50. Champalou Vouvray Brut ($22)
A sparkling Chenin Blanc at a great price. Dry yet somehow leaves you with an impression of sweetness. Dominant notes are honey, quince, apple, white flowers and chalk, with a little lemon and honeysuckle trailing behind. Tiny and somewhat subdued bubbles, clean finish. Super food-friendly.
49. Boschendal Grand Pavillion ($20)
This is a beautiful pink NV sparkler that incorporates the time-honored-yet-dreaded “saignee” or bleed-off method that gave Zinfandel a bad name in the 1980s. A blend of red varietals is pressed and some of the juice immediately siphoned off, then blended with Chardonnay. The method is old and it is old for a reason; this early harvested, cool blend is nothing like a headache-inducing hothead white Zin. It’s fresh, youthful and lovely, with a salmon-pink tone, tasty light-bodied fruitiness, good structure and fine bubbles developed under “cap” fermentation. It is a very good friend to chicken. It is also very comfortable on its own—and hell, it has earned it, with over 300 years of experience. The new new is old, people.
48. Colmant Brut Rose NV Cap Classique ($30 )
Luxuriant, romantic and beautiful, this South African bubbly is watermelon-pink with faint amber glints. This wine kind of glows, and you might find that particularly nice sunsets are strong triggers to open a bottle. Redcurrant and alpine strawberry nose with an assortment of flowery grace notes, extremely silky mouthfeel with streaming bubbles. Red berry flavors dominate on the palate. Long and elegant finish. I wouldn’t mind having this with dessert—chocolate mousse, say—but if some just fell into my glass at another time, I wouldn’t be put out about it.
47. Ferrari Brut Rosé ($35)
Like many pink sparklers it has a significant percentage of pinot noir (60%) with Chardonnay making up the rest. Salmon-pink in the glass, very pretty bubbles, aromatics are rose-petal and wild strawberry. Dry with a clean finish reminiscent of stone fruit and almonds (which I love). The terroir of the Trento area is mysterious and intriguing and creates thought-provoking and highly drinkable wines. This one prefers lighter dishes. I think it might be really awesome with baked eggs and fresh goat cheese. I have not confirmed that through research, but someone should.
46. J Vintage Brut 2010 ($60)
From the magical land of Healdsburg, Calif., where you have to try kind of hard to make bad wine. J’s 2010 Vintage Brut is a wine with some staying power—at least theoretically. I wouldn’t know because there is no way a bottle of this stuff would get stored past Friday night at my house. Elegant and springy (like the season, not a mattress), it opens with a bouquet of almond and stone fruit blossoms, apples and a hint of dried apricot. Decidedly pie-crusty on the palate, but also with layers of focused fruit notes, largely mandarin, lemon, orange and some kind of very aromatic pear. Crisp finish, excellent minerality.
45. Manuel Raventos Raventos I Blanc Negro 2008 ($60)
A Catalan sparkler from one of the greats. This fascinating wine is made from the traditional cava grapes, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. This is an unusual one, though, with an unctuous, almost oily character, a blast of toasted walnut notes, citrus peel, marzipan and some tropical fruit (pineapple?) with a bit of apple. The bouquet is mesmerizing. On the palate there is a fascinating salinity and mineral character balanced with a distinct creaminess. This is not something I would call a “party” wine. There’s something contemplative and brooding about it; you’ll want to sit quietly with it. At least for a minute.
44. Perrier-Jouet Blason Rosé ($80)
Some Champagnes are ethereal. This one’s earthy. Copper-tinted, with a subtle smokiness on the approach, along with a panoply of red fruit notes, ginger, honey and orange. Citrus and strawberries dominate on the palate, with a saline note and decidedly chalky minerality. Very long finish. Fine mousse, subtle creaminess, layered.
43. Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva Cava ($30)
This pale yellow cava is complex and deep, with apple and white nectarine notes on the nose followed by herbaceous tints; fennel or licorice primarily. On the palate, toasted nuts, fresh bread and citrus zest. Very good structure and an incredibly velvety texture.
42. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2009 ($65)
Mostly Pinot Noir and with some skin time, as attested to by the brilliant watermelon-pink hue. The amount of pigmentation in a pink wine doesn’t necessarily telegraph the level of boldness or assertiveness of the flavor profile-in this case it does. Vivid, bright, juicy, with intense raspberry notes along with black cherries and a touch of lime. If you want a sparkling wine that will cheerfully hang out with a grilled steak, this is your bottle. Festive, fruity, assertive and plain yummy.
41. Thierry Triolet Brut Champagne ($25)
Andy Hale of Sour Grapes in Asheville, N.C., calls this one of the most affordable grower champagnes he’s ever seen. A blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir, gives this wine a richer, more luscious texture with a beautiful floral flavor. Triolet farms in a traditional method called Lutte Raisonee, which is similar to U.S. organic farming. This is truly a champagne that must be tasted to be believed.
40. Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée ($35)
So, you might be noticing I am a big fan of Iron Horse. You should be, too. This blanc de noirs is primarily pinot noir and has a rose-pink hue and a mind-blowing strawberry and cream character. An exceedingly food-versatile wine, this is a great treat to bring to a dinner party even if you don’t know what’s being served. It goes with everything. And stands alone just fine, thank you.
39. Boschendal Cap Classique Brut Rosé ($15)
I love these guys. Boschendal has been making wine in South Africa since shortly after the death of William Shakespeare and they are world-class. The brut pink is mostly Pinotage with a little Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the result is a very elegant pale-rose color with almost lilac reflexes. Early harvest of the grapes keeps the acidity brisk and lively. There’s something just plain sexy about this wine. It’s subtle, creamy, structured and bracing, with a lingering pomegranate note along with various red berries. I’d tell you to drink this one young, but I don’t have to because it’s the kind of wine you’ll be unable to resist opening.
38. Willm Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé ($17)
This 100% pinot noir from Alsace is a pale salmon color and has nice, persistent bubbles. Perfumed nose of strawberries and flowers. Affable, frothy, exuberant. Medium bodied with great acidity, red currant and berry notes, bright citrusy finish. This wine is a good time in a bottle.
37. Perrier Jouet “Belle Epoque” ($150)
Almost equal parts Chard and Pinot Noir with a tiny bit of Pinot Meunier. PJ’s flagship in the gorgeous painted floral-motif bottle is even prettier on the inside. Elegant, classy, high-finesse, with a floral nose (linden and acacia predominate), silky mouthfeel, apple-y palate with a little lime and a bit of spice on the finish. White peach, honey and almond will come more to the forefront with age. This is one of the classics, and you’ll know why the minute you try it. Warning: we are firmly in the “I take myself very, very seriously, for lo, I am Champagne” zone. So if you’re expecting Fantastic Beasts style gigglewater, get past it.
36. Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2008 ($69)
Whether Champagne is truly an aphrodisiac remains a subject of debate, but if you’re looking for a love potion, or a sparkling wine to fall in love with, this is a pretty great one. (P.S., if you’re on your own, this wine will happily be your date.) Intense nose, with fresh raspberries leading, along with assorted florals. On the palate the wine is balanced and exceedingly well-structured. Strong red berry notes courtesy of a pinot majority in the blend (I get a ghost of something citrusy too), beautiful delicate rosy hue, persistent mousse, a delicate creaminess. 2008 was a great year for Champagne, but if you find one from a different vintage, you’re in for treat regardless.
35. Piper-Heidesick Brut Cuvée ($45)
This Blanc de Noirs is an absolute classic, a straightforward and fruit-forward Champagne, full-bodied and a bit fleshy. Juicy, opening on pear notes and a little bit of something gingery, plums, a little bit of pie crust and a grapefruit-dominant finish. This is not an austere wine, nor is it particularly exotic. It’s a Little Black Dress Champagne—goes with everything, always in style, appropriate for any occasion. Excellent gift. Including to yourself.
34. Taittenger Brut La Francaise ($50)
A very elegant wine from a pretty venerable house. Chardonnay-forward, so less of a berry affair and more on the apple-blossom and citrus side of things. Savory notes come forward as well, something toasted or even smoky. Strong minerality that should have oysters quaking in fear. Do oysters experience fear? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that this is a classic, and very refined wine.
