As a wine writer, we are smack dab in the middle of the easy season—the fall and winter holidays—because the things that I’m supposed to be writing about are the same things that every wine writer writes about.
For me, it starts with Thanksgiving wine pairings, because I refuse to write about pairing wine with Halloween candy. That’s stupid.
(Everyone knows that you drink whiskey on Halloween. Right?)
Anyway, after Thanksgiving comes the column you are reading now. The one about sparkling wine to toast family and friends on New Year’s Eve. That’s it for me though.
With apologies to all those wine PR flacks who will start flooding my inbox with pitches any day now, I won’t do Valentine’s Day pairings. I just won’t.
I give in to the imaginary peer pressure and write about sparkling wine this time of year for one reason—it’s insanely delicious. Everyone should be drinking more of it regardless of any holiday or season or reason at all.
And while you don’t hear as much about Long Island sparkling wine as you do merlot or chardonnay or cabernet franc or rosé, we are lucky to have a handful of winemakers who produce some terrific bubbly right here in our own backyard.
It’ll never be what Long Island is best known for. That is a story still being written I think (hint: merlot won’t be it), but while that story develops, sparkling wine is a style of wine that can be made, and made well, consistently, on the East End.
Because the grapes are picked earlier than those for still wines, there’s less risk of early frosts, and a cool season doesn’t mean under-ripe wines. And because sparkling wine can be made in a variety of ways from just about any grape you can grow, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
There are four main ways to make sparkling wine and I think it’s worth quickly running through them before making some suggestions for your winter holiday celebrations.
First and best known is méthode champenoise, or the Champagne method. For this style of sparkling wine, a base wine is fermented completely, then some sugar and yeast are added to the bottle—a practice called dosage. With time in the cellar, that sugar is converted by the yeast into additional alcohol and CO2, which creates the bubbles. That in-bottle process is known as secondary fermentation.
There’s also pét-nat, which is short for pétillant-natural and also known as méthode ancestrale. It’s an ancient style that is quite trendy right now. Basically, you bottle the wine before its primary fermentation is complete, so as it continues to ferment, it becomes fizzy. These wines can be a little unpredictable, and they change over time. When one is first released, it can still be a bit sweet and not all that carbonated. But a year or two later, the same wine might be bone-dry and very fizzy.
For a third type of sparkling wine production, the Charmat method, the same secondary fermentation as in the Champagne method, is done in large tanks, which is a bit less elegant but also far cheaper. Prosecco is made this way, and that’s one reason prosecco tends to be more affordable than Champagne.
The last way to make sparkling wine is for a finished wine to be put into a large, pressurized tank where CO2 is infused into it, not unlike how soda is carbonated before going into a can or bottle.
Prices and quality vary across all of the styles, so I’m not going to tell you that any one style is better than any other. That said, this entire six-pack of local bubbles happen to all be made via methode champenoise.
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You can’t write a post about sparkling wine on Long Island without including something from our sparkling-only winery, Sparkling Pointe. I tasted through the entire portfolio a couple months ago and it’s never been better, but this pure, focused sparkler is always a favorite for the value it represents. At $30 it always punches above its price point.
Made with 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, this pretty pink sparkling wine was a favorite this summer. It’s fresh, berry driven and dry—but not too austere. It’s both a crowd-pleaser and a wine that will impress sparkling wine lovers.
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Maybe you visit Harbes for the corn or the farm festival fun—but don’t sleep on the wines. Available in the tasting barn just behind the chaos of the farm stand, you can taste a nice lineup of wines, including this 100% estate Chardonnay sparkler. It’s classic Blanc de Blancs, driven by apple and pear flavors with just a little yeasty toastiness.
If you like your sparkling wine nervy and mineral-y, this stunner is for you. Again, it’s made with 100% Chardonnay, it’s juicy and driven by taut citrus and apple flavors with classic brioche notes more in the background.
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It’s not surprising that a winery best known these days for making a wide array of pink wines also makes a sparkling rose, but this wine isn’t casual beach fodder. Made with 47% Pinot Noir, 52.5% Chardonnay and .5% Merlot, it’s decidedly fruit forward with strawberry and cherry qualities with delicate floral notes and a long, gentle yeasty finish. It deftly balances a nice bit of creamy richness with fresh acidity.
Lenz 2003 Cuvee RD ($60)
Yes, you ready that right. 2003—although the RD stands for “recently disgorged” which means that this wine was prepped for sale much more recently. This wine is made in a richer, more-complex style than the rest. There is still fruit here, but also layers of earth and roasted nuts and spice. It’s a rarity on Long Island and the price reflects that. It’s splurge-worthy though. Always.