Earlier this month, I quit my job — a job that I still very much loved — in an effort to bring myself into a better work/life balance. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.
When I walked out of the office for the last time, I went home and opened a bottle of champagne. It was a bottle of André Jacquart Premier Cru, Brut, Non-Vintage, Blanc de Blancs Champagne. I got it a few months ago from a wine store in North Attleboro. It was about $60. I had a gift certificate. I’m not made of money.
I was saving the bottle for a special occasion. The special occasion was the bittersweet end of a 17-year career doing a morning radio show. Mourning a radio show.
In pleasure or pain — champagne. There’s an old saying “Champagne for my real friends. And real pain for my sham friends.” There ain’t nothing like champagne.
Well, actually there is. But consider this your yearly reminder that there are lots of sparkling wines from all over the world. Many of them allude to the greatness of champagne. They are, indeed, “like” champagne. But unless it’s from the place in France called “Champagne,” it is not champagne. These wines from elsewhere may be a “sham,” but the pain is unnecessary, especially for your wallet. It’s hard to find actual champagne for anything less than $50. But there are some excellent and more affordable options of sparkling wine that start at under $20.
And if you are hoping to pop open some bubbly to ring in the New Year, here’s a round-up of suggestions from a few Valley wine snobs.
Sharon Swihart, wine buyer, Four Seasons in Hadley:
When asked for my favorite new Sparkler, my response was instantaneous: Stift Klosterneuburg’s Sparkling N. V. Brut Grüner Veltliner is a true bargain at only $16.99. We wouldn’t mind paying as much as $30.
It starts with an explosive mouthful of tiny moussant bubbles, with a texture that is at once smooth clean and refreshing. The flavors are myriad: apple, pear, custard, very subtle citrus and marzipan — an endless list.
While traditionally Brut, there is a softness that makes this bubbly universally appealing. It’s often difficult to get customers to try esoteric items, but by literally forcing this wine into peoples’ hands, this became our best-selling sparkling wine within about three months of landing. This is virtually unheard of in a small, family-owned store with little or no advertising.
Little to no advertising? Doesn’t everyone know that “More reasons to shop Four Seasons” jingle? It kept my old radio station afloat for decades! The hint that Sharon’s choice is a sparkling wine but not a champagne comes from both the grape referenced, Grüner Veltliner, and the extremely German, or in this case Austrian, sounding name — Stift Klosterneuburg. Certainly not French, certainly not champagne. But I’m eager to try it!
Michaelangelo Wescott, chef/owner/sommelier, Gypsy Apple, Shelburne Falls.
Old years night at The Gypsy, we be offering a small selection of sparkling wine such as Crémant (French, but it’s not champagne), Cava (sparkling wine from Spain) and champagne. One of my favorite champagnes that I’ll be selling by the bottle is Deutz Brut Champagne NV. The Jim Kelly of champagne, made of 100% Pinot Noir. This champagne can win a street fight. When the bottle is open and poured, you will find your glass filled with tiny bubbles and notes of lychee, almonds, apples, honey and citrus. Cheers and happy New Year!
Toni DeLuca, wine buyer, Provisions in Northampton, North Amherst and soon to be, if not already, Longmeadow.
Sebastian Girost NV Brut Champagne for the price is fabulous. For $39.99 you can treat yourself to a low-cost, high-value champagne that punches above its weight. Pear, fresh brioche, citrus and satisfying richness. It’s the real deal and it won’t break the bank.
George’s Remy for Higher End is one of my favorites. For limited and unique, the Laherte Freres wines, especially the Petit Meslier, from the VIP tables are exciting.
Laherte Frères “Les Empreintes” Millésime Champagne 2015 — $100 is really a pretty champagne. Extra brut. Elegant, medium body. It sings on the palate with racy acidity. It was a standout in the VIP tasting room at our Grand Champagne Tasting.
We love to promote our small growers, like Thomas Perseval, Hure Freres, Christopher Mignon and JM Seleque. And female producers like Ployez Jacquemart 2008 “Passion” ($65). It is phenomenal champagne that’s a nice middle ground pricewise, delicate with a long nuanced finish. Notes of lightly toasted brioche and crisp orchard fruit with ethereal florals.
La Tollara (Italian and about $20) for everyday. Plus fun and affordable sippers: Flora Pet Nats, Denny Bini Lambrusco, Bodkin Sparkling, and Avinyo.
Michael Quinlan, Table & Vine ambassador, West Springfield
I am a firm believer that champagne is a requirement at the Quinlan house for any holiday celebration! The snacks before dinner pair so nicely with bubbly, especially any sort of shellfish dish. I love the bubblies of Albert LeBrun, a small house in Avize, France. These are laser focused, dry champagnes that really satisfy. Outside of champagne, the Ferrari sparkling wines from Trentino, Italy as well as just about any Cava from Spain are constant presences at our home.
Wesley DeSantis, wine buyer, State Street and Cooper’s, Northampton & Florence.
Champagne. Is there anything better to mark a celebration than sparkling wine? Whether it’s New Year’s Eve, any holiday, a birthday, a wedding toast, or an anniversary, it is the easy choice.
It’s the fizzy, lifting bubbles. State Street Wines and Cooper’s Liquors have always had a great variety of sparkling wines; sparklers from the U.S., South Africa, Italy, Spain, and France — with more recent additions from Moldova, Armenia and South America: Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Moscato, Lambrusco and Brachetto.
There’s room for it all at my house. Champagne is still the best of all the sparkling options, in my humble opinion. My personal favorites include Jean Vesselle, Moussé Fils, and Aubry Fils. Serve with oysters, or with hard cheeses, or with good company. Repeat.
For years, sparkling wines have been my personal favorite category of wines. Like radio, I keep trying to move on but can’t. I regularly get the very affordable and delicious Alisina y Sardà Brut Reserva Cava. It can be a tad harder to find than some of the more famous Cavas like Segura Viudas or Freixenet, but it is leaps and bounds more satisfying. I’m also a sucker for Crémants, a category of French sparkling wine with similarities to champagne, but usually much more affordable. Don’t buy anything that says “California Champagne” on it. That is real pain from a sham maker.
When it comes to champagne proper, I’d advise staying away from the more famous labels like Veuve-Clicquot, which is good, but way overpriced. And Dom Perrignon, which is pretty good, way overpriced and almost impossible to find right now, anyway.
Try to find some small producers, or “grower champagnes,” as they are called. These are made by the farmers from, perhaps, one small row of grapes they have in a vineyard in Champagne, but are often made with loving care. And you are supporting the little guys who don’t have the Moët dollars to advertise their wares. They are growers, not showers.
You know if you have a grower Champagne if you find the letters “RM” on the label. It stands for “Récoltant Manipulant.” verses finding “NM” on the label, meaning Négociant Manipulant, where the winemakers source grapes from other farmers.
That being said, the best champagne I’ve ever had is somewhere between RM and NM, but lands on the NM side-despite being one of the last remaining family-run champagne houses. It’s called Billecart-Salmon, and it will cost you about $100 a bottle. Luckily for me, someone else was paying when I had it. But I can’t wait to have it again.
You don’t need a special occasion to pop a cork of bubbly, but there is a special occasion right around the corner where lots of bubbles will be consumed. I hope this advice from Valley wine snobs will come in handy for New Year’s Eve.
For me, in 2023, I’ll be opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate my next exciting professional move. Not every parting means negative emotions. People move. New energy. Precious memories. Nothing else pleases more than champagne.