33. Chloe Prosecco ($13)
Some proseccos are casual or even a bit raucous; others are dignified but stylish. Chloe is one of those classic, elegant types. If it were a movie star it would be Eva Marie Saint. Fine bubbles, straw-colored in the glass with a bit of a green tint, and a lovely expression of the Glera grape, very lively peach, apple, and white flower notes, a citrusy finish with a nice balancing hint of something stony.
32. Argyle Extended Tirage ($60)
While I have by no means tried every wine coming out of Oregon, Argyle’s probably making the best sparklers I’m aware of. The Extended Tirage is aged on the yeast for a decade. Malolactic fermented Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. A carefully handled, definitely “artisan” wine, this shows an odd (good odd) fruitcake-like note, nuts and spices and candied fruit peel. A little trace of burnt orange rind. Peaches and pastry. Soft minerality, great endurance. This wine makes me just want fresh levain bread and really good butter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a real dinner. It’s a fine aperitif, too.
31. Roederer Estate L’Hermitage 2009 ($50)
A Mendocino County outpost of Reims big-guy Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate gets its fruit from the beautiful Anderson Valley. This stuff gets aged for a long time and can continue to do so for quite a while to come. Hazelnut and apricot notes are dominant, with a lemony acidity and a very long finish. Mouthfeel is extremely silky, persistent and full of beautiful bubbles. Another “But seriously, it goes with everything” bottle and another gift choice that telegraphs you have great taste and are not trying to be a total berk.
30. Silverthorn “Jewel Box” Cap Classique 2010 ($25)
If you were to argue that this wine is too far up the list here, I would probably say, “Yeah, you’re right.” It’s a real problem when the world is brimming over with incredible sparkling wines, but it’s a good problem. Silverthorn is one of South Africa’s hotshot Cap Classique artisans, and “Jewel Box” is probably their crowning … um, achievement. Dense hay-color. Rich and complicated with opulent marzipan, almond blossom and bakery notes, cherry pie, oranges and tangerines. Dry, but not bony by a long shot. Elegant long streams of tiny bubbles. A beautiful fusion of French sensibility and Cape terroir. There are tons of wines that are priced twice as high (or five times) that aren’t this good. Truly a beauty.
29. Veuve Cliquot Brut Rose NV
Veuve Cliquot is synonymous with Champagne for a lot of people, and not without reason. This pink iteration is a bit of a change from the regular entry-level yellow label lady you’ll find at the grocery store. It shows a smoky, earthy, chalky kind of quality; it’s light-bodied but fairly assertive. Soft spiciness, some salinity, mid-palate of red fruits, grace notes of toasted nuts, orange peel, aniseed, almond and cherry. Lingering finish. I want to say keep the food light and graceful and let the interesting depth-notes of this wine have a chance to sing.
28. Ferrari Trento Perle
If you see the name “Trento” on a Bubbly Blanc, it’s probably Chardonnay. (This one is.) The Trento area has a strange affinity for this grape; if you were to insist that it’s the best Chardonnay on earth you wouldn’t automatically get an argument out of me. Exceedingly elegant, very pale straw color, very persistent and fine bubbles. There’s a kind of wild apple note to the nose, followed by a citrus note (tangerine, to me) and lingering aromas of almond blossom and fresh pastry. All very rich but subtle. The finish is fairly typical sparkling Chard fruit notes, a lovely minerality common to wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy, and a lingering almond finish. It’s the Italian bubbly equivalent of a classic strand of pearls.
27. Roederer Brut Rose ($28)
In a word: sexy. A rich, voluptuous, salmon-tinted sparkler with persistent bubbles and a rounded character. Lush combination of cherry, pear, spices and earth, with a pleasantly citrusy finish. A bit of a forest floor note, some vanilla, and a seashell sort of minerality. This is the kind of wine I’d open all by myself and drink unrepentantly on a warm evening in the garden, but it will definitely benefit, as all sparkling wines do, from being shared. A drag-and-drop hostess gift for any dinner party.
26. Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut ($45)
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (an unusually high percentage of the Meunier, around 40%). This is the real deal, a true Champagne with an ancient lineage, and a more affordable bottle than the House’s signature “Belle Epoque.” Light, elegant and lively, this wine carries a good deal of lemon and lime zest on the nose and tart berries on the palate. It’s clean, versatile, and lovely.