A New Year’s celebration is even more festive with a glass of delicious sparkling wine in hand. Whether it is a big name French Champagne or a delectable and affordable Cava from Spain, choose your bubbly based on your taste and your budget. Fortunately, as we've confirmed in our tests, quality sparklers come at a range of price points. (Check our reviews of sparkling wines, including sparkling rosés.)
Shopping for sparkling wine can be a bit daunting—at the store you'll see bubbly from all over the world with some terms you might not be familiar with. The two principal methods of sparkling wine-making are "Méthode Champenoise" (the traditional Champagne method) in which the bubbles come from a second fermentation that takes place in the bottle and, the bulk, or "Charmat" process, in which the second fermentation takes place in a large stainless steel tank. (The term Champagne, with a few exceptions, can be used only for sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France.)
Champagne and many of the leading California sparkling wines made in the traditional Champagne method typically use chardonnay, pinot noir, as well as the pinot meunier grape. Cava, also a traditional-method sparkler, uses the white grapes parellada, macabeo, and xarel-lo with up to 10 percent chardonnay.
The majority of the sparkling wines we tested—Champagne, California sparklers, and Cava —were essentially dry with a barely noticeable sweetness. All of them could carry the "Brut" sweetness designation.
We've also tested Prosecco, which is both the name of the wine and the grape used. This tasty Italian bubbly with pronounced fruit flavors often delivers an off-dry finish. Made in the Charmat method, it’s not very expensive and is an ideal food wine or one to enjoy on its own.
Don't reserve sparking wines only for New Year's, Valentine's Day, or other big moments. You can enjoy these versatile, food-friendly wines year-round. So add to your list a resolution to explore the world of sparkling wines more often.
—Adam KaplanBe a savvy sparkling-wine consumer
Freshness is important. Shop at stores with high turnover to ensure you are getting a sparkler that hasn’t been sitting on the store shelf too long.
Dry or sweet? Nature or Brut indicate the driest levels—no perceptible sweetness; Extra Dry or Sec covers wines that are barely tasting sweet; Demi Sec indicates a sweet wine.
Store the bottle on its side as you would a table wine.
Here's how to serve a sparkling wine, which should be in the low to mid-40s.
• Opening with care. After peeling off the upper foil, keep your thumb over the cork while twisting open the wire cage. Without removing the wire cage and with your thumb still in place, grasp the cork with your entire hand, cover with a hand towel. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle pointed away from yourself and bystanders. Slowly twist the bottle not the cork. Continue to hold the cork while twisting the bottle until the cork is almost out of the neck using slight downward pressure just as begins to release from the bottle. There should be a whisper and not a pop.
• Stemware. Use tulip-shaped glasses or Champagne flutes, both of which retain bubbles well.
• Pouring. Gently pour the wine down the side of glass to prevent excessive bubbles forming.
• Preserving bubbles. Between pours, cover the bottle with a Champagne stopper.
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