So. It’s Valentine’s Day again. At this time of year, our thoughts naturally turn toward… well, headaches. So speaking of Champagne, here’s a something-for-everyone collection of bubblies suitable for just about any V-Day celebration, whether that means dinner out, an Annoyed Single People party, or a nice dinner at home. The prices range, the less-costly ones are dependably delicious, and the “special” ones are really pretty special. Part of the joy of sparkling wine is that it is the occasion, so consider the bottles on this list if you’re popping a question as well as a cork-but don’t rule out the bigger-deal ones even if your Valentine’s Day date is a hot, steamy three-way between you, a Netflix binge and a pint of Cherry Garcia.
The Seductress: Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2008
Whether Champagne is truly an aphrodisiac remains a subject of debate, but if you’re looking for a love potion, or a sparkling wine to fall in love with, this is a pretty great one. If you like staying the heck away from restaurants at this time of year and want to enjoy a little Valentine’s Day one-on-one time at home, this pink lady will be a grand accompaniment. (PS, if you’re on your own on the 14th, this wine will happily be your date.) Intense nose, with fresh raspberries leading, along with assorted florals. On the palate the wine is balanced and exceedingly well-structured. Strong red berry notes courtesy of a pinot majority in the blend (I get a ghost of something citrusy too), beautiful delicate rosy hue, persistent mousse, a delicate creaminess. This is a splurge wine, but once in a while you should arguably do that. 2008 was a great year for Champagne, but if you find one from a different vintage, you’re in for treat regardless.
The Joybomb: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
If an evil genie popped out of a lamp and told me I could only drink one wine for the rest of my life – well, that’d be a really, really evil genie. However, this would very likely be the one. Never-ending, beautiful effervescence, pale coral color with a hint of gold, nuanced nose (alpine strawberry and pear play the leads). There’s something ineffable about this stuff – it’s fresh and brisk and airy but at the same time substantial. If you could bottle happiness it would probably taste a lot like this wine.
The Sophisticate: Ferrari Trento Perlé
If pink isn’t your color, try this sparkling wine from Italy. It’s not Prosecco – It’s made from Chardonnay. If you think you don’t like Chardonnay you should still try this one. Exceedingly elegant, very pale straw color, very persistent and fine bubbles. There’s a kind of wild apple note to the nose, followed by a citrus note (tangerine, to me) and lingering aromas of almond blossom and fresh pastry. All very rich but subtle. The finish is fairly typical sparkling Chard fruit notes, a lovely minerality common to wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy, and a lingering almond finish. It’s the Little Black Dress and Pearls of Italian bubblies, and you really can’t go wrong with it.
The Incurable Romantic: Charles Heidesick 2006 Rose
This is the biggest splurge on this list, and would be not-inappropriate if your V-Day plans also included, say, the offering of some kind of symbolic jewelry. Or if you’re just feeling opulent, nothing wrong with that. If you like your Champagne on the intense side, this is your guy. There’s an immediacy and power to this stuff. Apricot tone in the glass, beautiful bubbles, massively aromatic nose reminiscent of strawberry jam, baking spices and honey. Creamy mouthfeel, and a highly nuanced and rather eccentric palate – plums, piecrust, blackberries – I even get some rather unexpected spice notes; Is that cumin? Fennel? Before you figure it out it reveals a deeper layer that expresses tea, figs, and pink peppercorns. If that list of spices sounds odd or intimidating, don’t sweat it – it’s amazingly seamless and, with all due respect to La France, the stringent regulations on what you can call Champagne result in consistent greatness but also… predictability. There is a certain limited range of flavors. Heidsieck has managed a very surprising one here. So… if you’re planning to surprise someone special, this might be the moment to pop the cork on a bottle of this nectar.
The Light Touch: Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava
From the festive bottle alone you should probably get the impression that you’re opening something lighthearted and effortless and a little different, like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Crafted from cava grapes Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo (that’s Catalan for “tasty”), this wine is pale green-yellow, light, dry and very fruity. Green apple dominates but there’s a kind of diffuse candied-fruit thing that’s a little hard to pin down. A little orange peel, a little pear. Super-clean, brisk finish. A great aperitif but, like most sparkling wines, also happy companions to almost anything you’re putting on the dinner table. If you are one of those people who see non-stratospheric price tags on sparkling wine and feel worried that you might be buying total plonk, let it go if this is the bottle in your hand. A contender for the best value on this list, Vilarnau in particular and cava in general is miraculously affordable for the care and quality that go into it.
The Cutie-pie: Moët & Chandon Rosé Imperial Emoji
A brand new limited-edition release from Moët, this is the Silly-pants Iteration of Moët & Chandon Rosé Imperial (see, just because we’re French doesn’t mean we can’t be wacky; check it: Emoji!). It comes in a very cute gift box and contains a sheet of emoji stickers to personalize the bottle for your Special Person. After drinking this stuff, you might prefer to customize each other with the stickers-we will leave that up to you. Coppery pink with an emphasis on pinot noir flavors, heavily alpine strawberry on the nose, but there’s also an intriguing seashell-like mineral tenor. Oranges and pomegranates unfold on the palate. Brisk acidity (the kind wine-geeks tend to call “racy”). Delicious.
The Bon Vivant: Willm Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé
This 100% pinot noir from Alsace is a pale salmon color and has nice, persistent bubbles. Perfumed nose of strawberries and flowers. Affable, frothy, exuberant. Medium bodied with great acidity, red currant and berry notes, bright citrusy finish. This wine is a good time in a bottle.
The Carpe Diem: Boschendal Methode Cap Classique Brut
South Africa has some amazing wineries and this is one of them. Their Brut bubbly is a pinot and chardonnay blend with a golden color, a super-bright lemon tone followed by orange peel and almond notes. On the palate, citrus dominates, but there’s some stoniness to it too and whispers of tropical fruit notes (pineapple? I think pineapple). This wine is delicate and balanced and not one you should plan on cellaring. It is “Of The Now,” and best drunk young. It might make you feel young, too.
The Magnet: JM Gobillard et Fils Millesime 2010
The term “Millesime” is common in perfumery but in describing Champagne it means the same thing: extra-high quality. And this is some pretty fine stuff. Be careful opening this one if you’re flying solo because you will drink the entire bottle and then possibly do something silly. Sleek, structured, finesse in a glass. Straw color, lovely aromatics (violets and strawberries), persistent perlage, and pleasant mix of fruity and pastry-like notes. A beauty.
Liquid Cheer: Zonin Prosecco
Not to be confused with the laundry detergent, but seriously, this wine’s always a plain old feel-good crowd pleaser. Prosecco is made from a grape varietal called Glera, which some believe has been around since the days of Julius Caesar. Balanced, approachable, highly tasty. Golden, with a lovely nose of white flowers and mineral notes. Some Proseccos I find to be a little under-nuanced and heavy on lemon-like flavors. This one’s got some citrus but also hints of stone fruit (peach, nectarine.) Clean finish.