Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Year To Celebrate! This New Year’s Eve, no Terps fan will be without a reason to look back on 2006 with fond memories . . . or without a reason to look forward to what 2007 may hold. So, if you’re like the BasketCases, you should start now looking under seat cushions for loose change and breaking open those piggy banks, so you can maximize your budget for New Year’s Bubbly!

Since we enjoy drinking champagne almost as much as we enjoy watching basketball (or even better . . . drinking champagne while we are watching basketball) -- we thought we'd share some basic bubbly information and suggestions for our loyal blog readers who just might be wondering what bottle to pick up this week to help ring out the Year of the Natty and ring in the Year of Whatever the Future Holds.

First, an important definition. If that bottle of bubbly isn't from the Champagne region of France, well -- we hate to break it to you, but it isn't really champagne!! It's sparkling wine, and that’s OK -- it may still be pretty darn good -- but the French wine police (or maybe even Aurelie) may be after you if you call it champagne.

Now, what's in champagne? Champagne is typically a blend of three grapes: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both black grapes), and Chardonnay (a white grape). However, you'll find some sparklers that are Blanc de Blancs (made only from Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noirs (made only from the black grapes). Then, of course, there is vintage champagne (made only from the grapes of a single harvest of a good year), and non-vintage champagne (a blend of wines from different years' harvests). Champagne styles range from very full-bodied, toasty wines, to lighter, more citrusy flavors.

But getting back to the question: what should you drink on New Year's Eve? Well, as with so many things in life, you first need to decide how much you can afford and are willing to spend. It's not that we're snobs or anything (okay, we are), but life is just too short to drink bad bubbly . . . go for the best your budget allows! And to help you make the right choice, here are some sparklers that the BasketCases can personally recommend (and that are all widely available), along with their price ranges, beginning with the most affordable:

Under $20: okay, let's be frank, this is not going to get you the real deal (champagne), but you can find some sparkling wines that are just fine to drink. One modestly-priced standby in our house is Domaine Chandon, a California bubby. We particularly enjoy their Blanc de Noirs; it has a nice berry flavor, is good with food, and, for what it costs, is quite enjoyable. For you folks looking for a rose that doesn't require taking out a 2nd mortgage, Roederer Estate, another California producer, makes a very respectable one (though it may cost you a little over $20 if you can't find it on sale).

$20-$30: now we move into the price range that will get you the real stuff, champagne, though not a vintage wine. Still, there are real finds here. We highly recommend Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top, which at this time of the year you can often find on sale for about $25-27. It's a very nice champagne on the toasty, more full-bodied end of the spectrum; it's one of our favorites. Also generally available at the top of this price range (or perhaps just a little over $30) is another of our favorites, Pommery Brut Royal, which is a light, citrusy sparkler and very enjoyable.

$30-$50: in this price range, you'll have no trouble finding wonderful champagnes and sparkling wines. Here are a few that we really like: Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve (a smooth, toasty champagne; it can often be found on sale under $30); Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut (a more full-bodied, oak-ey champagne), and Roederer Estate L'Hermitage Brut (a California sparkler that's as close to champagne as any domestic bubbly we've tried!).

Over $50: OK, this price will get you the top shelf stuff, typically vintage champagnes. The year 1996 was an especially good one in Champagne; you can still find '96 vintages in the stores, and if you are going to be spending that kind of money on a bottle, get a good vintage. Two of the '96s we've particularly enjoyed are Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve and Bollinger Grande Annee. And if you really want to go all out with a prestige cuvee (meaning the producer's top champagne), one of the finest champagnes we've ever had is the 1996 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame. It's a smooth, delicious, perfectly balanced wine, not specifically toasty or citrusy, with a wonderful finish. It's still available in stores. It will set you back $100 or more, but heck, how many times will Maryland win its first Natty?

So, once again, our advice is to buy the best you can afford! And, regardless of what your price range happens to be, we're certain you'll find a sparkling wine worthy of celebrating a championship year.

Happy Old Year and Happy New Year to one and all!!

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases (all of the vintages of Champagne Pommery on display in their Roman chalk cellars approximately 100 ft beneath Reims, France)


At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the very helpful guide to celebrating. Let's hope we can buy now and enjoy later the over $50 bottles for another Terp Championship victory!!

Keep up the good research & reporting!

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pommery is my favorite! We'll have to talk about travel to France at some point. Safe travels this weekend and have a Happy New Year!!

At 3:18 PM, Blogger BasketCases said...

Thanks KCH. Don't know if you've ever had the '95 Pommery Cuvee Louise, but it's incredible.

Happy New Year!



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