Guide to sparkling wines in time for the new year
For Metro Detroiters, the Champagne season starts in November and stretches through the holidays to the North American International Auto Show in January.
So count yourself lucky if you live in the area and still need bottles for New Year's Eve and beyond. You'll find deals and special seasonal offerings at local wine sellers.
"We start planning for the holidays in June," says Marc Jonna, co-founder of Plum Market, with three stores — soon to be four — in southeast Michigan and one in Illinois. One of Plum's big promotions is older releases of Dom Pérignon, including the amazing 1998 P2.
Drop by Discount Drinks in Farmington Hills and see Mike O'Connell's stacks of Mumm Napa Valley at the nice price of $14.99. John Lossia at Merchant's Fine Wine in Dearborn loves Proseccos such as Montesel — the cream of the crop — and the price has come down to $20.
So here's the scoop: French Champagne prices are up but not noticeably. The really big guns from France — Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut — created sensational holiday packaging. California bubblies under $20 still rock, as do an eclectic batch of Spanish Cavas plus a bunch of new Proseccos from Italy. And here's a juicy tidbit: Michigan's Larry Mawby will supply all the sparkling wine for the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview gala – his M. Lawrence "US" Brut, which you can buy locally.
So polish up the Champagne flutes: Here's my insider's guide to bubblies. These selections are widely available, not just at the stores listed; prices will vary, sometimes widely. "NV" means nonvintage.
Gruet (under $20): Sommeliers will tell you, and retailers will confirm: The bubblies from this New Mexico winery are terrific. Pronounced "grew-eh," this producer planted Champagne clones in the high mountains of the state 25 years ago and uses French methods to make the wines. Try the Gruet Brut NV, Gruet Brut Rosé NV, or anything they make. Discount Drinks, Wyandotte; Joe's Produce, Livonia; Gibb's Wines, Detroit
Ferrari ($20 and up): Ferrari by Fratelli Lunelli is one of the most revered sparkling wines in Italy, produced in Trentino-Alto Adige for more than a century and made in the French method. The 2007 Perle is 100 percent Chardonnay and aged four years on the lees in the bottle. Plum Market, Bloomfield Township; Papa Joe's, Birmingham; Fine Wine Source, Livonia
Don't miss: Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV, $65-$80: Retailers love it but it's a sleeper. Wood's Fine Wine, Grosse Pointe Woods; Fine Wine Source, Livonia; Plum Markets. Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Réserve, $55. "A great Champagne," says Dick Scheer, Village Corner, Ann Arbor; Wine Palace, Livonia; Hollywood Market, Royal Oak. J Winery Brut Rosé, $30-$38, Hollywood Market, Royal Oak; Plum Market West Bloomfield. Lallier Grand Cru Brut NV, $50, Papa Joe's Birmingham; Nino Salvaggio, Clinton Township
M. Lawrence "US" Brut NV, $16.99: Larry Mawby in Leelanau County has made himself a world reputation for L. Mawby wines and his second label, M. Lawrence (a clever reversal of his own name). M. Lawrence is less-expensive and may use juice from outside Michigan, which Mawby then ferments the second time by closed tank method, not the French method in the bottle. Grapes for "US" are sourced from Northern California. Quality is off the charts. It's 75 percent Pinot Noir, 25 percent Chardonnay. Some 110 cases will be poured for guests at the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview on Jan. 16. Joe's Produce, Livonia; Merchant's Fine Wine, Dearborn; Champane's Wine Cellars, Warren
Puttin' on the Glitz
Dom Pérignon 2004 ($135-$170): Many would argue Dom is the most elegant wine on the planet. It certainly is the most famous. The current vintage is 2004 and it may surprise even amateur tasters how accessible it is. For geeks with deep pockets, Plum Market offers the touted Dom Pérignon 1998 P2 Brut for $329.97, not the usual $375-$400. It was disgorged only last year. The team at Dom in France discovered the longer the wine ages on the lees in the bottle the more profound it becomes, passing through stages of development and dormancy. Plum Markets; Vince & Joe's, Shelby Township; Wine Palace, Livonia
