The problem with New Year's Eve is a lack of options. It's Champagne or bust so even if you're a beer enthusiast or a red wine devotee, you still find yourself locked in a blind embrace with a beverage you may not really like and that you doubtless associate with some youthful misadventure involving two-dollar Freixenet and a plastic tiara.
It doesn't have to be like this. If sparkling wine just isn't your thing, you can still enjoy it one night of the year without feeling cheap and sad. Inexpensive Champagne doesn't have to be rotgut. In fact, it doesn't even have to be Champagne which, strictly speaking, refers to a sparkling wine made in France's Champagne province, but is universally used to describe any sparkling wine.
To address the needs of those who lack enthusiasm for sparkling wine but want to play along on New Year's, only one of this week's tasters was a self-described Champagne fan. Also at table were two beer guys who enjoy red wine, a Pinot lover who appreciates an elegant cocktail, and me (see Freixenet; tiara). We passed over pricier Champagnes in favor of more budget-friendly options: a California sparkling wine, a Prosecco from Italy, and a Cava, the sparkling wine of Spain. California's best sparkling wines are crisp and light, while Cavas are typically dry, and Proseccos are known for their fruitiness and subtle fizz.
The Zonin Brut Prosecco ($5.99), from Italy's Veneto region, won raves from our Beer Guys, who found it quiet in a good way. We all agreed that this was an unassuming, inoffensive sparkler with a bit of green-apple flavor, a slight sweetness, and a beerlike aroma. Beer Guy #1 commented on its "pleasant bitterness," while #2 happily proclaimed it the IKEA of sparkling wines, urging Beer Guys everywhere to stock up.
The Monasteriolo Brut Cava ($5.99), from Catalonia, got mixed reviews, earning comparisons to the wildly different flavors of 1) Clamato and 2) orange juice just after brushing one's teeth. "Reminds me of a bad holiday party after budget cuts," Beer Guy #2 groused . Pinot Lover suggested it might be better paired with a stinky cheese, while our token winemaker, ever the individualist, picked this as his favorite, praising its balance and clean taste.
The Piper Sonoma Brut Select Cuvée ($11.99), from Sonoma, was my favorite, and Pinot Lover's as well. Beer Guy #2 called it passable, and #1 railed against its "big raucous bubbles," which invoked painful high-school wine-cooler flashbacks. Pinot and I wouldn't waver; we gushed about its light, clean fruit and festive fizziness especially compared with the two others, which were noticeably lacking in fizz. A crowd-pleaser that could pass for something pricier.