Even if you rarely buy a bottle of wine, chances are you’ll be looking for one for New Year’s Eve. And chances are even greater it will be the bubbly kind.
True Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France, about 85 miles northeast of Paris. There are plenty of other sparkling wines — cava from Spain or prosecco from Italy — but by law those makers may not call their product champagne.
Champagne was not, as widely believed, accidentally discovered by the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon. He is credited, however, with perfecting the means of keeping the bubbles in the wine, by using a cork.
Champagne, created mostly from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, with pinot meunier too, begins its life as any other wine, harvested in fall and fermenting in a stainless steel tank. In the spring, before the second fermentation starts, sugar and yeast are added, and then it is bottled. The cork forces the bubbles that come from the second fermentation to stay bubbly. The wine is left in the cellar at an angle so the sediment comes to the top of the bottle. Before it is shipped, it is drained (or disgorged) of the sediment and recorked.
Buying a bottle may be no problem, but some champagne novices may be afraid to open it. Bottles can pop open unexpectedly — it once happened to me as soon as I unwrapped the foil. So point them away from people (and windows!), unwrap the foil and untwist the wire, and hold the bottle at an angle. Then twist the cork and the bottle in opposite directions. Let the wine genly hiss — not pop and explode. You want those bubbles in your glass!
Before you open a bottle, make sure it’s properly chilled. About three hours in the refrigerator should do, or if you have a wine bucket, submerge the bottle in ice and water for about half an hour.
Experts say putting a bottle in the freezer could kill the bubbles, though I’ve done this in emergencies and found that if you don’t leave it in too long it works fine. Don’t forget about it, though, or you’ll be breaking frozen champagne out of your ice trays. The cork will pop and the glass will shatter.
Here are four bottles you might want to pop on your own, recommended by our wine expert in residence, Jeffrey Wooddy of Rochambeau Wines & Spirits in Dobbs Ferry.
Francois Montand NV Blanc de Blancs $11.99: This little wine is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s 100 percent chardonnay from the Loire Valley, and its tiny bubbles make for a nice effervesence, and the flavors are ripe and complex. Long finish; lovely.
Roederer Estate Brut NV, Anderson Valley $19.99: I have to give a shout out to the Anderson Valley Brut by Roederer. Twenty bucks and better than Veuve Clicquot. Truth!
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV $49.99: Everything a Champagne should be and more. Laser-focused acidity, provocative aromas, rich texture and a finish as long as the credits to “Star Wars.” The best all-around Champagne in the mid-priced category.
2000 Pol Roger Brut $119.99: This is where bubbles become sublime. Great secondary aromas that remind us that aged Champagnes can serve as a red wine would. Rich chardonnay body weight, deep, brooding pinot noir nose. This wine has everything.
Happy New Year!