French at $50 (wide price swings here)
Veuve Clicquot NV Brut, $44-$50: The famous Yellow Label (that is orange) never loses its appeal, because the producer never lets up on the gas. It tastes even better because the wine team has taken new measures to keep quality high regardless of the oceans of it they produce. The holiday packaging is the best — from a zippered "cozy" around the body of the bottle to a plastic box shaped like a refrigerator — orange of course — to a postal package with mailing sticker. Plum Markets; Red Wagon, Rochester Hills; Gibb's Wines, Detroit
Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut NV, $35 and upward: This is Moët's flagship and the official bubbly of New Year's Eve at Times Square with a limited-edition "golden sleeve" packaging. Moët's big seller in the U.S. used to be White Star with a pinch of sweetness, but it was replaced a few years ago by the nonvintage Imperial Brut produced in a single style for the world – dry and delicious. Red Wagon, Rochester Hills. Vince & Joe's, Shelby Township
California under $20
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut NV: The style and quality are unswerving at this Spanish-owned, pioneering winery in Sonoma's Carneros district. It's driven by Pinot Noir and wakes up every taste bud in your head with its lively citrus, creamy midpalate texture and toasty finish. 90 points from Wine Spectator. Champane's Wine Cellars, Warren; Fine Wine Source, Livonia; Hiller's, South Lyon
Mumm Napa Valley Brut Prestige NV: This one is so dry, minerally, palate-cleansing, balanced I start praying for a can of caviar to appear. The black label (Brut Prestige), red label (Brut Rosé) and blue label (Demi-Sec) all got 90 or higher scores in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. The Brut Rosé is the best-selling bubbly at Discount Drinks in Farmington Hills. Hiller's buyer Eric Novak says the Brut Prestige "is as good as it gets." He carries it in all the stores.
Montesel "Vigna del Paradiso" Extra Dry Prosecco DOCG 2013, $20: This prized Prosecco from Italy's Veneto region is also one of the priciest. It's made with a hint of sweetness perfectly balanced with refreshing acidity and lovely floral-citrus fruit. John Lossia, owner of Merchant's Fine Wine in Dearborn, has one customer who buys Dom Pérignon for friends, Montesel for himself. Patrick Hand at Discount Drinks, Wyandotte, calls it "my favorite Prosecco."
La Marca Prosecco, $13-$17: This handsome package from Italy's Veneto imported by Gallo is seductively off-dry with a storm of tiny bubbles and a noseful of white flowers, orange peel and herbs. Red Wagon, Rochester Hills (carries magnums); Nino Salvaggio, Clinton Township
New! Ecco Domani Prosecco, $11: The bottles are closed with a screw cap (good idea!) and made in a style that seems more dry than most. It's clean and refreshing. A great choice for budget gourmets. Merchant's Fine Wine, Dearborn; Wine Palace, Livonia
Others ($15 more or less): Mionetto, Ruffino, Cupcake, Avissi, Menage à Trois. Kroger, Meijer, Hiller's, numerous wine stores
Segura Viudas Cava Brut, $10: This favorite of wine sellers is dry and refreshing, produced by the French method, which is unheard of for a $10 wine. "Our standby for years," says Dick Scheer, owner of Village Corner, Ann Arbor; Westborn Markets; all Hiller's stores
VallDolina Cava Reserva Eco Brut Nature, $22: This dry, complex wine takes the whole Cava thing up to artisan/elite status. It's made by two vintners who own the land, farm it with biodynamic practices, ferment the grapes to dryness and give the wine two years on the lees in the bottle and no added dosage. It's for geeks seeking tradition-driven wines made with hands-on love. It is imported by Vinovi & Co. in Ferndale; Elie Wine Co. , Birmingham; Plum Market, Bloomfield Township; Holiday Market, Royal Oak.
Sandra Silfven writes a wine blog for The Detroit News at detroitnews.com/wine.