Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.
The holidays are coming which means it is time for bubbles! Any day can be a good day for a glass of bubbly. However, this is the time of the year when sparkling wine consumption is at its highest. It is the time to head to your local wine shop to pick up some bottles of sparkling wine for your holiday parties and to give as gifts.
When you think sparkling wine, there are so many choices. So, I reached out to some of my sommelier friends on the West Coast to find out what they suggest to drink for the holidays and what foods to pair with them. From Grower Champagne to Cremant (sparkling wine from France) to Cava from Spain, Lambrusco from Italy and a few other gems, the world of sparkling wine is more than Champagne. When you are shopping for sparkling wine this year, think a little bit outside the box and have fun! Cheers!
Nathaniel Muñoz, Wine Director, Rose Cafe Restaurant, Venice, California
Nathaniel is a Los Angeles native who garnered his love of service and wine along California's Central Coast, working in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Carmel-by-the-Sea, where he helped earn and maintain a Forbes Travel Guide 5 Star Rating from 2014-15 at Aubergine at L'Auberge Carmel. Nathaniel recently earned his Advanced Sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers and currently holds the Wine Director position at Rose Café Restaurant in Venice, California. What Nathaniel loves about sparkling wines is that “their energy always brings a smile” and he suggests a sparkling wine from France, a Cava from Spain and a Champagne for your holidays.
Val de Mer French Sparkling Brut Nature Rosé
“Beautiful, savory, and dry bubbles crafted by Patrick Piuze who has achieved excellence in Chablisienne terroirs. Starting any holiday celebration with this 100% Pinot Noir sparkler would be a great idea.”
Cava Avinyó Brut Reserva 2013
“This sparkler brings riper blue fruit to the palate, yet finishes remarkably dry. I am always impressed with the quality of Cava and value offered. All of the cured meats, olives, and savory delights before a festive meal will welcome this sparkler.”
Champagne Suenen Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Grand Cru Cramant NV
“I cannot find a better way to toast a celebration than pristine and mineral driven Champagne, especially Blanc de Blancs. 100% Chardonnay from amazing sites with organic farming. There is just enough body to handle the ripping acidity and sets the tone for a refined evening.”
Rob Renteria, Sommelier, La Folie Restaurant, San Francisco, California
Rob Renteria has been a sommelier in the Bay Area since 1995. He started his career in San Francisco as a sommelier and cellar master at Rubicon, before moving on to Bacar and then Eos. In 2005, he moved to Napa Valley as Wine Director at Martini House in St. Helena. He then later moved to Redd in Yountville, in which Wine Enthusiast Magazine ranked his wine list as one of the Top 100 in America. In 2009, he founded Analog Wine Company, a negociant wine label in Napa Valley. He returned to San Francisco in 2012, where he is currently the sommelier at La Folie. Rob is known as the “angrysomm” on social media which he started in response to inflated wine prices. As he explained, “I am a working class man looking for value in wine” and his sparkling suggestions for the holidays are just that.
Faire La Fete Brut Rose, Cremant De Limoux Brut Rose, France
A rosé sparkling wine from Southwest, France, the wine is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and 10% pinot noir. A coral color, it has aromas of wild strawberries and white cherry and fresh citrus acidity on the palate. “This wine is a great aperitif and can be enjoyed with duck confit or pâté.”
Domaine de Nerleux, Cremant de Loire, La Folie des Loups Rose, France
A sparkling wine from the Loire Valley, this wine is 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Chenin Blanc. It has aromas of red and black fruit and is “chalky and crunchy making it a perfect pairing with oysters with raspberry mignonette.”
Champagne Andre et Michel Drappier, Zero Dosage, Brut Nature Rose, France
Made from 100% pinot noir, this wine is “delicate and pure and so elegant. It is fine on its own but I would like this with anything that is accompanied with beets. And, it is best drunk in a Burgundy glass.”
Champagne Doyard-Mahe Empreinte, Vertus, Carte d’Or Brut, France
Made with 100% chardonnay from the Cote des Blancs, this “killer blanc de blancs from a grower-producer has great texture. If you are in San Francisco, come to La Folie and try it with our Autumn salad of marinated apples, Shinko pears, roasted beets and toasted hazelnut foie gras butter.”
Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premium Lambrusco di Sorbara, Italy
Made from 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara, this wine is a deep rose color with notes of strawberry. It is fresh, minerally and velvety on the palate. “I love this wine. It is so fun and the perfect finale. Try it with sheep's milk cheeses and dried fruits.”
Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva Brut Cava 2010, Catalonia, Spain
“This is vintage Cava but serve it blind and your friends will think it is Champagne! And try it with Lay's "Classic" potato chips, just because.”
