If you are looking for a fun idea for a New Year’s Eve Wine Party, think bubbly! Most people will drink it, even if they are not big wine fans and it adds to the festive atmosphere! There is a funny beer related surprise at the end too!
How to Hold a Blind Bubbly Party!
Here is a wine party theme to spark the imagination, satisfy curiosity and add a little adventure from around the world. Plus, it fits into the spirit of New Years.
Sparkling wines are made in different styles all over the world (not just Champagne, France) and can taste radically different. So, here is your mission (should you choose to accept it), introduce your friends to the world of sparkling wines. Most Americans have had some exposure to bubbly wines and the typical experience is with California sparkling, and/or French Champagne. I hosted this themed party with friends last year and it was a big hit. Everybody loves bubbly!
Here’s how you do it. Select one representative bottle of sparking wine from each (or less) region worldwide (see below for help). Record the regions / styles on a blank sheet of paper and set aside. Line the bottles up on the counter and turn them around so the front labels are not visible, then place them in numbered plain paper bags. Write the numbers with extra space on several blank sheets of paper and hand out to each party-goer. When the tasting begins, refer everyone to the sheet with the different regions / styles and have them record their votes and comments regarding each numbered bag relating to their guesses. When complete, expose the bottles and compare to actual.
Choosing Your Bubbly
This is a good spot to throw in a time saver… for those who are not interested in the background explaining the differences in these wines, skip this section and move down to the next – Regional Areas and Recommendations. For those who would like to impress their guests with your wine knowledge and help you and them understand WHY these wines vary so much in taste, aroma and mouth-feel, please read on… (find an in-depth guide to sparkling wine production – HERE)
First, sparkling can be made from many different white and red grapes varieties. Sparkling grape varieties must produce good acidity in the final product, so cool-climate varieties work best, the most common are: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Muenier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gamay, Glera, Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Riesling.
1 – The first step in producing sparkling wine is always the making of still wine. All the factors that make white still wines different, applies here too. Let’s assume we are starting the discussion at second ferment – the process that adds the bubbles. There is much more to the final production stages, but in an effort to focus on what affects the bubbles most… There are three typical methods that affect the texture and size of the bubbles in the wine:
- Methode Champenoise – The second ferment creates the bubbles in each bottle and the wine remains in the bottle for the entire process
- Methode Traditionelle – Same as above, but (by law) wineries are not allowed to use the term Methode Champenoise outside of the Champagne region
- Charmat Method – These wines are fermented in large pressurized vats
- Transfer Method – The second ferment is in the bottle, then the wine is transferred to large pressurized vats (less common)
Suffice it to say, the first method produces much finer bubbles, but can be very expensive, especially bottle-aged Champagne. Often, the producer will describe the process used to make the wine on the label. Some regions ONLY make the wine one way, or the other. Such as, Champagne must be made with the first process, while Cava is made with the second.
2 – Another primary characteristic is the sweetness and amount of residual sugar in the final product. In France, they have a naming convention for this:
- Extra Brut, Brut – Very little to no sugar
- Cuvee – This actually denotes a blend of grapes, but usually is more fruity and/or has some residual sugar
- Extra Dry, or Dry-Sec – Is slightly sweeter than Brut (don’t confuse this with a “dry” red wine)
- Demi-Sec – Is medium sweet
- Doux – Is very sweet and can be a touch syrupy
3 – Finally, an additional factor is whether the wine is made from red-skinned, or white skinned grapes. The French also have terms for this that are used around the world:
- Blanc-de-Blancs – from white grapes, usually Chardonnay. Can be crisper, lighter and more acidic. Makes great food wines.
- Blanc-de-Noirs – from red grapes (but is a white wine – click on link for explanation), usually Pinot Noir. Can be richer, have more complex flavors, a voluptuous mouth-feel and are usually softer.
Sparkling Regions and Regional Styles
These are recommendations (best street prices noted) for selecting a very diverse group of readily available, reasonably priced wines that are sure to have your friends scratching their heads. One “wine” will be our-ace-in-the-hole stumper… adding a surprise ending. I will not cover Rose and Red styles, or Vintage sparkling , because the fun of this event is for people to compare similar wines with surprising differences at reasonable prices. These wines are likely to be NV – Non-Vintage (shown on the label), but if you can find bottles with a date on the label, these can be of better quality (but not always). You will want to select wines at price-points your guests would buy for themselves.
1. Brut Champagne
The Champagne region of France has been known for making the finest sparkling wine in the world for more than a century. The best example of these are usually Brut style, with strong bread and/or nut flavors. This wine is always made via the Methode Champenoise process by French law. These wines are typically the most expensive sparkling. Try:
- Charles Heidsieck Brut NV $50/btl, Piper Heidsieck Brut NV $40/btl, Laurent-Perrier Brut NV $35/btl.
