When most people think of sparkling wine, they think of something golden, not pink. But Pinot Noir and lesser-known Pinot Meunier, both red grapes, are key components of many sparklers. Either can make memorable rosé Champagne, and indeed, rosé Champagne counts as some of the finest sparkling wine money can buy. Many other wine regions make pink fizz as well, and though some bottlings are simple and sweet, others have enticingly complex flavors. If rosé Champagne is too pricey for the occasion, seek out high-quality rosé Cava, such as Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé of Pinot Noir.
I felt terribly judgmental of the young, stylish French couple sitting at the table next to me at Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik. Like me, they wanted to start their meal on a festive note with some sparkling wine. But instead of ordering flutes of the lovely Tomac Millennium Brut from Plešivica, Croatia’s bubbly hub, they got glasses of boring old Prosecco. Perhaps, in their ill-informed hauteur, they believed Croatia incapable of producing palatable sparkling wine. Au contraire! Tomac Millennium Brut, a blend of Plavec Žuti and Chardonnay, has elegantly small bubbles, focused acids and bright fruit. The Tomac Brut Rosé is equally delicious. Alas, I didn’t have the chance to try the Tomac Pjenušac Amfora Brut, fermented in terra-cotta amphorae before bottling. As of this writing, I can find no U.S. importers of this wine, which is a shame.
Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene
Wine shops are awash in cheap Prosecco, Italy’s most famous sparkler, but not all Prosecco is boring, of course. One easy way to separate out the better Proseccos is to look for the letters “DOCG” (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) on the bottle, as opposed to just “DOC” (Denomination of Controlled Origin). Also look for “Valdobbiadene” or “Conegliano” on a label, indicating that the Prosecco comes from the best vineyards near those two towns. Top Proseccos have unexpected complexity, especially considering the price.
Those with a larger bubbly budget should opt instead for Franciacorta, a sparkling wine from the north of Italy that reaches Champagne’s heights of quality. At the lower end, a fine wine like elegant La Montina Brut, which offers both complexity and crispness, can be had for around $25. Fans of Blanc de Blancs should seek out Franciacorta Satèn, made entirely from Chardonnay. Barone Pizzini makes a superb Satèn, for example, aging it 30 to 40 months before release.
Fashionable sorts use the nickname “Pét-Nat” to refer to pétillant naturel wines, or sparklers made in the méthode ancestrale. In this method, the wine is bottled before the first fermentation is complete, and it finishes in the bottle. There is no secondary fermentation, as in the méthode traditionelle, and no disgorgement of lees to remove sediment. The resulting wines are often cloudy and more softly fizzy than other kinds of sparklers, and they can be found around the world. I recently tried a wonderfully floral and minerally Onward Wines Pét-Nat Malvasia Bianca from the Suisun Valley east of Napa.
On the other hand, there’s nothing fashionable about sparkling Shiraz. I can’t recall ever seeing one on a restaurant wine list, and few sommeliers would dare to recommend such a thing. But every now and then, I like to shock my guests by pouring this deep-purple bubbly from Australia, which usually runs between $15 and $25. It looks wonderfully wrong in a flute, and the better bottlings combine ripe, grapey fruit with zesty acids and sharp bubbles. Schild Estate makes a good example. I find sparkling Shiraz gets a party going on the right foot, but don’t expect to impress your wine snob friends.
For wine snob friends that you do want to impress, rather than scandalize, opt instead for a Grower Champagne. Because they are made by the same people who own the vineyards, these Champagnes should have more of a sense of terroir than standard Champagnes, which are made from grapes sourced from various vineyards in the region. Few Grower Champagnes will actually say “Grower Champagne” on the label, because that would be too easy. Look on the label for the letters “RM” (récoltant manipulant), as opposed to “NM” (négociant manipulant), usually written in the tiniest font possible. Fluteau, which makes vintage-dated Grower Champagne, crafts one of the best values. Each year is a little different, but expect delicate bubbles and rich, complex flavors of yeast, popcorn, white fruit and limestone.