By The Glass
Celebrate with more than champagne
We MAY believe the most popular thing to drink for the New Year is champagne, but in many parts of the world the celebration is accompanied by something else.
Champagne is most common in France and the United States. Whether it's the bubbles, the pop of the cork or the fancy glasses, nothing screams "PARTY!" more than champagne. It is customary to have a toast at midnight, but a sparkling wine isn't a bad choice for your meal earlier in the evening.
Many types are available. Most sparkling wine or champagne is brut, the driest type. Some of my favorite bruts are Roederer Brut Premier ($37.50) and Bollinger Special Cuvee ($50). If you prefer something with a tinge of sweetness, try one labeled extra dry or demi sec -- usually easier for casual drinkers to enjoy. Schramsberg Cremant ($38.99) from California is one of the best and most popular.
While most sparkling wines are a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes, there are some single-varietals. Sparkling wine made from only chardonnay is called blanc de blanc and my favorite is Taittinger Blanc de Blanc (1998 for $185). Some sparkling wine is also made from only pinot noir, called blanc de noirs. Moet Chandon Blanc de Noir ($23.99) is a good, inexpensive choice. Blanc de blanc typically is lighter, more delicate and subtle; blanc de noirs is fuller and more powerful.
A growing trend in sparkling wine is rosé, a pink wine that gets its color from longer contact with the skins of the pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. A rosé has a little more fruit flavor than a typical sparkling wine and is a good match for various kinds of foods. I have a preference for pink over the golden color of typical champagne. Recently I really enjoyed the Henriot Rosé NV ($65.99).
Prosecco is Italy's sparkling wine, usually served as an aperitif, with appetizers or as a cocktail. It isn't generally as serious as champagne, but if all you are doing is having a sip or two for a toast it will fit that purpose. Zardetto Prosecco ($12.99) is a good one.
I have Italian friends who like to celebrate the new year with moscato d'Asti, a slightly fizzy wine that's delicately sweet, low in alcohol, with exotic flavors of lychee. The 2006 Gomba Moscato d'Asti ($15.99) is one of the best I've tasted. My wife loves moscato d'Asti.
I also have friends from Germany who swear by icewine at New Year's. Icewine is made from grapes left on the vine until they freeze. Hanging on the vines so long, the grapes start shriveling like raisins. Very little juice can be extracted from these grapes, resulting in a thick, viscous and sweet nectar that is made into icewine. As you can imagine, this takes time, patience, experience and some help from Mother Nature, so these wines are fairly pricey. But the sweet wine that results is unique and enjoyable. The 2004 Selbach Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Eiswein ($70 for 375 milliliters) is an excellent example.
When my Japanese mother-in-law makes her traditional New Year's meal, the only choice is sake. Nothing quite matches the fishcake, mochi rice, chestnuts, grilled fish and root vegetables like a subtle, complex sake. Cold sake is definitely the trend and having a good bottle such as Mukune "Root of Innocence" (36.50) always makes my mother-in-law happy.
There are ways to celebrate other than just champagne. Find one that suits you and enjoy!
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org