Sparkling wines are terrific year round, not just for special occasions. Still, there is a persistent belief that the only time to drink sparkling wines is when you’re celebrating on New Year’s Eve or some other momentous event.
After all, it’s been that way for more than 100 years. It was the café society, the swells of the Beau Monde crowd, that began the New Year’s tradition around 1905 — maybe at the Cafe Martin in New York — and since then, year after year, the custom of drinking sparklers only for celebrations hung on until the dawn of the 21st century.
Thanks to some clever marketing, or astute wine drinkers, sparkling wines have broken away from the confinement of special occasions, and that’s good. Otherwise, we’d be missing out on the wide variety of very good, affordable, dry sparkling wines that have been hitting the American market in recent years. Where a few years ago, we had only limited choices of inexpensive sparkling wines — some were awfully sweet and headache-inducing — now we have a broad selection of affordable bubblies from Italy, Spain and, of course, France, as well as the New World.
Sparkling wines are great for sipping at the start of an evening, either on their own or with appetizers, or to drink with fish, shellfish and vegetable dishes. They are refreshing and lovely on a cold winter night or a hot summer evening. The low alcohol content also makes them quite nice as an occasional treat with lunch.
I’m especially fond of Cava from Spain. Less than a decade ago, Cava was almost unknown in our market. Now, in New England and across the country, there are a number of very good choices.
I particularly like Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blanc Brut Reserve, with its elegant white bottle. For those of you who want to stay in the $10 range, it often goes on sale for a couple of dollars less than its $16 recommended price. I’m not suggesting that this is an everyday wine for everyone, but it is a well-crafted bargain even at the full price and a great treat for entertaining. When you see it on sale, buy more than one bottle and store it in the fridge. You won’t be disappointed.
The Codorniu winery, which is the first maker of Cava and today the second largest producer, traces its origin to documented accounts of winemaking on the estate in northeast Spain by Jaume Codorniu in 1551, according to the company’s website.
About 100 years later, one of Jaume’s descendants, Anna Codorniu, was married to Miquel Raventos, a prominent grape grower, and the foundation of the present-day winery was established.
Seven generations on, Josep Raventos in 1872, with the help of French winemaking techniques, created the first Spanish sparkling wines that were fermented in the bottle using the Champagne method. Now a 10th-generation company, Codorniu is making wine under the direction of winemaker Bruno Colomer.
Cava is traditionally and by law made from three grapes grown in the Catalonia region: Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. In keeping with its history of innovation, in 1984, the Codorniu winery introduced Chardonnay into the mix after receiving regulatory approval to change the wine’s formula.
For Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blancs, Colomer uses grapes from two growing areas — Chardonnay from vineyards in the Lleida, a dry, inland region, and the other grape varieties from Penedes which is influenced by the Mediterranean.
The grapes are fermented separately and then the wines are blended using 70 percent Chardonnay, 15 percent Parellada with the other two traditional grapes splitting the difference. The blended wine is fermented again in the bottles on the lees (dead yeast) for at least 12 months, and then, after a couple of more steps, the Cava is born.
The result is a brilliant yellow and green wine with fine, persistent bubbles forming continuous beads.
Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blancs has aromas of citrus and tropical fruit along with creamy flavors, Colomer says in the tasting notes.
There are a number of excellent, inexpensive Cavas on the market in Vermont and New Hampshire, but Anna de Codorniu is one of the best.
In addition, I’ve tried some of the new Proseccos that are now becoming available, and have found some to be quite dry and delightful. And don’t forget about the fine sparkling wines being produced on the West Coast and in New Mexico and New York.
Sparkling wines are traditionally served in two types of glasses: flutes and the older coupes. The tall, thin flutes, which my mother used for parfait at her dinner parties, are in vogue now. Round, shallow coupes, which myth has wrongly said were modeled after Marie Antoinette’s breasts, are often used now for cocktails. I like to drink sparkling wines any time of year from a white wine glass.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.