Champagne has been in the spotlight long enough, don't you think? There are so many other sparkling wines around the world that use the same grapes, the same method, and are worthy of toasting the new year! Your wallet will thank you later.
Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
1. Domaine Carneros 2010 Estate Brut Cuvée, Napa, California
This sparkling wine is made entirely from organic grapes and is very affordable at around $30 per bottle, making it one of my top picks. Domaine Carneros, located in the Napa Valley, is the American outpost of Taittinger Champagne, so it's no surprise that they produce some of the best sparkling wines in California.
2. Dr. Heidemanns-Bergweiler NV Riesling Brut Sekt, Mosel, Germany
Don't let "Riesling" fool you. This wine is dry, delicate, and packed with flavor. At around $20, this is the most affordable sparkling wine on the list. Perfect if you're in the mood to venture out of your comfort zone! If you haven't already, check out one of my past posts on this wine region: Mosel & Rheingau: Riesling Royalty and a Tiny Volkswagen.
3. Gramona 2006 Gran Reserva Brut Nature III Lustros, Cava, Spain
This wine is known as one of the best examples of Spanish Cava on the market today, but is still remarkably affordable, and would be the perfect introduction to the country's version of Champagne. It's dry, complex, and elegant; best paired with pan con tomate, aged cheeses, and salmon tartare.
4. étoile Brut & étoile Rosé, Napa, California
Just like Taittinger, Moët & Chandon has a California outpost: Domaine Chandon. They produce excellent and affordable sparkling wines under the Chandon label, but they also produce a few exceptional (and a bit more expensive) sparkling wines under their étoile label. You absolutely cannot go wrong with either the Brut or Rosé and, as an added bonus, these beautiful bottles make a great host or hostess gift!
5. Ca' del Bosco NV Cuvee Prestige Brut, Franciacorta, Italy
Italy is known for Prosecco, which can lack complexity and be too sweet for many. Franciacorta, however, is Italy's best kept secret in sparkling wine. Winemakers in this region are deeply passionate about their product and this particular bottle is fresh, crisp, and balanced.
6. Tissot NV Cremant du Jura Brut, Jura, France
This is one of my favorites. Since Champagne is a very protected term, it can only be used on wines produced in the region of Champagne in France. However, if you exit Champagne and take a few turns, you can find comparable French sparkling wines, using the traditional method, for 1/2 or 1/3 of the price! A French sparkling wine made outside of Champagne will be called "crémant" and list the region where it is produced. There are many wonderful crémants from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, and Alsace, but this one here is a little off the beaten path. It is from Jura, which is sandwiched between Burgundy and Switzerland. This bio-dynamic wine is unique, expressive, and aromatic. At less than $25, it's a steal!
It seems like every New Year's Eve gathering produces a handful of half-empty (or half-full, if you're trying to look on the bright side of the new year) bottles of sparkling wine left around the house. Just because a wine has lost its bubbles is no reason to toss it out the door...
Poached pears are such an elegant dessert that can be made in advance and couldn't be simpler. It just requires peeling the pears, throwing everything into one pot, and letting it simmer. I love red pears, but you can choose your favorite firm pears.
5 or 6 small pears, peeled
2 cups water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup honey
pinch of sea salt
1 bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1. Using a knife, cut a tiny bit off the bottom of each pear. This allows you to serve it standing up without it rolling over.
2. In a large saucepan or pot (just large enough to hold all the pears), combine the water, sugar, honey, and salt. Over medium heat, stirring occasionally, allow the sugar and honey to melt completely. The liquid should be clear.
3. Add the sparkling wine, cinnamon, and vanilla bean to the pot. Return to low-medium heat and bring to a simmer.
4. Place the pears in the liquid and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the pears are soft and tender, making sure to rotate the pears and stir the liquid occasionally. Remove the pears and transfer to a plate to cool.
5. Adjust the heat to medium-high and boil the poaching liquid for another 15 to 20 minutes, until it has reduced and thickened to the consistency of syrup. It should coat the back of a spoon.
Discard the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Serve each pear in a shallow bowl and spoon some of the syrup over each pear. Serve with vanilla ice cream (or, better yet, cinnamon gelato) and a glass of sparkling wine!
Note: If you can't find any small pears, use whatever you can. Just keep in mind that bigger pears will require a longer cooking time. To test for doneness, insert a butter knife or fork into the bottom of a pear. If it goes in easily and feels soft and tender, they're done!
Cheers and Happy New Year!