Sparkling Wines For New Year's Eve

Regardless of where or how you plan to spend this New Year's Eve, chances are, it's going to involve a toast at midnight. So might I suggest you make it count? Whether your budget's $14 or $140, I urge you to put away the overpriced and overplayed White Star, and make room for one of these bottles of bubbly. Each of these bottles made an indelible mark on my mind (and palate) in 2014; they deserve a spot at the New Year's Eve table.


Veuve Ambal Brut Blanc de Blancs NV ($13.95)


Never heard of Crémant de Borgogne? Although it's a growing category, neither have most people — and that's why it's still a spectacular value. Veuve Ambal's entry-level cuvée, a blend of 50 percent Ugni Blanc and 50 percent Chardonnay, is masterful example of the Burgundian bubbly; light-bodied, with sprightly bubbles and fruity, mouthwatering aromas, it's the kind of easy-to-drink sensation that one could enjoy for hours. 


Pere Ventura Tresor Brut Rosé Cava NV ($15.99)

Self-proclaimed "Cava missionary" Pere Ventura Vendrell exudes playfulness; the quirky proprietor of Pere Ventura hands out cards with the words "I AM" emblazoned on them. The winery's brut rosé has the same playful quality, its intense pink color hinting at a fresh strawberry bouquet and a fruity, dry finish. 

Toques et Clochers Crémant de Limoux NV ($19.95)

Crémant de Limoux is another French value outside of the Champagne category. Along with its lemony bouquet and limestone minerality, this Chardonnay-based bottle, from Toques et Clochers, offers a creamy, fine mousse and a sweet finish. A fun bonus story to share with friends: winemaker Laurent Mingaud makes sure a percentage of profits each year go to renovating one building in a Limoux village; In 2014, proceeds went to the renovation of an old church.

Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut NV ($48.99)

It's said that Queen Victoria loved Joseph Perrier (hence the name Cuvée Royale). And who could blame her? The blend of 35 percent Chardonnay, 35 percent Pinot Noir, and 30 percent Pinot Meunier invites with rich, lemon-lime aromas, refined bubbles, and a nice, long finish. 


Joseph Perrier Cuvee Josephine 2004 ($134.95)

This special cuvée, a blend of Joseph Perrier's four best Pinot Noir and four best Chardonnay crus blended together, has layers of flavor: fresh pear, soft apple spice, an extremely delicate mousse, and a lingering finish that seemingly lasts forever.


Forget Your Presumptions and Check Out The San Francisco Meadery

Aside from sleep, one of the first things I did when I hopped off the plane from Turkey was attend a preview of the latest menu items at The Ice Cream Bar. It was fun to try the shop's fall cocktails, like the SF Honey (below), but my favorite thing turned out not to be the ice cream or the cocktails at all. 

I learned that the Ice Cream Bar's also started carrying a line of meads, or honey wines, by a small company called The San Francisco Meadery. At the party, mead maker Oron Benary was on hand to pour samples — and they were fantastic. 

Oron and his wife, Sarah, only source ingredients and materials locally — we're not just talking apple cider from Sonoma, but also packaging from Oakland. (The farthest-sourced ingredient is their orange blossom honey, which comes from Ojai, CA.) They also own another label, Brothers Drake Meadery, out of Columbus, OH, and only use Ohio ingredients for those meads; his goal is to eventually open more meaderies, and expand to become a national brand with local production and sense. 

The San Francisco Meadery has three different meads. The Orange Blossom ($19.99) is named as such because one third of each bottle is made of orange blossom honey; it's aged for over a year for dry, light, and aromatic attributes. The fuller-bodied California Gold ($29.99) has only three ingredients — honey, water, and yeast — but comes across like an elegant semi-dry sherry, in part because it's been aged for two and a half years. And The Apple Pie ($19.99) is sweeter, with 8 percent residual sugar; it's made from Sonoma apple cider, as well as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. With such warming spices, it's a nice drink to get you in the mood for fall. 


Until this point, all of the meads I'd tried had been too sweet and one-dimensional, but I could actually see myself lingering over each one of these, the California Gold being my favorite. "I'm pretty much a winemaker who uses honey instead of grapes," Oron told me. He and winemakers have at least one thing in common, though: he uses wine yeast in his fermentation process. Those who enjoy wines but have reactions to sulfites, however, can rejoice: these meads are sulfite-free. 

Oron and his wife hope to eventually sell throughout the state, but currently they're only selling in the Bay Area. You can visit The San Francisco Meadery at its tasting room in the Bayview, or find the meads at Bi-Rite, Rainbow Grocery, The Jug Shop, and Northern California Whole Foods stores.