It's happened twice this year: I've been sitting in a restaurant in a foreign country, and all around me the discreet hiss and pop of Champagne corks punctuated the clamor of conversation. But it wasn't Champagne ― sparkling wine from that eponymous region in France ― people were drinking. The first time, it was New Zealand sparklers, sipped with abandon during Sunday brunch. The second time, at 11 p.m. in a seafood restaurant in Barcelona, Spain, the waiters didn't even ask if anyone wanted sparkling wine; they just brought bottle after bottle to every table.
You see, something has changed in much of the world. People are no longer under the impression that Champagne is the only sparkling wine worth drinking, or that bubbles are only for celebrations. From the trattorias of Italy to the cafes of Argentina, people are drinking sparklers because bubbles are refreshing, and the wines are extraordinary matches for a wide range of foods.
In my favorite wine shop recently, I found sparklers from Spain, Germany, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia as well as Champagne; and from closer to home, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington as well as California. Most were made by the painstaking, labor-intensive traditional method (méthode champenoise), meaning that the bubbles formed naturally inside each bottle. And in almost every case the wines were a deal, if not an outright steal. So this month, think globally ― and beyond New Year's Eve.
In addition to Champagne and California sparkling wine, try these:
Chandon Fresco Extra Dry (Argentina), $12. Full of vanilla, with slightly exotic notes and persistent bubbles, this is the Argentinean sister of Moët & Chandon in France and Domaine Chandon in California.
Gruet Brut NV (New Mexico), $14. Made from grapes grown near the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, Gruet may be the biggest testament there is to the fact that delicious sparklers can and are being made in unexpected places. Lemony and crisp, with a nice touch of yeastiness.
Rivetti La Spinetta Moscato d'Asti 2001 (Piedmont, Italy), $16. One of Italy's most irresistible delicacies (it's not the same as Asti Spumante), with notes of peach and ginger. Low in alcohol and just lightly fizzy rather than fully sparkling, Moscato d'Asti is traditionally served on Christmas morning.
Sumarroca Cava Extra Brut Reserva NV (Penedes, Spain), $8. Many terrific cavas (top Spanish sparklers) are available in the United States. Most are fresh, frothy, and satisfying, with an equally satisfying price. This one from Sumarroca is a great crowd-pleaser, with delicious tropical notes.
Yalumba "D Black" 1998 (Barossa Valley, Australia), $25. In Australia, sparkling reds ― and I mean deep lipstick red ― have a cult following. Most are made from Shiraz (Syrah), though some (like this one) are Cabernet-Shiraz blends. Fascinating chocolate, earth, and black raspberry flavors. If you like red wine and texture, this is for you.