There’s something about that joyous froth, that pop-pop-pop in our mouths, that sparkle which makes us fall in love with Champagne and its bubbly cousins, again and again. It’s special, a drink you can enjoy any day of the week, but often reserved for the most important moments of your life. Bottom line: Champagne equals celebration.
“People want that effervescence and that pop. You can’t beat it,” says Jen Pelka, who’s banking on her own love affair with the bubbly.
On New Year’s Eve, Pelka will celebrate the grand opening of her Champagne bar, The Riddler, in San Francisco. We asked her to give us a little refresher on what the sparkling wine options are out there, her suggestions for different occasions, her favorite glassware, and what to eat with Champagne.
Major types of sparkling wines:
Champagne from its namesake province in France is the benchmark of sparkling wines, but then there are beautiful wines grown and created nearby, such as Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Bourgogne, and Crémant de Alsace made with similar technique, Pelka says. Italy has Prosecco, there’s Cava in Spain, Germany and Austria have sparkling Riesling, and there are sparkling wines in Greece and across the United States. “Pretty much where all wines are made, sparkling wines are made as well,” she says.
A good mainstream sparkly:
Go for a classic Veuve Clicquot Rosé, but not the standard yellow label. Look for a pink label, Pelka says. You can find it at Costco and many other places. “It’s a really pretty, really feminine, a lovely classic option. It has some round fruitiness to it, and it’s a great gift to bring to someone’s house. The fact that it’s rosé makes it a little more special,” Pelka says. Buy it here.
Affordable sparkling wine:
Crémant du Jura (Crémant is the name of the style of wine, and Jura is the region) or Crémant de Bourgogne, if you want something French, made in the same style and in the same traditional method as Champagne; it won’t be quite as amazing, but you can find them anywhere from Trader Joe’s to your high-end wine store, starting at $15 a bottle. Buy it here.
High-end sparkling wine:
My favorite is Krug, Pelka says. That’s a really classic producer, a benchmark wine. “I’d get a magnum of vintage Krug; I always say go big,” Pelka says. “If you go to a good wine shop, you should be able to get an affordable magnum of wine; they probably wouldn’t carry a magnum of something crappy.” But Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is top of the line. It’s $399. Buy it here.
Sparkling beverage for brunch:
Champagne punch, Pelka says. “I think punches are really great way to celebrate, people tend to gather around it, and it’s low key,” she says. Here’s a winter holiday punch Pelka made up on the spot:
1. Get a beautiful punch bowl; you can go to a Goodwill or Salvation Army. “I just picked up one for 3 bucks the other day,” she says.
2. Freeze an ice block: Take a metal bowl, fill it with water and pretty herbs like fresh sprigs of rosemary, along with lemon slices and whole cranberries and freeze it overnight; on the day of, run the bowl under hot water to free it up and put it in the punch bowl
3. Add three bottles of Prosecco or Cava with more rosemary, lemon slices, and cranberries, ½ cup of simple syrup, 1 cup cranberry juice.
You can also try our version: Poinsettia Punch
This Chowhound recipe has many similarities to Pelka’s suggestion. You’ll find Champagne or sparkling wine, whole cranberries, and cranberry juice. Our recipe uses orange slices instead of lemon and adds Cointreau. Get our Poinsettia Punch recipe.
Sparkling wine for dinner:
With roasted meats, Pelka’s favorite Champagne is Pierre Péters. Bottles are $45 to $60 at an independent wine shop. It’s a very old grower and producer, a family affair, and it’s 100-percent Chardonnay (not mixed with other grapes). “Because they’re not as well known, they’re more affordable,” Pelka says. “It’s the kind of Champagne that can stand up to oysters, a cheese plate, or a whole dinner, whether it’s turkey or roast beef. It’s beautiful and aromatic.” Buy it here.
New Year’s Eve party favorites?
“Just lots of it,” Pelka says, laughing. “New Year’s Eve is definitely the kind of day to spring for true Champagne. That’s a great day to do magnums. People should be drinking Champagne all night long.”
Where to buy online?
Pelka’s faves include:
How do we go about shopping locally?
“To me, it’s all about finding a small, independent wine shop where you live that you love and trust their taste and are able to form a relationship with them, like you would with a server at your favorite restaurant,” Pelka says.
What are your favorite kinds of glassware for sparkling wine?
“My preference, and for other sommeliers, is to drink Champagne out of a regular wine glass because it is a wine, and it’s great to swirl it and smell it; some people even use Burgundy glasses,” she says. “That’s if you really want to impress people and be ahead of the trends.”
At Pelka’s bar, they’re using Riedel AP (all-purpose), a line of smaller white wine glasses. “You definitely want a stem because you don’t want to warm up the glass with your hand,” Pelka says. “For me, wine drinking should have a little bit of ceremony to it. Unless I’m on a speedboat careening throughout the atmosphere, I’d like a stem.”
Zalto Wine Glasses
A super high-end gift would be Zalto wine glasses (The Riddler will serve them upon request). Prices start around $63 per glass, made from mouth-blown crystal, and it’s very delicate. Buy it here.
What food pairs best with sparkling wine?
Pretty much everything.
“It’s a wine that works with a really, really diverse set of food,” Pelka says. “A classic pairing is anything fried, like French fries or fried chicken; I like it with a potato pancake with smoked salmon.” Also try Champagne with popcorn (which The Riddler has available all day in bowls as a complimentary nibble). “Popcorn is a super easy party food, and it’s really hot right now,” she says.
Try your sparkling wine with our Eggnog Popcorn Balls recipe.
We do love things that pop, don’t we?