after a hard day's work or a soft day of energetic retirement. I always keep several bottles of sparkling wine on hand for when a spontaneous celebration might break out. Funny, it always happens around the same time -- 5 p.m. -- when the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, shuts down her laptop for the day.
Here's a quick rundown to get you in the mood.
Spanish Cava represents one of the best values among sparkling wines. This bubbly is made just like French champagne with two fermentations, the second in bottle, which traps carbon dioxide and creates the tiny, bursting bubbles and a creamy, distinctive mousse. Cava is made from three principal Spanish grape varieties: Macabeau, Xarel-lo, and Paralleda (French champagne is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pino Muenier). Cava sells for as little as $8 a bottle, but most bottlings ring in at $10 to $25. My favorites are: Freixenet (pronounced "Fresh-en-net," $11.99), Cordon Negro Brut ($13.99) and Dibon Cava Brut Reserve ($12.99). They are fruity, silky and dry.
When it comes to Prosecco, there are many fine producers in the Veneto region, where this easy-drinking, sparkling wine is produced from the Glera grape. La Marca, Valfonda, Mionetto, Ruffino, Jeio Prosecco Bisol and Zonin consistently make good Prosecco in the $12-$15 range. For a few bucks more ($19), there is Sensi. It markets an elegant "18K gold" bottle -- an instant conversation piece at dinner parties. Marketers have seized on Prosecco's growing millennial audience and are designing luxurious labels to capture attention. As long as the price stays the same, it doesn't bother me.
There is a top-of-the-line Prosecco made in the historic growing zone of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Asolo. The wines receive Italy's highest-quality DOCG designation. The Prosecco here features intense and fragrant aromatics of flowers, pears, roses, citrus and apple with an almond finish. DOCG Prosecco crafted in the tiny subzone of Cartizze is considered even more distinctive, and can be purchased for less than $30. I highly recommend the Carpene Malvolti Valdobbiadene-Conegliano (now on sale in New Hampshire for $17.99).
Champagne, the region, located northeast of Paris at the 49th parallel, is about one-eighth the size of the state of Rhode Island. Yet this small yet illustrious growing range turns out the world's entire annual volume of 350 million bottles of bubbly in an around the historic city of Reims. I have never tasted an inferior bottle of French champagne, so I am not going to dwell on it.
Over the past few years, I have become enamored of the wonderful sparkling wines being crafted in the United States. While some producers follow the same French method, these bottlings should not be confused with champagne from Champagne. They are very good, but you can never put French terroir in the bottle.
Finally, if you want a sparkler that seems to be powered by the Energizer Bunny, try Chandon's Bubblebar ($14.99) from California. I poured a glass of this recently and watched for 10 minutes while the golden beads kept bursting to the surface. It was mesmerizing, as was the crisp, pleasant taste.
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