Crisp December days and shimmering glasses of golden bubbles are a perfect match, especially with holiday lights twinkling and friends reaching to clink a toast.
Of course, there are sparkling wines to suit all budgets, and this year, I've scouted a handful of options to fit your needs.
For great values, America continues to offer excellent sparklers from Sonoma to Washington state. You'd be hard-pressed, though, to find a better-quality value than the dry bubblies that have emerged from Gruet in New Mexico. Blind-taste the classic brut, with its fine balanced flavors evoking crisp orchard fruit (ripe Asian pears), with a dry but aromatic finish of pie spice (cinnamon and allspice), and I guarantee guests will not guess it's domestic (let alone from New Mexico). An even bigger shocker is the case-worthy bottle price: $17. For an extra dollar, go for Gruet's rosé if you can find it, which blushes with a little peck of sweet cherry.
The next $10 tier up will get you to France for something actually exciting. One of my all-time favorite producers of white Burgundy Viré-Clessé, André Bonhomme, makes a cremant sold for $25 at Moore Bros. in New Jersey that's simply alive with complexity, mouth-watering acidity, and length. That's thanks in part to a dosage of botrytis-affected late-harvest 1996 chardonnay to goose this 2010 wine's second fermentation, adding shades of sweet honey to the tart apples and minerality. One of my new favorites regardless of price.
Big spenders might consider Moët & Chandon's Grand Vintage 2004, a widely distributed bottle for $60 - but one made only in excellent years (every three to four harvests). The 2004 is notably elegant, with a soft but steady stream of tiny bubbles and a lightly toasty creaminess from bottle age that weaves between tropical fruit and pithy Clementines. Cheers! - Craig LaBan