2. Cremant de Bourgogne
These sparkling wines are made in the Burgundy region of France and can be excellent too, but are often made by brokers called “negociants“. Quality control year over year can be an issue. This category will be at a lower price point and often is made in a fruitier style than Champagne. Try:
- Louis Bouillot NV Blanc-de-Blanc, or Blanc-de-Noir $15/btl.
3. American Sparkling
This is a very diverse category with the Northern California region being the big player. There are many producers making all styles. Quality and price can vary widely. The well-known, quality California producers are Mumm, Roederer Estate, Schramsberg, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer. You could throw your guests a curve and serve good wines from lesser known places like: Gruet from Albuquerque, NM, or Laetitia from San Luis Obispo County, CA. Try Brut, or Demi-Sec (or Cuvee) styles:
- Mumm Cuvee “M” NV $15/btl, Schramsberg Blanc-de-Blanc NV $20/btl, Gruet Brut NV $12/btl, Roederer Estate Brut NV $18/btl.
Cava is made in the Penedes region in Spain. The area is the largest volume producer of sparkling wine in the world and specializes in lower cost brands with dependable average quality. The wines here are always made via some form of the Charmat process. Try:
- Segura Viudas Heredad Reserva Brut NV $18, Sumarroca Cava Reserva Brut NV $16, Anna De Codorniu Brut NV $11
5. Cremant d’Alsace
These wines are made in the Alsace region of France. This is an interesting area producing a wide variety of styles and uses some of the lesser known varietals. Give the sparkling made from Pinot Blanc a shot to experience a richer, full-bodied sparkling wine. Try:
- Hubert Meyer Cremant Brut NV $16, Pierre Spar Cremant Brut Reserve NV $16, Albert Mann Cremant NV $22
6. Cremant de Loire
These wines are produced in the Northern Loire region of France. They are typically made from Chenin Blanc (my favorite white varietal) grapes, but can also contain Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Very often, these wines are aged extensively on the lees, giving them more body and a richer flavor. They tend to be fruitier and can be found commonly in all levels of residual sugar (sweetness). I have a personal soft spot for Chenin Blanc. When used in wines from Northern France and South Africa, this varietal can be both acidic and crisp, while being fruity and have a great mouth-feel. Look for the better sparkling wines in this region to be made with Methode Traditionelle. Try:
- François Pinon Cremant Brut NV $22, Domaine des Baumard Cremant Brut NV $20, Chateau Moncontour Cremant Sec $15
7. Deutscher Sekt
Sekt is made in Germany, typically from the Riesling grape. The “Deutscher” means it is made from grapes that originate in Germany. The German palate tends toward sweeter and less alcoholic wines and Sekt is no different. The characteristics of Riesling that I enjoy, are what makes Sekt interesting: good minerality and acidity with a “clean”, bright sweetness. Look for “Trocken” on the label, if you prefer the less sweet version. Try:
- Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling Sekt NV $13, von Buhl Riesling Sekt Brut $21, Deinhard ‘Lila’ Riesling Sekt NV $14
There is more change going on in this region, than the others. The wine growing areas northwest of Venice, Italy produce this style of wine. The quality in this region has improved drastically in recent years. Some of the least expensive sparkling wine in the world is being produced here, but the better producers are beginning to offer quality wines that can stand-up to comparison. These wines tend to be simpler, fruitier and are usually a touch sweet. Almost all Prosecco is made in the Charmat Method. Look for Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG on the label. These wines are likely to be of better quality. Try:
- La Marca Extra Dry Prosecco NV $14, Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco NV $15, Bisol Crede Brut Prosecco NV
9. Asti Spumante / Moscato d’Asti
If there was ever a cliché for cheap, sweet sparkling, this is it. Having very inexpensive versions imported into the U.S. for decades, this wine has developed a reputation. Asti Spumanti is made in the Asti region of Italy from the Muscat grape. The wine is typically made with the Charmat Method. This style of sparkling wine is my least favorite, but if you are a sweet wine person and enjoy the richness of Muscat, this wine may be for you. Try:
- Casa Sant’Orsola Asti Spumante NV DOCG $12, Mondoro Asti Spumante NV DOCG $12, Gancia Asti Spumante NV DOCG $12
10. Duvel Brand Belgian Golden Ale
This Belgian beer is very light and made with Methode Traditionelle. It has very fine bubbles and has all the character of fine Champagne, but with a barley aftertaste. It tastes and feels just enough like sparkling wine that it will stump many of your guests and provide a fun, surprise ending to the tasting. I enjoyed the surprised remarks at our party…
I hope you have as much fun with this as we did. The group I hosted had a great time. If your guests enjoy sparkling, this will open their eyes to a world of different, affordable wines.
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season for you and your family!