Houston Sommeliers’ Picks for Best Sparkling Wines for the Holidays
Nothing quite puts the “pop “in a holiday celebration like opening a bottle of bubbles. While most people think of these as the go-to wines for celebrations and toasts, they’re more versatile than that. They can kick off a meal, be part of the main dish or simply be served as a refreshment. We asked some top Houston sommeliers — including this year’s Iron Sommelier winner — for their recommendations on what should be on our tables and in our hands this holiday season. Here are their selections.
Sean Beck, beverage director, H Town Restaurant Group: “Personally I think we should be drinking bubbly most days or, at bare minimum, weekly,” said Beck, who recommends ringing in the New Year with Château Drappier Brut Rosé Champagne. “It’s the perfect mix of quality, availability and dollar-for-dollar value. Started more than 200 years ago, Drappier changed the course of bubbly in their corner of Champagne. They were the first house to grow Pinot Noir in the Aube area and have spent the last century elevating the region. [This rosé] is gorgeous with a deep, salmon hue and an inviting nose full of spice, Provence herbs, bing cherries and shortbread cookies. The bubbles are delicate, yet lively and it’s effortlessly drinkable. As it warms slightly in the glass, the wonderful floral aromas begin to shine and life just starts feels a little brighter, more hopeful and happy.”
Marc Borel, wine director,Rainbow Lodge: Borel recommends Philipponnat’s Royale Réserve Brut. “Anyone who knows me knows I love Champagne. Sure, it’s festive and absolutely appropriate at a party, but it’s also appropriate on a Tuesday while sitting on the couch,” he said. “True Champagne can only come from the Champagne region in Northern France and the Philipponnat family has been making stellar bubbles since 1522! The Royale Réserve is made primarily of Pinot Noir, which contributes to its full body and long finish. The Chardonnay in the blend gives it notes of freshly baked bread.” This wine is currently available at Rainbow Lodge both by the glass and by the bottle.
Vanessa Traveño Boyd, sommelier and wine director, the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa: Boyd said she likes the Champagne Ayala, ‘Brut Majeur’ NV for its value and taste. “This is one of the most compelling, entry-level Champagnes on shelves today,” she said. “Its round fruitiness is driven by a generous amount of Pinot Noir, making it a crowd-worthy selection, but the house style is one that is low on added dosage, keeping that fruit-forwardness in check for the lover of the crisp, lean, linear style. Plus, its alignment with the house of Bollinger guarantees its access to top quality fruit. Bravo to Cellarmaster Caroline Latrive.”
Adele Corrigan, general manager,13 Celsius: “Every year I look forward to the new vintage of Pierre Gimmonet’s Cuvee Paradoxe,” said Corrigan. “This wine is a blend of 90-percent Pinot Noir and 10-percent Chardonnay. [That’s] despite the estate holdings only consisting of a minuscule amount of Pinot Noir in the Côte des Blancs in Champagne, France. Hence the name Paradoxe.” A bottle retails for $130 at 13 Celsius. “This fully sparkling wine is fresh, full, and complex with notes of toasty brioche and pineapple,” adds Corrigan, who recommends pairing it with raw oysters.
Julie Dalton, advanced sommelier, Mastro’s Steakhouse: Dalton, the top winner of this year’s Iron Sommelier competition, says the Pierre Péters Cuvée de Reserve is her “absolute favorite of all time.” It’s available at Mastro’s for $120 a bottle and is made from Chardonnay grapes. “This is a deliciously savory Blanc de Blancs sourced from Rodolphe Péters’ Grand Cru vines in [France’s] Le Mesnil, Avize, Oger and Cramant,” said Dalton. “What makes this wine so savory is that the cuvée is 40-percent reserve wine that is essentially a blend of wines dating back to 1988. Even the most recent bottlings have a gorgeous nutty, salty, graham cracker note that will make you stop and listen. Chardonnay bubbles are like microscopic ballet dancers on your palate.”
Jean-Philippe Guy, owner, French Country Wines: “I have a lot of respect for winemaker Nicholas Brunet, who took over the vineyard from his father Georges,” said Guy about the Domaine Brunet Sparkling Vouvray Brut from France’s Loire Valley. “He does very little to intervene with nature, and doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides. This wine is a bright, reminiscent of green apples with a light tartness on the end.” Guy said the wine, one hundred percent Chenin Blanc, is super easy to drink. “Besides, everyone loves Chenin Blanc — and if they don’t know it, they should,” he said.
Sara Stayer, sommelier, Nobie’s: Stayer crafted a great wine list for the cozy Montrose spot and offers New Year’s revelers two recommendations. “I’m a Loire fanatic all the time and sparkling Vouvray has just blown up recently. The quality versus the cost is unbelievable,” she said. Currently she’s loving the Petit Coteau sparkling Vouray, made with Chenin Blanc grapes. The wine’s “high acid, notes of green apple and lime zest” are among the reasons why it’s a top pick, as well as the incredibly affordable price of $20 a bottle. Strayer also recommends either the 2005 or 2007 Foreau, also made from Chenin Blanc. “They pick the grapes when they are super ripe, so it’s just gigantic, dry, beautiful!”
Russ Stephenson, wine manager, Central Market Houston: Stephenson calls the Rivarose Cote de Provence Brut “amazing.” A blend of Syrah and Cinsault from the south of France, the wine is as bright as the Mediterranean sunshine that lingers over Rivarose’s vineyards. “It’s crisp and dry, with light strawberry notes,” said Stephenson. “A perfect little sparkler — and a great value at $16.99 a bottle.”
Evan Turner, wine director, Emmaline: Greek wines are Turner’s passion, so it’s little wonder he suggested one for holiday feasting. His go-to is the Akakies Kir-Yianni Sparkling Rose. Made from the Xinomavro grapes of northern Greece, it can pull double duty as an aperitif or digestif, as well as pair with Mediterranean food, spicy Asian dishes or oily fish. “It’s got bright, cranberry flavors with hints of strawberry cream,” said Turner. “It’s lightly dry and has the most Christmas-y color. Without a doubt this is the wine to drink this season.”
Philippe Verpiand, chef and owner, Étoile Cuisine et Bar and Brasserie du Parc: “I love [the Étoile] sparkling rose from California made by Chandon,” said Verpiand who, in addition to owning the restaurants, is also the executive chef and creates the wine lists. “It’s very good for any special occasion, with a light strawberry aroma, rose petals, plenty of bubbles. It’s very affordable and the cherry on the cake for me is it has the same name as the restaurant.”