On behalf of wine writers everywhere, I apologize. We were wrong—flat-out bungled the call last New Year’s Eve. With our annual deep dives into the best bubblies for the season, we offered up the rosiest of reasons to celebrate incoming 2021. After a year darkened by the pandemic, this one was going to justify the promise of bottles popped at midnight, with expansive globe-trotting, connections without boundaries …
And, well, here we are—not exactly in the clear. The year did have a few moments: long-haul trips slipped in, foreign business meet-ups in person, destination weddings that side-stepped the gloom of restrictions. But there’s no getting around the fact that the outlook has gone a little dark again going into 2022. This is not the time—or reason—to ditch good bubbles, though! What was it Napoleon reportedly said about the bottles of Champagne he allegedly disbursed to his men heading into battle (which they’re rumored to have sabered and guzzled on horseback)? “In victory, you deserve Champagne; in defeat, you need it.” Or wait, was that Winston Churchill?
Regardless, sparkling wine is called for on December 31, 2021. Great sparkling wine. And this year, the surfeit of superb bottles of bubbly from around the globe is itself reason enough to celebrate, even—or especially—at home. Virtual roaming in the last few months (Zoom-tasting writ large) has turned up terrific bottles from Champagne (of course), Southeast England, Italy, Spain, California and Oregon. All of the sparkling wines here are made in the painstaking traditional Champagne method, and with the exception of the Cava, with the traditional Champagne grapes—Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay.
Put a few bottles on ice and toast to better times on the horizon. Happy New Year to you!
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut 2013
Always a marriage of nature, art and Perrier-Jouët’s signature expression of Chardonnay in Champagne, Belle Epoque comes again this year, with the 2013 vintage, in a gift box created by Austrian designers mischer’traxler to complement the iconic spray of Japanese white anemones created for Maison Perrier-Jouët by Art Nouveau master Emile Gallé in 1902, and associated with Belle Epoque after its debut in 1964. The wine is exuberantly fresh and vibrant, opening with delicate honeysuckle and jasmine combined with white peach, pear and a spritz of lemon. The first sip offers a burst of sweet fruit—more peach, with nectarine and hints of lime and grapefruit—on a highly expressive palate, mouth-watering with bright acidity.
Gran Moraine 2014 Blanc de Blancs Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley
This vibrant, structured sparkler is the first Blanc de Blancs from Gran Moraine winemaker Shane Moore. With more than five years on the lees, toasted brioche makes a play on the nose, beside oyster-shell minerality, almond blossom, lemon meringue, fresh pear and savory herbs. An exotic palate of lemongrass, clementine and lime zest is bright and savory, with hints of mushroom leading into the finish.
Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2015 Brut Anderson Valley
The tête de cuvee from Roederer’s Mendocino outpost is made only in good years, and this vibrant 2015 (about half and half Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), with its signature tiny, lively bubbles, makes a tasty case for what was a very dry year. Fresh and earthy at the same time, the nose is layered with white blossoms, a touch of brioche, spiced apple, a little almond and lemon blossoms for good measure. Great acidity gives the wine structure and weight, while a core of tart, creamy lemon and grapefruit mix with apricot and white nectarine—bright and refreshing.
Nyetimber 2013 Tillington Single Vineyard England
A blend of 76 percent Pinot Noir and 24 percent Chardonnay, this special bottling from Nyetimber—only made in good years—comes from West Sussex, a part of southeast England that boasts an extension of the chalk-rich soils of Champagne. Aromas of fresh-baked bread open, along with rich citrus (a touch of orange peel) and hints of red berries, hazelnuts and a salty ocean breeze. The palate is powerful and long, layered with clementine fruit, raspberry and rhubarb delivered with elegant, creamy bubbles.
Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal 2013
This classic vintage of Champagne Roederer Cristal—60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay—is both elegant and energetic. The nose is rich and earthy, with wet-stone and oyster-shell minerality and a slight nuttiness wrapped in delicate white blossom aromas layered with juicy apple, pear and creamy lemon. A complex core of fruit, from white nectarine to golden plum and pear, carries a palate that manages freshness and purity in the face of that complexity. Beautiful length reveals the energy and texture of the vintage.
Champagne Christophe Baron Les Hautes Blanches Vignes 2016 Charly-Sur-Marne
Available only in magnum (which can only be a good thing) and unique among its peers in being made exclusively from Pinot Meunier, this powerful, rosy-tinted bubbly comes from one of the vineyards that Christophe Baron—a legend on the West Coast for his Walla Walla Valley wines—owns with his family in Champagne. It opens with candied citrus peel, honeyed stone fruit, tree fruits, dried herbs and a whiff of fresh bread—a sweet-seeming nose belied by a strikingly dry and robust palate (there’s zero dosage here). Lemon-lime flavors build to spiced apricot and pear with red berry notes at the edge and mineral on the end. A vibrant mousse adds to the wine’s power and presence.
Inman Family 2015 Extra Brut Luxe Cuvée Russian River Valley
This serious sparkler from Kathleen Inman is the first she’s made that’s not from 100 percent estate Pinot Noir, but the 72 percent Pinot, 28 percent Chardonnay deserves a shout out for its daring lack of added sugar (just a miniscule 0.081 percent residual). Dry is trending, yes, but this one manages an exceptionally rich mouth-feel and complexity of fruit for the style. Earth clings to just-picked apples and pears on the nose, with hints of red berries and almond blossom around the edges. Spiced cherries and strawberries belie the dryness of the palate, layered with exotic citrus and the finish lingers with lovely weight. Spring for a magnum of this one!
Champagne Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs 2015
Here’s a vivid, pure expression of Chardonnay from Ayala, a house (part of the Champagne Bollinger family) that excels with the white side of Champagne. Opening with a sexy swirl of golden apple, high-toned florals, honeycomb and puff pastry, the wine builds, with a super-fine bead, into layers of citrus—lemon curd, orange peel—and fresh white stone fruit around a core of beautiful minerality that lingers on a long, lovely finish.
Frank Family Vineyards 2016 Brut Rosé Carneros, Napa Valley
Lovely red-fruit character marks this rosé from Frank Family. Cherry, raspberry and red apple skin aromas open on the nose, wrapped up in jasmine, white peach and a hint of walnut. Spiced cranberry and bright cherry flavors are layered with—and balanced by—orange peel and savory minerality on the finish.
Ram’s Gate 2015 Blanc de Noirs Carneros
This vivid bubbly, from the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in Ram’s Gate’s estate vineyard, is vibrant and bright for all its intensity. The nose is a deep well of aromas: dusty berries, preserved orange peel and crisp apple with hints of tropical blossoms and hazelnuts. Red berry fruit on the palate gives way to red apple skin and a little peach, finishing with lovely wet-stone minerality.
Agustí Torelló Mata 2013 Kripta Gran Reserva Cava Brut Nature
This rich and savory Spanish bubbly from Agustí Torelló Mata might use Cava’s three main traditional grapes—Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada—but it makes a striking statement in every other way, from its seven years on the lees (yes, good Cava can age!), its $90 price tag and, above all, its avant-garde, torpedo-shaped bottle (sans base). The wine itself is beautiful, with hints of telltale petrol wafting around rising bread dough, spiced green apple and honeysuckle aromas. An almond peel quality edges ripe white stone fruit and puckery grapefruit on the palate, with a creaminess born of age.