features A Bubbly New York New Years 2009
A Bubbly New York New Years
December 2008

New York City is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but for Americans, whether they live here, have visited, or have never been, it’s a city that has to come to mind when New Years’ Eve rolls around. Times Square, Dick Clark, the countdown as the ball drops… it’s an indelible part of welcoming the New Year. And Champagne has got to be a part of it—as the ball drops, the bubbles in the glass rise. So this year I thought I’d talk to a few sommeliers around the city and see what sort of bubbly they’d like to pop open on the 31st.

Now, I could do that any old year. This year, though, I have to admit that many people are of two minds about celebrating. Some are, perhaps, relatively untouched by the shakedown in the economy, and some may see New Years Eve as a night to cast away cares and indulge, even if their New Years resolution might be to tighten the purse strings. But some of us are already cutting back, so I asked sommeliers to recommend both something indulgent and a more budget choice.

Claire Paparazzo and Laura Maniec work for very different companies; Claire is the Wine Director for Dan Barber’s Greenwich Village restaurant Blue Hill; Laura oversees the wine and beverage program for the large and diverse B.R. Guest restaurant group. However, they share a taste for Jacques Selosse Champagne. Laura recommends the whole line: “His training in Burgundy is evident in the taste of his rich, barrel fermented wine. It is also rare to see champagne winemakers these days focus so much on terroir, healthy soils, and reducing yields. I would be happy to take these wines as my only desert island wine.” Claire singles out the the Selosse Brut Initial for its complexity, and says she still gets a thrill from it even though she’s tried it many times. It was good enough for her birthday, so why not New Years?

Selosse is a grower-producer, meaning that they grow all their own grapes without buying in grapes from other growers; they are also one of a handful of biodynamic Champagne producers. Bollinger and Krug fans will find much to enjoy in this wine, but may have to seek it out, since Selosse is quite a bit smaller than those big houses. Prices seem to vary quite a bit, perhaps because some retailers are taking advantage of the wine’s scarcity, but expect to pay around $150 in most cases.

Laura turned to Spain for a more affordable sparkler. Her house wine for holiday festivities is the Llopart Brut Rosé Cava. While Cava’s rules are quite loose regarding grape varieties and blending, the Llopart still stands out as unusual, made with Garnacha and Monastrell—varieties we normally associate with full-bodied reds. Laura says its flavors are well-balanced and not overly fruity, and she enjoys the Cava’s long, smooth finish. All that for about $14.

Here’s something else Laura and Claire have in common: they both like sparklers from unexpected grapes. Claire looked to Italy, but not to Prosecco or Franciacorta. Instead she’s excited about a wine called Selim from Bruno de Conciliis. The name is “Miles” spelled backward, in tribute to Miles Davis. It’s a blend of two grapes indigenous to the Campania region near Naples, Fiano (80%) and Aglianico. Its complexity and structure in the mid-palate provide the appeal. Look for it for around the $19 mark on shelves.

We all know about James Bond’s appreciation for Bollinger; Mollie Battenhouse, formerly at Payard and Tribeca Grill and currently a sommelier-at-large, thinks she’s on to a good thing. A full-bodied, firm, and sometimes even toasty Champagne, the Special Cuvée NV (they prefer to call it “multi-vintage,” actually, rather than “non-vintage”) is dominated by Pinot Noir, and runs around $40. If that’s not indulgent enough for you, Mollie’s got a better grasp of vintage Bollinger than Mr. Bond did. In both the books and movies the sly M5 agent has been known to suavely order vintages that Bollinger never made. If you’ve got about $90 on hand, you can safely order the Grand Année 1999 without fear of making the same mistake.

Mollie turned to the English-speaking world for more affordable bubbly. In South Africa, Graham Beck has been a leader in making methode champenoise wines (known there as “Cap Classique”) for some time; Mollie likes both their regular NV ($15) and their rosé ($18). Graham Beck’s house style leans toward a light, elegant texture, without giving up on those bready, yeasty notes derived from the secondary fermentation and subsequent lees-aging; the rosé focuses on strawberry and other red-fruit aromas. Closer to home, Mollie goes for the Blanc de Noirs NV from Gloria Ferrer in California. Pressed from Pinot Noir with just a touch of Chardonnay, it keeps some the former’s red fruit aromas and also shows some notes of honey and flowers. It runs around $14.

Nick Finger, Wine Director at Felidia, doesn’t even need to turn to Champagne to have a good time. In keeping with the restaurant’s menu, Nick kept it Italian (even though his winelist does reach beyond Italy and includes many exclusive, high-end Champagnes). Lombardy’s Franciacorta is the only Italian sparkling wine region to insist on using only the metodo classico  (the Champagne method) to make their wines. The Cavalleri have been landowners there for centuries, and about 100 years ago, they began making wine; their first bubblies appeared in 1979. Nick says their vintage sparklers in particular are fantastic. The Brut 2001 is hard-to-find, but worth seeking out—a smooth, rich steal at $100. Going farther south in Italy—all the way to Sicily, in fact—he picks the Murgo Brut NV as a budget choice. At $25, it’s pretty low in price, but high on uniqueness, being made on the slopes of Mount Etna from local grape Nerello Mascalese. Light and fresh, it’s got floral and brioche notes and a smooth mousse. And there are few who would dare say that something Sicilian doesn’t have a New York connection.