Stephanie Schrankel, Sommelier, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, Seattle, Washington
After a decade on the retail side of the wine industry, Stephanie is back in the restaurant game at Seastar, one of the premier seafood restaurants in the Northwest. Stephanie has certifications through the Court of Masters Sommelier, the Society of Wine Educators and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Stephanie may work in a seafood restaurant but she is not “shellfish” about sharing her sparkling wine favorites. Always a fan of vintage Champagne, when it comes to the holidays, Stephanie suggests a domestic sparkling wine, Champagne and a little known sparkling wine from France.
Roederer Estate Brut
“One of my favorite domestic sparklers, it is also quite affordable! Light and fresh, with the lively acidity of a Granny Smith apple, this wine is perfect paired with a Dungeness crab cake with crunchy fennel-apple slaw.”
Champagne Gaston Chiquet Tradition Brut
“A Premier Cru Champagne made with a higher percentage of Pinot Meunier (45%) than other Champagnes provides beautiful aromatics and an extra-fine mousse. Seared scallops in a citrus beurre blanc would be a good match.”
Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé
“This copper-colored Champagne is perfect with a light seafood stew such as bouillabaisse, especially if there is a baguette spread with creamy saffron rouille as an accompaniment.”
Bugey, located between the Savoie, the Jura, Burgundy and the Rhone, is one of France’s best-kept secrets. “A great little raspberry-inflected dessert sparkler, it is a lovely pairing with any dessert involving fresh berries.”
Mary Thompson, Director of Operations & Beverage Director, 10 Grand Hospitality, The Line Hotel, Los Angeles, California
Raised in Philadelphia, Mary Thompson has worked in top restaurants around the country, including famed Philadelphia restaurant Brasserie Perrier under Georges Perrier, Portland’s Paley’s Place and RiverPlace Hotel and New York’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market, Telepan, and Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne. Mary relocated to Los Angeles in 2006, working at STK, Chaya Downtown, Wokcano, Rivera and then Koreatown’s Saint Martha, where she received rave reviews. LA Weekly Food Critic Besha Rodell was quoted saying “…Sommelier Mary Thompson has built an extraordinary roster that veers from the Loire to Baja to Lebanon to Texas, making it very difficult to walk in with your heart set on something safe and boring. Give yourself over to the freewheeling fun of the list — everything is available by the taste, glass, carafe and bottle — and you're in for a good time." And LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold was quoted saying, "It is hard to imagine Saint Martha without its sommelier Mary Thompson, whose eccentric wine list is as much a part of the restaurant as Erven's cooking.” For Mary, “it’s much more interesting showing people how to have fun with wine, rather than being a stuffy sommelier in a three-piece suit.” Mary has earned her second-level certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, attained the title of Certified Sake Advisor from the Sake Service Institute of Japan, and is earning a degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis. Given her eccentric taste in wine, her favorite sparkling wines for the holiday season surprisingly do not feature any traditional Champagne picks but instead bubbles from other parts of the world: Italy, Portugal & Germany.
Paola Rinaldini, ‘Pronto’, Lambrusco Secco, Emilia Romania, Italy NV
“This is a very festive wine of a deep crimson purple color, lively mousse and black raspberry richness on the nose. Made from Salamino, Mmarani, and Ancellotta, Lambrusco grapes indigenous to Emilia, this wine is a far cry from the sweet styles so prevalent in America in the 1970s and 1980s. It is medium-bodied with richness and concentration but finishes bone-dry. It is small-production, 100% estate bottled and is not subjected to stabilization or pasteurization. This wine can easily move from the Thanksgiving dinner table to a New Year’s celebration.” It is available exclusively at top restaurants/retailers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York or available on Amazon for $20, plus shipping.
Broadbent, Vinho Verde, Portugal, NV
“Vinho Verde, the most popular white wine from Portugal, is a deliciously refreshing, light wine. ‘Verde’, meaning ‘green’, refers to the hints of lime color. Launched in 2005 by British wine critic and writer Michael Broadbent and son, importer Bartholomew Broadbent, this Vinho Verde has quickly earned the reputation as one of the finest Vinho Verdes. This wine made from Loureiro, Trajadura, and Arinto is fresh and Spritzy with notes of guava, lemon and yellow apple. The price makes this a perfect wine for entertaining large groups and can easily be an aperitif, used in a toast and drank throughout the evening, as its alcohol is only 9%.” Available at wine.com for under $9.
Weingut Reichsrat Von Buhl, Rose Brut, Pfalz, Germany 2014
“I discovered this gem on a recent trip to Germany and I immediately brought a bottle to bring back to the US. This is a saignée method rose of Pinot Noir (or Spatburgunder, as they say in Germany) and then later Traditionelle Flaschengärung (or bottle fermentation, as we say). The red fruity aromas are typical and bring to mind raspberry and strawberry. Soft elegance and a lively structure come together in this Rosé.” $18, visit wine-searcher.com to find a retailer near you