Champagnes, sparkling wines to toast the new year


As 2013 draws to a close, you’re either ready to celebrate its glories or drown your sorrow over its shortcomings. Either way it’s time for bubbly.

The lightest style of champagne is “blanc de blancs.” It translates as “white from whites,” signifying a sparkling wine made of all white grapes, often chardonnay. These are light and delicate — great as aperitifs or with raw oysters, light fish or chicken dishes.

Blanc de noirs, on the other hand, means “white from blacks,” signifying a white or very slightly pink bubbly made mostly of red grapes (which have white juice), often pinot noir, often blended with a bit of chardonnay.

Blanc de noirs and rosé bubblies are fuller in body, with red berry flavors and sometimes even a hint of tannin — good for light red meats such as ham or pork, soft cheeses, or fatty fish such as tuna or salmon.

Rosé sparkling wines can be quite full-bodied and flavorful, a good match for spicy Asian dishes. True fanatics might even sip these with roast beef.

Another way sparkling wines are classified is by sweetness, measured by how much unfermented natural grape sugar is left in the finished wine.

The driest is “brut nature” or “brut sauvage,” meaning no sugar is left. “Brut” is next, with so little sugar left that it is more noticeable in the viscous mouth-feel than in sweetness. The next level, “extra dry,” actually tastes a bit sweet from more sugar. “Demi-sec,” or “half-dry,” is even sweeter, and the sweetest is called “doux,” French for “sweet.”

I have to end with my favorite groan-worthy toast: “Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends.”

Just kidding. Happy New Year!

Highly recommended

Nonvintage Gloria Ferrer “Va de Vi Ultra Cuvee” sparkling wine, Sonoma County (89 percent pinot noir, 8 percent chardonnay, 3 percent muscat): yeasty aroma, lush, rich flavors of ripe apricots and lemons; $22.

Nonvintage J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley (66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay, 1 percent pinot meunier): aromas of roses, flavors of citrus and red raspberries; $38.

Nonvintage Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier, Champagne (two-thirds pinot noir and pinot meunier, one-third chardonnay): yeasty aroma, complex flavors that taste of breakfast — toast, butter and honey; $52.


Nonvintage Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine, Carneros, Calif. (92 percent pinot noir, 8 percent chardonnay): lively bubbles, crisp, rich red berry fruit flavors; $22.

2009 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, North Coast (87 percent pinot noir, 13 percent chardonnay): persistent tiny bubbles, firm structure, aromas and flavors of ripe peaches and apples and a hint of candied fruit; $40.

Nonvintage Chandon Extra-Dry Riche, California (39 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir, 25 percent muscat canelli, 1 percent pinot meunier): soft and honeyed and rich, with flavors of ripe peaches and apricots; $22.

2005 Millesimato “Lo Sparviere” by Gussalli Beretta, Extra Brut Franciacorta DOCG (90 percent chardonnay, 10 percent pinot noir): persistent tiny bubbles, rich and concentrated, with flavors of ripe tropical fruits and spices; $25.

Nonvintage Mumm Napa “Cuvee M” sparkling wine, Napa Valley (pinot noir, late-harvest muscat and other grapes): creamy, soft and lightly sweet, with ripe strawberry flavors; $22.

2009 Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling Wine, Russian River Valley (chardonnay): yeasty aroma; aromas and flavors of green apples; $25.

Contact Fred Tasker at

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