Don Conde, Spanish Cava, n.v., $8, is a terrific mimosa-making, occasion-toasting, large-group-enhancing, party-promoting, back-porch-enjoying kind of bubbly. Cava means "fermented in each bottle" to ensure that the bubbles are small and numerous, something to which the multistory tank-fermented bubbly cannot lay claim. The labels say "Charmat," or bulk process fewer bubbles, less flavor, same money. Just read the labels, it's all there.
A step up the bubbly ladder are the sparklers from California and the Pacific Northwest. Luxe is a new one from Ch. Ste. Michelle of Woodinville, Wash. It's $22 a bottle and is dated 1999. These new American sparklers are coming out with considerable bottle age, which mellows out the flavors and intensifies the bubbles. This takes the flavor of American bubbly closer to that of French Champagne and makes it a great deal at $22. The grape composition in Luxe is 100 percent chardonnay, making it softer than the usual high-end blend of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Etoile Rose is an upper-end sparkler made by Chandon in Yountville, Calif. It's a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and a grape widely used in champagne pinot Meunier. It is a 1999 vintage and at $40 a bottle proves the adage that you will pay for that additional bottle age, but it is usually worth it. Get next to that tray of lobster and veal, because this bubbly drinks like a chardonnay and has the power of pinot noir. For that matter, try to find some plum cake as well.
What about the fun? Pommery, a venerable Champagne producer since 1837, has recently put some party clothes on its small bottles. The 187 ml (one good-sized glass), complete with straw, runs $9 a bottle. The champagne inside is fantastic and fairly spill-proof, so you can dance around looking festive without missing a drop. Champagne has always been a cut above in the entire world of bubbly. There is simply no re-creating the marginal climate and chalky soil that add the extra dimension of flavor.
Whichever version you choose, bubbly is the festive drink of choice to bring in the new year. It's up to you the crystal stemware or a straw. Layne Witherell
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.