Only a handful of regions in the world have the capability to produce truly excellent sparkling wines, and among these stand-out sparklers are Italy’s proseccos of Valdobiaddene, the Franciacortas from the Italian region of Lombardy, and crémants from France, especially crémant d’Alsace. Although the flavors of sparkling wine sometimes take a back seat to the bubbles and the sensation they create, each of these regions have distinct profiles, mostly due to variations in grapes and production methods.
Crémant d’Alsace and prosecco tend to be a bit fruitier because the grapes used are more fragrant, while Franciacorta, made primarily with chardonnay and pinot noir, can be a little more savory in its flavors and are often a bit more elegant.
These picks make good to excellent holiday wines for celebrating, but if you’re the type who makes New Year’s resolutions, resolve to drink more sparkling wines with your meals. They really are excellent matches for foods, especially rich dishes.
Here is a baker’s dozen of sparklers for your consideration:
NV Adami “Garbel” prosecco brut ($15). If ever you doubt that prosecco is serious sparkling wine, pop the cork on one from Adami. Not only is Franco Adami one of the nicest folks you can meet, he is also an excellent winemaker. And, while I’m piling on the praise, look at the prices of these four wines — they are unbelievably affordable. This one is entry level, but it is still very enjoyable — a hint of fresh lime on the nose with flavors of soft, mellow apples and a little custard that make it broader, less-crisp and less-defined than the Adami vintages. But you can sip this all New Year’s Eve without tiring of it.
NV Adami “Bosco di Gica” prosecco superiore brut ($18). Rich but not intense; full, balanced but not lean. The savory flavors are like pie crust, and the fruity ones include fresh figs.
2011 Adami “Col Credas” prosecco superiore brut ($22). Intense bubbles in a lighter body — an Adami trademark — are the entry impressions to this complex, single-vineyard wine. It has flavors of both tart apples and creamy pears with a lot minerality and great acidity. A very elegant wine.
2012 Adami “Vigneto Giardino” prosecco superiore dry ($22). I enjoyed this wine on Christmas Eve with a rich, creamy coq au vin, and it was a superb pairing. All that said, the wine by itself is delicate and complex with intense bubbles — lots of peach and peach-skin flavors; very festive. As the word "dry" instead of "brut" indicates, there is a touch of sweetness.
NV François Schmitt crémant d’Alsace blanc de noirs ($28). Most Alsace crémants are made with riesling or one of the three pinots — blanc, gris, or noir, as is the case with this blanc de noirs. It has light cherry flavors with a little tanginess at the end and hints of minerality and creaminess. Although quite dry, it is nevertheless pleasant fruity.
NV Gustave Lorentz crémant d’Alsace brut ($25). Flavors of tart pear and some grapefruit produce a refreshing, light and clean wine, although not a complex one.
NV Mittnacht Freres crémant d’Alsace ($20). A complex yet crisp bubbly with flavor notes of agave, brioche, milled grain, and a touch of cream. A savory wine, it would go well seafood salads and lighter poultry dishes.
NV Jaillance “Cuvee de l’Abbaye” crémant de Bordeaux brut ($15). Many people think Bordeaux produces only red, white and sweet wines, but the region has a long tradition of bubblies as well. This crémant, made from 100 per cent semillon, is very crisp with a slight pear flavor, but it is dominated by a savory taste of milled grain — almost, but not quite, a bready brioche taste. Quite pleasant.
NV Antica Fratta Franciacorta brut ($25). The softer side of Franciacorta — creamy flavors and mellow fruits, primarily pear, with some spiciness around the edges.
2008 Fratelli Berlucchi Franciacorta brut ($35). This five-year-old is pleasantly gamey on the nose and has delicate fruitiness of quince, good acidity, and a nice tanginess in the finish. Pay some attention to this wine before you go back to chatting with friends, or its nuances will pass you by.
2007 Villa Franciacorta brut ($45). What a treat this wine is — not at all tired but enriched with age, robust, and intense with mellow apple, vanilla and lemon flavors. Very rich and satisfying. My Pick of the Litter.
2006 Bellavista "Gran Cuvée Pas Operé" Franciacorta brut ($50) Another rich and intense senior citizen, this one has the brioche flavors that many of us love with aged sparklers, with some dried apricot thrown in as well. Delicious and holding well.
NV Montenissa Franciacorta brut ($37). Rich and intense with pronounced flavors of fresh white grapes (not grape juice). A big wine, but a sophisticated one from the Antinori family.